It doesn't matter if its an insignificant preseason game or a late season battle for a playoff spot, when Atlanta comes to town, you'd better tighten your chin strap a notch or two. For the second time in as many weeks the Saints manged to narrowly escape a hard fought game with their pristine 7-0 record (tied for a franchise best) in tact and stay perfect -or the moment anyway. Last year's "Slum Dog Millionaire," the Falcons, ascended upon the Super Dome Monday night hoping to achieve similar commercial success and cement themselves into the national consciousness as viable Super Bowl contenders (much more than just '08's Cinderella story).
Atlanta gave New Orleans all they could handle, but if we've learned nothing else from the Saints' recent penchant for late game theatrics, its that in addition to being able to blow teams out New Orleans is capable of recovering from calamitous stretches of jaw dropping catastrophe. In last their 35-27 win over the Falcons, the Saints proved that you don't have to be perfect to win, just really really good. When the Saints weren't deploying their arsenal of athletic wide outs for aerial maneuvers that rival that of what you're likely to see at Cirque du Soleil, they were committing turnovers, missing field goals, and allowing Falcons' RB Micheal Turner to eat up yardage like his name was John Deer.
But a look at the Saints' stat sheet and you'd think that the Falcons were on the punchline's end of a laugher. New Orleans had 437 total yards-almost 150 of them rushing. They scored just a shade under their season average of 39.0 points and forced three interceptions (one of which was returned for a 48 yard touchdown by Saints' CB Jabari Greer). But the Falcons responded in kind, with Turner gashing the Saints' 'D' for 151 yards, and "Matty Ice" (Matt Ryan) keeping pace with Drew Brees' 308 passing yards with 298 of his own.
In addition to that the Saints turned the ball over four times (3 fumbles and i interception). But both teams squandered their share of opportunities, as momentum switched Jerseys throughout. After responding to a spectacular 13 yard touchdown run from Turner, with a 22 yarder from RB Pierre Thomas to deadlock the game at seven all, the Saints forced Atlanta to punt and looked poised to go ahead. That is until Brees was sacked at the Saints four yard line by safety Thomas Decoud. The subsequent fumble was recovered by DE Kory Biermann and hurried into the end zone to put Atlanta up 14-7.
Following an amazing 18 yard leaping touchdown catch by Maruqes Colston to knot things up 14-14, veteran kicker Jason Elam missed a chip shot from 34 yards out that would have given Atlanta a three point lead. On the ensuing Saints' drive New Orleans marched all the way to Atlanta's 38 when Brees threw an interception to Falcons' CB Brent Grimes trying to hit a wide open Devery Henderson. After a one yard score by RB Reggie Bush to put the Saints up 21-14 the Falcons had a chance to tie things up but dug an even deeper hole when Ryan threw an interception to Greer who returned it for a Saints' touchdown. There was a missed field goal by Saints' kicker John Carney, late fumbles by Thomas and RB Mike Bell, and a horribly covered onside kick by the Saints' return team that gave Atlanta one last desperation heave.
For all the great plays in this game there were just as many baffling ones. But despite playing inconsistently the entire game there were more highs than lows for the "black and gold." Once again the Saints were able to stave off defeat-but just barely. They did everything they could to keep Atlanta in it. Despite that, many think that there isn't a team in the league that can beat the Saints. Of their remaining games the only teams that have a winning record are Atlanta, Dallas, and New England. Monday night's win showed that if the Saints do plan on going undefeated, there might be one thing that stands in their way-themselves.