It was the most frustrating or mind boggling loss of the season for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night. Quarterback Drew Brees played perhaps his worst game physically and mentally since becoming a member of the Saints in 2006. The big blow was that Atlanta’s 23-13 win could have ended any hopes of post season football for the Black and Gold.
"That's the first time that has happened to me. So that's extremely disappointing," Brees said. "I pride myself on being a great decision-maker and a guy that's going to help us win the game, not be a detriment by turning the turning the ball over like that.”
“The defense wins sometimes,” you hear coaches say. “After all, they get paid too.” I think we all can understand and live with that notion. The interceptions Brees has thrown over the last two weeks are something we are just not used to seeing from him. What’s that cliché though -- the 'fool me once, fool me twice' one? Teams are playing Brees a certain way lately and he simply hasn’t adjusted yet.
The timing of the mistakes has been costly as well. Thursday night’s mistakes:
PICK TWO: Atlanta up 14-0, 1st and 10 from the Saints 35 first play of the drive following a Falcons three and out. Brees is pressure a bit but throws behind running back Chris Ivory who tries to make a play on it, it ricochets off his forearm and into the arms of Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon at the Saints 35.
TIME MANAGEMENT: Atlanta up 17-7, 2nd and goal from the Falcons 5-yard line. The Saints has Sproles touchdown pass with 45 seconds to play called back due to a pass interference call on Jimmy Graham who blocked a Falcons player away from the play before Sproles caught the ball. Brees, again with 45 seconds to play hits running back Darren Sproles for 12 yards for 2nd and goal at the 5-yard line clock ticking with about 35 seconds left and inexplicably huddles the team up. New Orleans has no timeouts and the clock is ticking following the completion with about 35 seconds left. Tick, tick, tick, tick, the clock goes and with it a scoring opportunity. Brees snaps the ball with 13 seconds left throws to Sproles who is tackled at the 3-yard line with 8 seconds to play, and Brees can’t spike the ball before the clock runs out. No points. 17-7 Atlanta halftime lead when it could have been 17-14 or at the very least 17-10.
At this point in the game you’re simply shaking your head. An offensive game plan in the first half that had me yelling for running back Pierre Thomas and thinking the Saints were trying to outsmart Atlanta rather than do what they do best and still had a chance to win this game. Defensively the Saints were playing were getting better as the game went on and Brees appeared to be finding a rhythm.
Following two three and outs by the Saints defense with a 52-yard Garret Harley field goal in between the Saints get the ball back with 3:20 left in the third quarter with momentum on their side.
PICK THREE: 2st and 5 from the Saints 43 yard line. Following a 5-yard pass to Colston to open the drive Brees rolls to his right and throw back over the middle looking for a crossing Devery Henderson. Safety William Moore is there waiting for Brees to throw it and picks it off. The play turned the momentum around that was clearly on the Saints side. Saints defense holds Falcons to three points though 20-13 and again still remarkably in the game with a chance to tie and a quarter to play.
PICK FOUR: 3rd and 10 from the Saints 35, Atlanta up 23-13. Brees is pressured and perhaps trying to make something out of nothing is pressured and being wrapped up and throws the ball in the arms of Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. There is 3:29 to play in the game.
PICK FIVE: 2nd and 5 from the 50-yard line, Atlanta up 23-13. Brees after throwing what would have been his fifth interception but it got negated dude to a defensive offsides penalty, gets pick the next play as he throws deep far sideline for receiver Lance Moore and safety Williams Moore is there again streaking across the field to pick it off.
Brees finished the night 28 of 50 for 341 yards and no touchdowns bringing an end to his NFL record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 54 games.
The frustrating part is that the Saints really did play well enough to win in the other areas. Running back Pierre Thomas sparked the offense with his 84 yards on 14 carries as a team the Saints rushed for 101 yards. The Saints had the ball 33:44 to Atlanta’s 26:16. Defensively after a rough start, the Saints held Atlanta to just 283 yards of offense, 1 of 11 on third down and kept tight end Tony Gonzales in check limiting him to just four catches for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Four games remain in the season. The Saints will play in New York, host Tampa, play in Dallas and wrap up the season at home against the Panthers. The Saints will need to win all four and hope teams like Minnesota, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Washington and Dallas lose multiple games.