One of the most hyped games of the NFL weekend had surprisingly few consequences from its outcome. New Orleans beat Atlanta 31-27 ending the Falcons unbeaten start to the year after eight straight wins. The Saints picked up a fourth victory in their last five tries after beginning the year 0-4. Beyond champagne being uncorked by the 1972 Dolphins, little was learned.
The Falcons hold a commanding three game lead over Tampa Bay in the NFC South. Atlanta remains a game ahead of Chicago in the race for the best record in the conference. Facing a remaining schedule that includes just one likely playoff team, the Falcons should not have too much difficulty securing a bye.
With the win New Orleans got within one game of .500 but gained no ground in their unlikely playoff push. After an off-season that featured lengthy and hostile contract negotiations with franchise QB Drew Brees, and the suspension of coach Sean Payton for his involvement in the bounty scandal, the team failed to win during the season's first month with loses to Carolina and Kansas City, two of the NFL's three worst teams. Because of triumphs by Seattle, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay on Sunday, the Saints remain two wins behind the final playoff berth and must pass three teams to get there. New Orleans will face three division leaders in their next four games.
Atlanta losing should not come as a shock. Playing a bad schedule the Falcons had eked out wins against the lower tier of the league. Matt Ryan put up predictably big numbers against the worst defense in the NFL, but the Falcon defense, ranked 19th in the league entering play Sunday, had no answer for a surprisingly balanced New Orleans offense.
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The Saints secondary was again pulverized, this time for 411 passing yards and three scores. Over the last six games New Orleans opponents have averaged just under 350 yards a game through the air and nearly three passing TD's per contest.
Both teams played as one might expect. Neither team gained or lost a whole lot with the outcome. Atlanta continues to be in the driver's seat thanks to a bad schedule and solid but not spectacular offense that sometimes relies too much on the passing game. Meanwhile New Orleans breaths life but faces a daunting task with difficult opponents and a defense that cannot stop anybody.