It would be easy to get bent out of shape about the way the Atlanta Falcons dropped their 2013 opener to the New Orleans Saints.
They were just three yards from completing an improbable come-from-behind victory against their division rivals on the road, but it ended in grand, disappointing fashion — much like the Falcons’ gut-wrenching loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game a season ago. Three yards separated them from ripping out the hearts of Saints fans in hostile territory like they’ve been able to do so rarely in recent years.
And even though it didn’t happen, there’s no reason to jump off the deep end about this squad, Falcons fans.
First of all, let me clarify one thing: you are absolutely right to be frustrated by the outcome. If the Falcons’ offense, which can be considered one of the most high-powered in football, can’t get three yards when the game is on the line, that’s not a good sign. So, like me, I hope you spent a few minutes after the game venting.
I had a visor throw that would make even Steve Spurrier smile.
But here’s why you should already be over it, and you definitely shouldn’t lose sleep over the loss: It’s just something that happens in the Falcons-Saints rivalry. New Orleans has been great over the last decade at protecting their turf, where the Saints have won nine of the last 10 games played between the two rivals in the Superdome. I’ve written that game off as a loss every year, and if we win, it’s a bonus. The Falcons always seem to do just fine with that loss on their schedule.
Now, factor in the return of Saints head coach Sean Payton, and it suddenly becomes an emotional statement game. That’s a tough one to win, even if you’re only three yards away. The opponent is trying to win, too, and we should keep that in mind.
Just win the games you’re supposed to win and you’ll still make the playoffs. There’s no reason why losing to another playoff-caliber team in the first week should change that.
Here are some other positive things I saw today:
- The defense: You’re going up against one of the best quarterbacks in the league who finally has his coach back. You’re running two rookies and a benchwarmer out there to play cornerback, and you still only give up two touchdowns. That’s not bad at all, and it should give fans hope for a unit that’s been pretty weak over the last couple of years.
- Composure in a very hostile environment: It’s easy to get lost in a road atmosphere like the Superdome, but the Falcons did nearly everything right to diffuse the crowd and the emotional afternoon. They took an early 10-0 lead that quieted the crowd, and they answered nearly every score the Saints had. It kept them in the game until the end. It’s admirable, and it shows they’re growing as a team. Experience will pay off in January if the Falcons have to play a postseason game or three on the road.
- Steven Jackson: Seventy-seven rushing yards isn’t a career-high by any means, but it was a good debut for the Falcons’ new running back. He broke off a 50-yard run at a key point in the ballgame, and the Falcons took a 17-13 lead just a few plays later. We saw why he’ll be valuable to this offense all year, as long as he stays healthy. And about that dropped pass in the end zone that could have won the game for the Falcons — it’s inexcusable, but there are other players who are paid to make game-winning catches, and he isn’t one of them. Those guys should have gotten open, because they catch a higher percentage of passes thrown their way.