I’m not going to say last night’s New Orleans-Atlanta game was the greatest game ever, because it wasn’t. But that 20-17 win for the Falcons definitely was one of the weirdest.
Let’s start with the fact that last year’s MVP, Matt Ryan, had one of the most bizarre stretches of his career from the end of the first half to the start of the second half, starting with this throw, while the Falcons were driving to take the lead before halftime.
Marshon Lattimore picks that off, returns it to the Atlanta 29 and the Saints have a chance to kick and field goal and rip the lead before halftime, right? Wrong. Instead, they commit a penalty on the field goal and the half ends 10-10.
Big break for the Falcons. And they hand that break right back to the Saints on the first play from scrimmage in the second half with another interception.
The Saints march down the field, get a touchdown, take a 17-10 lead. Atlanta gets the ball back and then Matt Ryan goes Matt Ryan yet again.
Three picks in three possessions for last year’s MVP. Not all of them were on him, mind you, but man that was ugly. And that wasn’t even the ugliest or weirdest part of the game. There were the Saints committing 11 penalties, and Atlanta picking up 9 first downs as a result of penalties. The Saints losing one player after another to injury. Alvin Kamara – concussion. AJ Klein – groin. Kenny Vaccaro – groin. Trey Hendrickson – ankle. Ted Ginn Jr – unspecified. And the list goes on. It got to the point that Brees said afterwards, “It’s 100 percent a product of playing on Thursday night.”
And then there was the ending itself, which was definitely one of the strangest I’ve seen in a long time. Brees and the Saints, down 20-17, were driving and came up to a 3rd and 1 on the Falcons 24. Brees throws an incompletion, but there was an offensive holding on the play. Instead of accepting the penalty and backing the Saints up 10 yards, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn declined it. Interesting move number one. And instead of kicking the game-tying field goal on 4th and 1, Sean Payton goes for it. Interesting move number 2, and Brees sneaks for the first.
So now the Saints have the first down, they’ve got momentum, and they’ve got a really good look at just winning the game in regulation. They pick up another first down and they’re on the Atlanta 11. At this point, it’s a matter of when, not if the Saints score, and when, not if, folks start recycling the Falcons choking jokes. Oh, and speaking of choking references, how about Devonta Freeman saying that Sean Payton hit him with the choke gesture in the fourth quarter. Incredible. That’s how you know this is a legit rivalry, when a coach is dropping choke gestures on the opposing running back.
But back to the game itself. New Orleans is driving and Brees drops back on second and 10 from the Atlanta 11.
An incredible play by Deion Jones and a terrible play by Brees. So remarkably un-Drew Brees of him. If you put him in that spot 100 times, he leaving with a field goal or a touchdown 99 times. And last night was the one time he didn’t. Insane. But the insanity was just getting started.
The Saints still had timeouts, so the game wasn’t exactly over. They stopped Devonta Freeman for three yards on first down and called a timeout. And then on second down, all hell broke loose.
A mini breakdown of that play, which was like four plays inside one play. The Saints stopped Freeman. Freeman fumbled. The fumble was recovered by Atlanta. Sean Payton ran on the field, yelling at an official. Sean Payton was flagged. First down Falcons. Ball game.
A completely shocking end to a truly bizarre game. If Brees throwing that pick was the most un-Brees thing ever, then Payton costing his team 15 yards and a chance at the game by running onto the field, was the most un-Payton thing ever. Those are two of the best to ever do it and they had two terrible moments at the end. But I’m not sure what’s more shocking – that Payton ran onto the field or that he was flagged for it. I mean we’re talking about a league where some refs won’t even throw a flag for a helmet-to-helmet, but they’ll flag a coach for running onto the field in the final seconds of a game? That doesn’t mean Payton was right to do it, of course. He shouldn’t have done that and given them the chance to flag him, but I just don’t recall ever seeing a game end like that, on an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on a head coach.
Payton said that “I called a time out and then he asked me again and I said ‘I’ve already called the time out.’ Probably said it with a little more oomph or vigor than I was supposed to [but] I had enough. I got to be smarter than that.”
I would agree about being smarter than that. You can’t put yourself in a situation where you can lose the game on a flag like that, especially to a division rival when you’re battling for the division title.
That said, I would love to know what kind of oomph and vigor there was behind it. Because it had to be some serious oomph and some very strong vigor to get a flag like that. Truly one of the weirdest and most bizarre games ever. And of course it happened on a Thursday night.