|Date of game: 9/7/2014
Recap: Atlanta vs. New Orleans
Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Matt Ryan threw for a franchise-record 448 yards, Matt Bryant kicked two huge field goals of beyond 50 yards, and the Atlanta Falcons opened their 2014 season with a thrilling 37-34 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Bryant was true on a 51-yard try as time expired in regulation to force extra time, then knocked through a 52-yarder 1:43 into the added session that was set up by Marques Colston's fumble in Atlanta territory on the second play of overtime.
Ryan helped rally Atlanta (1-0) back from a 13-point first-half deficit by completing 31-of-43 attempts and tossing three touchdown passes. Julio Jones came up with seven catches totaling 116 yards in the wild win, an extremely promising result for a Falcons' squad that endured an injury-plagued 4-12 campaign last season.
"I felt like last year when we went down there and lost, it took the wind out of our sails," said Falcons wide receiver Roddy White. "But fortunately we took care of business and found a way to win at the end."
Drew Brees finished with 333 yards and a touchdown on 29-of-42 passing for New Orleans, but threw a costly interception in the end zone in the third quarter that ultimately helped seal the Saints' fate.
"That's the way this game has been for about five or six years straight, where it just comes down to one or two plays here and there," said Brees. "I'd say maybe the most glaring statistic -- and obviously what cost us -- was the turnover ratio. We got one and we gave two."
Colston put up 110 yards on five catches and Jimmy Graham had eight grabs for 82 yards for the Saints. Rookie Brandin Cooks had seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown in an impressive debut.
New Orleans' Mark Ingram rushed for a pair of touchdowns, the last a 3-yard burst that put the Saints up 34-31 with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter. However, Ryan connected on four clutch passes on the ensuing drive -- including a 21-yard strike to Devin Hester that put the ball at the Saints' 34 and position Bryant for the game-tying kick.
"Matt was calm, cool, and collected. He never flinched," said Falcons center Joe Hawley. "Every time they would score, he would just go back out there and look it at as another opportunity to score."
The Saints got the ball first in overtime but didn't have it long. Colston caught a short pass from Brees on second down and was stripped from behind by William Moore while turning upfield, with Joplo Bartu pouncing on the loose ball for Atlanta at the New Orleans 38.
Though the Falcons were unable to move the chains, Bryant calmly split the uprights from 52 yards out to close out yet another heart-stopping matchup between the NFC South rivals.
An action-packed second half featured four lead changes, the first of which came when seldom-used Atlanta running back Antone Smith caught a short toss from Ryan and broke clear for a 54-yard touchdown that staked the Falcons to a 24-20 edge near the end of the third quarter.
The score came just four plays after Brees was picked off by Robert McClain in the end zone on a down-the-seam throw intended for Cooks.
"The Robert McClain interception was huge," Falcons head coach Mike Smith remarked. "It was a game of five or six plays that determined the outcome."
The Saints responded by marching 80 yards in 12 plays, converting three third- down opportunities along the way. Pierre Thomas' 19-yard reception on 3rd- and-8 preceded three straight Ingram runs, the final one a 3-yard scamper around left end that sent New Orleans back in front with 8:46 remaining.
Following an exchange of punts that pushed the Falcons back to their 6-yard line, Ryan completed four straight throws to get his team inside the red zone. He then handed off to Jacquizz Rodgers, who darted inside and followed his blockers for a 17-yard score that put the Falcons up 31-27 with 2:50 to go.
Colston was interfered by Robert Alford on a deep try on the subsequent drive, though, putting the ball on the Atlanta 25 with under two minutes left. New Orleans picked up another first down before Ingram powered in from three yards out for a short-lived 34-31 advantage.
While the Falcons piled up a club-record 568 total yards for the game, it was New Orleans' potent offense that looked to be in midseason form early on. The Saints scored on each of their four first-half possessions to build a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter.
Brees came out firing, making good on 5-of-6 throws for 70 yards on an opening drive that eventually stalled and resulted in Shayne Graham's 31-yard field goal around 4 1/2 minutes in.
After Atlanta went three-and-out on its initial series, a 13-yard third-down connection from Brees to Jimmy Graham helped set up Shayne Graham's 50-yard kick that lengthened the margin to 6-0.
The Falcons moved deep into enemy territory on the ensuing drive, but came up empty when Saints safety Jairus Byrd dislodged the ball from Jones at the 5- yard line and Corey White recovered from New Orleans in the end zone.
Brees and the offense capitalized on the miscue, marching 80 yards in nine plays and converting two more third-down chances -- the last an over-the- middle 9-yard grab by Cooks that preceded Khiry Robinson's 2-yard touchdown run which put New Orleans up 13-0 early in the second quarter.
Atlanta responded with a methodical 14-play, 80-yard sequence that consumed over 7 1/2 minutes and was extended by a pass interference call on Corey White that put the ball inside the Saints' 15. Rookie Devonta Freeman later came up with a determined 13-yard catch out of the backfield on 3rd-and-12, and Ryan hit Roddy White on a back-shoulder toss on the next snap for a 2-yard touchdown.
The Saints just kept on rolling, however, with Brees going 6-for-6 on a 9- play, 80-yard jaunt he capped with a 3-yard strike to Cooks that made it a 20-7 game and left just 20 seconds on the first-half clock.
"We felt like we had the momentum on our side," said Thomas. "We felt like we had a chance to win this but we would have to put them away."
That was still enough time for Ryan, who hurled a deep ball that Roddy White hauled in for a 39-yard gain to put Bryant in position to boot a 40-yard field goal on the final play before the intermission.
Jones came up with a 27-yard catch on 3rd-and-10 on the Falcons' opening series of the second half before being taken down at the New Orleans 1. Two plays later, Ryan found Levine Toiolo in the end zone to trim the lead to 20-17.Game Notes
Chris Chandler had held the Falcons' single-game record for passing yards,
putting up 431 against Buffalo on Dec. 23, 2001 ... Atlanta offensive tackle
Jake Matthews, the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, left late in the
first half with an ankle injury and did not return to the game ... Seven of
the last 10 meetings in the series have been decided by four points or less,
with the Saints having won six of the previous seven matchups ... Hester
finished with 99 yards on five catches and Roddy White had five receptions for