Brian Allee-Walsh

Falcons reinforce Saints are Drew Brees and little else

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes against the Atlanta Falcons in New Orleans, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. AP

The New Orleans Saints are who I thought they were after watching Monday night's 45-32 loss against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome: quarterback Drew Brees and little else, a disappointing one-dimensional team under Coach Sean Payton.

The Falcons surprised me, however, especially quarterback Matt Ryan who played as well as I've seen him play against the Black and Gold.

Maybe better.

In fact, if Ryan and Falcons' second-year offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan are not on the same page, it certainly didn't look that way on a national stage.

Ryan played brilliantly, spreading the ball around to a passel of playmakers, seemingly everyone but gimpy wide receiver Julio Jones who caught just one of seven targeted passes for a meager 16 yards.

Equally surprising, the NFC South-leading Falcons (2-1) didn't need Mr. Jones this night.

Others carried the load, most notably the running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who combined for 296 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns on 34 touches.

Each was Da Man.

The injury-depleted Saints defense had no answers for them, particularly Freeman who rushed for 152 yards on 14 carries and caught all five targeted passes for 55 yards and one touchdown.

The Falcons gashed the Saints for 217 yards on the ground, including another 42 yards and three touchdowns by Coleman. And Ryan sprinkled 20 completions around to eight different receivers for 240 yards and two touchdowns.

The Saints may have owned the celebrated reopening of the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006. But the Falcons clearly stole the home team's thunder in the nationally-televised game to commemorate the 10-year anniversary.

There were times Monday night when it didn't seem like the Saints had a full complement of 11 defenders on the field once the Falcons ball carriers got beyond the line of scrimmage. It wasn't so much they were breaking tackles; there were no tackles to break.

So here we are three weeks into the season and the Falcons find themselves atop the NFC South, one game ahead of the three-time defending division champions Carolina Panthers (1-2).

Those two teams square off Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

I'm not suggesting Atlanta is the team to beat in the NFC South. In many ways, the Falcons' defense mirrors the Saints defense. Neither is very good. Neither has a disruptive pass rush nor features a true difference maker on that side of the ball.

That said, Tampa Bay (1-2) isn't ready to contend for a division title under rookie coach Dirk Koetter.

Thus, Carolina remains the clear-cut favorite in the NFC South. Period. End of story.

The Saints, meanwhile, hit the road in search of their first win, playing at San Diego (1-2) in the late Sunday afternoon time slot on Fox.

If the Black and Gold don't play better defense against San Diego and quarterback Philip Rivers they likely will find themselves 0-4 going into the bye week and all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with 12 games remaining.

Meaning they would go from bye to bye-bye.

As in wait until next season.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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