Film review won't be pretty.
The New Orleans Saints' 26-9 loss to Atlanta on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was about the last outcome expected, with the Saints (7-2) owning a six-game winning streak and the Falcons (2-7) riding a six-game losing streak entering the game.
But the Saints' NFC South Division rival did to New Orleans what New Orleans had done to opponents during its winning streak: controlled the clock (33:46), ran efficiently (34 carries for 143 yards), got third-down stops on defense (New Orleans was 3 of 12) and played clean in the kicking game. All in all, it likely was the Saints' worst showing of the season, coming off their bye week and with the roster as complete as it has been this season.
"Pick a situation and there's a good chance they won that situation," Saints Coach Sean Payton said.
OFFENSE: New Orleans never looked cleaner than its opening drive of the game – a 10-play, 64-yarder that resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Wil Lutz. Unfortunately for the Saints, that was the problem. It was the first of three times they failed to score touchdowns in the red zone, the first of three times they failed to score touchdowns in goal-to-go situations and when Drew Brees was sacked on third-and-goal from the 2, it was the first of six times he was sacked. No numbers were available to pretty up the outcome: In addition to failing to convert 9 of 12 times on third down, the Saints were empty on three fourth-down attempts. They only ran the ball 11 times for 52 yards, in part because they were behind and partly because they couldn't stay on the field for a sustained period of time. Brees completed 32 of 45 passes for 287 yards, but the Saints never led and never established a rhythm.
DEFENSE: The Saints committed 12 penalties for 90 yards and if it seemed as though most were committed by the defense, that's because they were. Five defensive penalties resulted in automatic first downs for the Falcons – four illegal use of hands (hands to the face) infractions led to two third-down conversions after the Falcons first had been stopped short and then had thrown incomplete, and a defensive holding also provided a third-down conversion on an incomplete pass. Atlanta, which entered Sunday leading the league at 316.8 passing yards per game, opened with the run and never strayed from it, at 4.2 yards per carry on 34 attempts. It wasn't the chunk plays that got New Orleans; the Falcons didn't generate a 20-yard offensive play other than Julio Jones' 54-yard reception. But Atlanta didn't beat itself and it converted on third down (6 of 15).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Three field goals by Wil Lutz (29, 47 and 28 yards) accounted for New Orleans' offense, and Deonte Harris had a couple of nice returns (a 19-yarder on a punt and a 46-yarder on a kickoff). But New Orleans couldn't get a momentum-changer out of the unit, and J.T. Gray's roughing the kicker on a punt allowed Atlanta to gain a first down from fourth-and-11, with 9:07 left and holding a 20-9 lead. That pretty much summarized New Orleans' day.