Since a Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints, things have spiraled out of control for the Atlanta Falcons, but Steven Jackson and his teammates entered Thursday night’s rematch rejuvenated by the opportunity to knock off one of their most bitter rivals.
The Falcons played one of their best games of the season in an effort to accomplish that goal, but fell short in a 17-13 loss. Steve said afterward that there was an extra sense of urgency around the Falcons leading up to the game, so the loss carried more weight and though proud of his team’s effort, he wasn’t accepting of the loss as a moral victory for his team.
“We fought, we really wanted this one,” he said. “To let this one get by, it hurts.”
Atlanta controlled the pace of the game early, thanks in large part to SJ39.
After a quick three-and-out from New Orleans, the Falcons took over at their own 24 and began a methodical drive that ate up more than six minutes off the clock. Steven carried the ball five times for 16 yards over the course of the drive and capped it off with a high-flying touchdown leap over the Saints’ defensive line to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.
Steven’s touchdown carried some historical significance. It was his first rushing score of the season and the 57th rushing touchdown of his career, which ranks sixth among active players. It was also his 66th touchdown in the NFL, which puts him fifth among active running backs. Additionally, he tied Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams for the most rushing touchdowns against New Orleans by any active player with seven.
But Steven’s ability to find the scoreboard early was matched by the Saints on their next possession when New Orleans orchestrated a 15-play scoring drive that lasted 7:31m knotting the score at 7 with just a minute and a half remaining in the first quarter.
S-Jax carried twice more on the ensuing Atlanta possession and picked up a total of seven yards. The Falcons offense appeared to be clicking and though it stalled just outside the red zone, a Matt Bryant field goal gave Atlanta the lead back 10-7 early ion the second quarter. However that lead was short lived as the Saints struck quickly with a five-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Jimmy Graham streaking to the end zone for a 44-yard scoring pass from Drew Brees to make it 14-10.
The Falcons answered with another more methodical drive of 14 plays and got all the way to the Saints six-yard line. But Atlanta forced to settle for a field goal that cut their deficit to one, 14-13, which remained the score at halftime.
Both offenses slowed down in the second half. The Falcons were forced to punt on the first two possessions of the third quarter and after punting on their own first drive of the second half, New Orleans settled for a field goal to make it 17-13, which ended up the last score of the game for either team.
The Falcons saw their last best chance to take the lead go by the wayside early in the fourth when, after catching a pass that would’ve set the Falcons up with a third and six at the Saints 20, Darius Johnson fumbled and New Orleans recovered. The Saints went on to kill nearly five minutes off the clock before punting and giving Atlanta another chance.
After getting sacked on the first play of that drive, which backed the Falcons up to their own three-yard-line, Ryan got into a rhythm. He hit Steven with a screen pass that went for six yards and then Roddy White for 13 yards and a first down.
After SJ picked up a couple on first down from the 22, Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for 17 yards, then Harry Douglas for 15 more, then Dominique Davis for seven to the Saints 37. Steven picked up a first down from there, rumbling for eight yards to the New Orleans 29. But the drive came to a screeching halt there. After an incompletion, Ryan was sacked back at the 34, then fired another incompletion.
With 2:24 left in the game and all three of their timeouts, the Falcons elected for a field goal try on 4th & 15 from the 34, but Bryant’s attempt missed wide left. The Saints took over and killed all but 5 seconds off the clock. Atlanta’s attempt at a trick play from near midfield fell well short and the Saints got the win.
Steven finished the game with 63 yards on a season-high 16 carries, including the touchdown and he also added three receptions for 16 yards. But although he played efficiently, S-Jax expressed frustration with the loss and knows his team must go back to the drawing board to keep improving and try to find a way to win.
“It’s very frustrating,” SJ39 said. “We as a team put in a lot of work over the week, and to not come out with a win is very frustrating. But once again we have to look at the game film, look at those things we can do better, and try to correct those things.”
The Falcons get nine days to prepare for their next opponent before they head on the road to Toronto where they’ll take on the Buffalo Bills next Sunday.
Kickoff is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on FOX.