Steven Jackson’s first regular season game as a member of the Atlanta Falcons lived up to the billing as two Super Bowl contenders went toe-to-toe from wire-to-wire.
Unfortunately, Steven’s new team came up on the short end of the outcome.
A potential game winning drive by the Falcons in the final minutes stalled inside the five-yard line and ended with a fourth down interception that sealed Atlanta’s fate in a 23-17 Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Afterward, SJ39 talked about his introduction to one of the NFL’s premier rivalries and made a commitment to use what he learned on Sunday to improve as the season goes on.
“I knew it would be a tough hard game, I knew it was in an environment here in New Orleans that would be loud,” he said. “The rivalry is just as competitive as I heard it was. We went out there and made some plays, but also left some plays out there. There will be some film tomorrow that I can definitely learn from and just continue to grind out another 15 weeks.”
Steven carried 11 times for 77 yards, the highlight being a 50-yard jaunt early in the third quarter that set up a Julio Jones touchdown catch which put the Falcons ahead 17-13. Steven also hauled in five passes for 45 yards, but the play that stuck with him was one that didn’t result in a catch.
On the final drive of the game, the Falcons flew down the field, picking up 73 yards in less than two minutes of game time. But after picking up a first down that put them first and goal at the seven with 1:09 to play, the Falcons struggled to move the ball. An incomplete pass on first down was followed by a short pass to Roddy White, which picked up four yards.
On third and three from the three, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took a low snap, but was able to find Steven sitting over the middle along the goal line. Steven was well covered and though Ryan’s pass got to his arms, SJ was unable to corral it. Afterward, he took responsibility for a play he believes he should’ve made.
“When my number is called I expect to make plays. Difficult, easy, whatever; that’s the expectation I have for myself,” No. 39 said. “I don’t live in a ‘what if’ world, I expect to make the play. Yeah it wasn’t the easiest catch, but I’m not a person who makes excuses. But as we grow together, and as the guys see me play over the next couple of weeks, I will make the tough plays. Football is a game of inches and that’s the expectation I have of myself.”
On fourth down, Ryan was immediately flushed from the pocket by a Saints blitz, forcing him to heave up a pass in the middle of the end zone that was tipped by tight end Tony Gonzalez before being intercepted by Saints safety Roman Harper. Ryan told the media after the game that the Falcons simply have to be better at executing in those situations.
“The third down play was just one of those things,” Ryan said. “Steven ran a great route; I let it go and kind of got bumped around. Even though it was the right call we just didn’t make the play and then certainly we didn’t make the play on the fourth down.”
The inability to finish drives was a theme for the Falcons in what had the potential to be a banner opener for SJ and his new teammates on the road. No. 39 opened the game with back-to-back runs of three and five yards and although that first drive went three and out after a third down pass fell incomplete, Atlanta got into the end zone on its next drive.
SJ carried twice for a total of nine yards on a six-play 82-yard drive that was highlighted by a 50-yard pass from Ryan to Harry Douglas and capped by a seven-yard touchdown toss from Ryan to Gonzalez.
The Falcons defense stepped up to stop the Saints again on their ensuing drive when New Orleans elected to go for it on 4th & 1 from their own 47. That gave the Atlanta offense a short field, but trouble with closing the drive was an issue there as well. Steven carried three times on the drive for seven yards and the Falcons got to the seven, but the drive stalled there and they had to settle for a 23-yard Matt Bryant field goal to make it 10-0.
The missed opportunity came back to bite Atlanta as the Saints offense got rolling in the second half. New Orleans cut the lead to seven with a field goal early in the second, then forced a fumble on the first play of the ensuing drive. That Falcons turnover led to a game-tying touchdown and when their next drive stalled out the Saints capitalized by moving down the field and kicking a field goal to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room.
New Orleans opened the second half with the ball, but was forced to punt after a big sack from Corey Peters. On the ensuing Falcons possession, Ryan handed off to Steven on 2nd & 6 from the 45 and No. 39 followed with his biggest play of the game.
On a run that was originally ticketed for the middle of the line, SJ saw a lane to his right, cut back and burst through it and was off to the races. Once at the second level, No. 39 cut back again toward the right sideline, sending a defender spinning as he flew past.
With several defenders in pursuit, SJ managed to hold them off long enough to pick up 50 yards before he was pushed out of bounds at the five-yard-line.
In a game that had seen momentum swing back to the Saints after a fast start by Atlanta, the run was a huge boost for the Falcons and gave their fans something to shout about on Twitter.
Steven!!!!! Jackson!!!!! 50 yards!!!
— 2Strong (@alexromeroo33) September 8, 2013
OH BABY STEVEN JACKSON LOOKING LIKE A MINOTAUR OUT THERE
— Adam Lee (@AdamLee1994) September 8, 2013
STEVEN JACKSON THE BEST. ACCELERATING THE WHOLE WAY.
— Andrew Couch (85-56) (@Sitinonthecouch) September 8, 2013
STEVEN JACKSON BABY! GREAT RUN! #RiseUp
— Lasalle (@Jamake1005) September 8, 2013
STEVEN JACKSON IS THE MOST UNDERRATED RUNNING BACK IN THE NFL
— Mook-Duke (@Hibbs_Be_Flexin) September 8, 2013
Look at that run!!!!!!!!!! Steven Jackson bust it wide open on that Saints D #RiseUp
— TTU (Too Turnt Up) (@MrFloridaBoy22) September 8, 2013
EVER. HES A DAMN TRUCK RT @MJay615: One does not simply grab Steven Jackson by the arm to try and stop him!
— Queen B (@britneyisland) September 8, 2013
THERE WE GO, it all starts with steven jackson, then we score #riseup
— Ronnie Lipscomb (@R2_Smoove) September 8, 2013
Falcons coach Mike Smith was also complimentary of SJ39, though as with anything he also saw some room for improvement.
“I thought we were able to run the ball effectively at times and there were times when we could’ve done it better. I think he’s a great addition to our offense and I think he shows what he’s capable of doing in the scheme that we are running.”
Three plays after Steven’s big run, the Falcons took the lead back on the Ryan to Jones touchdown. But the Saints answered right back with a 10-play 80-yard drive to retake the lead and each of Atlanta’s attempts at a counterpunch came up short.
SJ had one more big play on Atlanta’s penultimate drive of the gain, showing off his skillset in the passing game with big catch and run for 17 yards on a screen play. That drive stalled out because of a penalty, but writer The DW at Falcons blog Falcoholic saw reason for excitement in Steven’s work in the passing game, as he wrote after the game:
“Steven Jackson is the real deal. We’ll forgive the drop because this guy is still an amazing weapon. He’s clearly a much better fit and he and Ryan already seem to be on the same page. He turns check-down passes into big gains and as a pass catcher, he’s yet another weapon in the passing game. Rumors of his demise were completely unfounded.”
New Orleans tacked on a field goal in the fourth that left the Falcons with the ball 3:12 to go and a six-point deficit. Ryan was on point for much of the ensuing drive as Atlanta looked smooth in the no-huddle offense. The Atlanta quarterback hit five different receivers for a total of 77 yards, including a seven-yard screen to SJ for his fifth catch of the day. But the Falcons just couldn’t get those last three yards needed for the win.
Steven gave credit to the New Orleans defense for not breaking on the final drive:
“They did a good job of mixing personnel up,” he said. “When opportunities came up they made the plays to keep us off the field and in the end of the day that’s what made the difference.”
The Falcons (0-1) will have a chance to bounce back from Sunday’s loss next week when they return home to host Steven’s former team, the St. Louis Rams (1-0), at the Georgia Dome.
Kickoff of that game is scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT and the game can be seen on FOX.
- What they said: Falcons at Saints (AtlantaFalcons.com, September 8, 2013)
- Keeping It in Perspective: Week 1 (Falcoholic, September 9, 2013)
- Jackson using film to improve (AtlantaFalcons.com, September 8, 2013)
- Steven Jackson Takes Blame for Missed Opportunity (Rant Sports, September 8, 2013)
- Grading Atlanta Falcons Running Backs’ Week 1 Debut vs. Saints (Bleacher Report, September 8, 2013)
- Falcons vs. Saints Recap: Coming Close, Falling Short (Falcoholic, September 9, 2013)