Every now and then throughout the season I will take a look at a play or set of plays that I feel was the most important in deciding the outcome of the game. I call it the Grind Factor because all the hard work that goes into the offseason and into the regular season will determine a few crucial points in the game, good or bad.
I must say, what a way to start the season, I almost had a heart attack. The Saints/ Falcons game had plenty of momentum swings from both teams so it was hard to choose a point in the game that defined it. Yes the goal line stand at the end was huge as was Malcolm Jenkins strip of Julio Jones and the subsequent fumble recovery by Roman Harper. While both are turning point worthy I choose a defensive series late in the third quarter.
With 4:47 left in the third quarter after the Saints defense forced a punt, on the first play from the Saint 33 yard line, Drew Brees throws an interception to Robert Alford on a pass intended for Marques Colston. With the Saints clinging to a 20 to 17 point lead these are the type of plays that after a defeat you look back on and point to as a major factor that cost the Saints the ball game. Atlanta takes over at their 46 yard line. What happened next was something that I haven’t seen in a few years from a Saints Defense, Domination.
Atlanta lines up in a power rush formation, and Ryan Play fakes to Jackson. Akiem Hicks was not fooled as he bull rushed right tackle Lamar Holmes and shoves him to the side like a rag doll and then with great speed from a big man-made a bee line to Matt Ryan. He didn’t have a chance as Hick literally grabbed him with one arm and slung him hard to the ground, the crowd erupts. This one single play ignited a stunned Super Dome crowd and lit a fire in the Defense.
The next play now with Atlanta on its 37 yard line they go to their obvious long yardage formation, three wide outs spread with Gonzales and a lone back Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield. This time it’s Cam Jordan who abuses Lamar Holmes on the rush but is also joined by Junior Galette who uses his pure speed to go around a disgusted left tackle, Sam Backer. The pressure came so quick from Jordan and Galette that all Matt Ryan could do was run for his life to the right and throw the ball away. Ryan is clearly rattled.
Now faced with third and 18, Atlanta again goes with three wide outs but keeps Gonzales back to chip Cam Jordan before he runs his route; they also replaced Rodgers with Jason Snelling. This time his pocket holds up pretty well but Ryan could feel his left tackle getting beat by Tom Johnson and dumps it off to Snelling without taking more than a glance downfield, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper come up to make the stop after a nine yard gain. Now the Superdome is rocking and so is the sideline too. Time to punt.
To me this three and out was not only huge in taking back the momentum from the Atlanta interception but it was also the way they did it, they got in Ryan’s face. Instead of the Falcons with great field position tying the score or possibly taking the lead they went backward. It also gave this defense huge confidence to which beside Atlanta’s last drive, dominated the rest of the game.
Yes the goal line stand will go down in Saints/Falcons lore, deservedly so but this three and out proved that this isn’t last year’s defense. Beware NFL, the Saints are coming and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.