The Saints have still never beaten the Falcons since Morten Andersen was picked up by Atlanta. Today, they didn't beat them without their starting quarterback or running back. A 17-point second half proved once again that the Saints cannot play 60 minutes.
"It [his 90-yard touchdown reception] don't mean nothing. We just have to finish the damn game, that's it." -Eddie Kennison
The Offense... or Lack Thereof
When Hobert left the game in the 2nd quarter with a reinjured neck, my heart sank. Sure enough, the Saints would fail to score any points in the second half. The defense would tire out because the offense could never stay on the field for more than 4 plays. Tolliver, despite his superb arm strength, would throw 2 interceptions and finish 11 for 24 for 147 yards and a touchdown to Brett Bech as the first half came to a close. The Saints would be ahead 17-7 at the half.
Ricky Williams was shut down all day except for a brilliant, awe-inspiring and powerful 24 yard run in the 4th quarter. It was for runs like that, where Ricky juked, stiff-armed, and run right over defenders that Ditka drafted him. Unfortunately the offense could not and would not give Ricky the opportunities to shine. Most of Billy Joe Tolliver's playing time consisted of ill-advised throw after ill-advised throw. Even Tolliver's touchdown pass was overthrown into triple coverage. Amazing Brett Bech came down with it; ESPN would replay the tapes of that grab repeatedly. Ricky would finish with 53 yards on 19 carries, a 2.8 average, a fumble, and still no touchdowns. Ricky also caught 3 passes for 16 yards. Ricky came out early in the game and returned with an even thicker brace on his right elbow, still hurting from an injury in week 2.
Eddie Kennison would finally show up and make his expected impact in a game, catching a 90-yard touchdown pass from Hobert. This 90 yard grab is the longest touchdown pass in Saints history. He would finish with 4 catches for 138 yards. Cameron Cleeland had 5 catches for 69 yards despite leaving midway through the game with a sprained knee. Keith Poole would finish with 50 yards on three hard-fought catches.
Throwing efficiently at times and lousy at others, Tolliver threw the team down the field before the end of the half and finally hit Brett Bech in the end zone. The former LSU standout receiver Bech made an amazing one-handed catch. Brien added the XP to up the Saints up 17-7.
The Saints did produce 390 yards total offense, outgaining the Falcons who mustered only 251 yards, an ironic number considering their 3rd consecutive, and bitter loss. Only 71 of those yards came on rushing, Tolliver and Lamar Smith each gaining 9 yards on 5 total carries. Ricky still isn't getting his 30-35 carries as promised. Instead the quarterbacks the Saints have, none of them paradigms of efficiency or accuracy, are getting more passing plays.
Mike Ditka:"I don't understand it. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we don't. We talked about running the ball. We couldn't run it. We've got to examine what we're doing."
Billy Joe Hobert took a heavy hit by Lester Archambeau and laid still on the carpet, having reinjured his neck sprain.
After Tolliver's two consecutive drive-ending interceptions, Hobert tried to come back in, but the nerve sprain he suffered today and last week left his right arm weak and almost completely immobile. At one point in the second quarter, Hobert got down on his knees.. and prayed in front of the Saint bench. Tolliver, a former Falcon and Chief, known in Atlanta as Billy Joe Turnover or Billy Joe Overthrow, would not beat his former team.
"It's really disheartening," said Hobert. "I'm really sick and tired of saying how good we are and believing. I actually really believe we're a good team, and realistically speaking, we're three drives away, maybe three plays away from being 4-0 instead of 1-3."
"I got hit from the right side so my head folded that way and my shoulder came up and pinched the nerve away. It wasn't really that dramatic of a hit. This one didn't go numb. This one burned like a dog. That's why I tried to come back. There was no loss of feeling. There was just a real hot burning sensation."
More Coaching Woes
"In four football games, we've won one out of four. That's not saying much for us. We're not looking for anybody's sympathy, because it's up to us. We have to control what's going to happen. The difference is going to be made from those guys in that room, and us as coaches. There's no one else. We understand it. The shrapnel will fly, but that's part of it. You've just got to accept that until you earn the right for it not to fly." -Mike Ditka.
On first and goal at the Falcons 1 yard line, the Saints run Ricky William around right end. The Falcons storm the side and drop him for a 4 yard loss.
Mike Ditka admitted that it should have been right up the middle. Duh. Yet ANOTHER play that Danny A. called that doomed the Saints. Had Ricky scored that touchdown, it would have been the first of his career, quelling doubts of his effectiveness. Also it would have won the game... since Doug Brien would go on to MISS a 28 yard field goal.
It's just unbelievable that Danny A. continues to call bad plays. Even his new 'inspiring' view from the pressbox didn't help him.
The Game Just Slipped Away
The Falcons entered the game almost dead last in rushing. They left the game with over 100 team rushing yards, the first time they'd done that all year.
They also entered the game, took the opening kickoff, and drove easily for a 7-0 score.
Thankfully, at the half, a passing-only Saints offense and a turnover-creating defense put the Saints up 17-7. The defense punctuated the end of the half by solidly sticking Ken Oxendine. The crowd was on its feet at the half. The Saints only mustered a feeble 15 yards rushing in the first half, all at the hands of Ricky Williams, who got 10 attempts to do so. They did have 243 yards passing, 153 of which belonged to Billy Joe Hobert.
K Doug Brien missed two field goals today of 28 and 49 yards. He did hit a 42 yarder, and a 32 yarder that was negated by a penalty. His counterpart Morten Andersen his field goals of 36 and 44, proving once again to be the difference in a Saint-Falcon game.
The Saints were 2-3 on 4th downs, including a QB sneak that Tolliver made, but a final incompletion that gave the ball to the Falcons with 2 minutes left.
"We have to go full speed ahead. This season isn't over by any means. We play actually about as good as you could play at times, and actually about as bad as you could play at times. He threw some good balls. He threw some bad balls. he made some bad choices, but that's going to happy to everybody. Cam is tough, and he wanted to play and he wanted to do well. He made some plays early in the game, we constantly tried to give him the ball. They can catch it as well as the other guys in the this league... we gotta run the ball. You can't not run the ball in this league, we just gotta run the ball. It's silly to think we're not a good football game. That's what bothers me the most. We gotta start playing like it, and play like it for 60 minutes." -Mike Ditka
"It's very frustrating to know that you had control of the game. Things change in the NFL very quickly. I'm sure you all have seen it the past three weeks, but that's just something we have to fight through. We have to keep that out of our system. We have to find a way to break through it, like a brick wall. Every time we're up, we find a way to lose. It's not that we're not good athletes or anything. We make mistakes at the wrong time... We gotta hold our heads up and prepare for the next ball game. We just came out and played 11 on 11, they made a couple plays but none that really hurt us. They're a good football team. Their offense can move the ball. He [Mike Ditka] don't know what to say, he don't know what to tell us. What can he say." -Ashley Ambrose, who had a good day of solid protection and a recovered fumble.
An Inauspicious Beginning
The Falcons took the opening drive 76 yards and easily moved over the Saint defense, eventually QB Tony Graziani hooked up with Mathis for a 22 yard TD. Mathis burned Tyronne Drakeford for that touchdown.
The Saints took their opening drive all the way to the Falcons one-yard line, thanks to 2 defensive pass interference calls. Their 1st and goal at the one yard line turned into 4th and goal at the nine yard line, running three successive plays for a loss. Doug Brien lines up a 28-yard field goal, and misses it.
On the next Falcons drive, Mark Fields grabs the ball out of RB Ken Oxendine's hands to give the Saints the ball at the 15.
The Saints line up a 32 yard field goal after more ineffective offense... and Doug Brien hits it. But thanks to a 10-yard offensive holding penalty, Brien is forced to try a 42 yarder... and hits it.
Next Game: The Titans
"The film showed that we should have played a lot better than we did. We didn't execute very well in certain areas, and as a result we had problems. Basically, it's not a matter of getting into name calling, or finger pointing, it's just that we can play better, and that's something that we have to work out as coaches and players. We had a lot of opportunities. Let's put it that way."
Next week's game will be tough, although it is a home game. If the Saints ever wanted to get a win today would have been a good day to do so. The Saints will continue to heal and mend... and prepare for the next game.
Billy Joe Hobert: "I don't even care about my physical health. If I can play, I'm playing. I've already accepted the fact that I'm absolutely sure that God wants me to play with pain. I just think he forgot that I'm right-handed. If it was a stinger in the left arm, it wouldn't be a problem. But when you can't pick up your arm to throw the football, you're going to kill the team when you're in there."
"You come out at halftime, have a ten point lead, turn the ball over twice, couple of bad shots, lose another. It's frustrating as hell. You've got to make the play when it's presented to you." -Billy Joe Tolliver.
This weekend the surprising Rams downed the 49ers 42-10, and Carolina had a bye.