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Falcons Host Saints To For One Last Regular Season Game At The Georgia Dome
(live blog from the Georgia Dome)
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from FootballAtlanta.com - Click Here

 By Don Stone - Football Atlanta

   We are down to the final regular season NFL game at the Dome appropriately between Atlanta and their biggest rival, the New Orleans Saints. It will be the 25th time the two have met here. Kind of a home away from home for the Saints, who have won more than any visiting NFL team (13). The most success has come in the Drew Brees era when they are 7-3. The Saintsí season is over. But, they would love nothing more than to keep the Falcons from getting their Week One bye, which a loss could do.
  The Falcons and Saintís combined to give Atlanta fans an early Christmas gift last weekend when the Falcons beat Carolina and watched as the Buccaneers lost right afterwards at New Orleans to give Atlanta its first NFC South Championship since 2012. And that was just the beginning. That night, Arizona pulled off an improbably win at Seattle to put the Falcons in the driverís seat for the #2 seed and a first round bye. A win against the Saints would assure that.
  And, it guaranteed at least one bonus game at the Dome. This one is the last regular season game. And, now we have a playoff game. I say ďat least one bonus game.Ē We know the Falcons will either host a game next week or get a bye and host one the following week. If they continue to win and Dallas gets beaten in the playoffs, Atlanta would close out the Georgia Dome with its second NFC Championship Game, the winner going to the Super Bowl.
  So, still a few more memories to make. Then, we say goodbye and begin a new relationship with the new kids on the block rising up in the Domeís southern shadows, The Mercedes Benz Stadium.
  For the Falcons, all they have to do is beat New Orleans and they are the # 2 seed in the NFC with a first-round bye. They would face the Wild Card winner with the highest seed, probably Seattle. If they lose, will probably be the No. 3 seed and play next weekend against either New York or Washington.
  New Orleans got the ball first at their 25 and did a quick three and out.
  Atlanta started at their 32. A short toss right to Devonta Freeman saw the back reverse directions and make it to the 39. Matt Ryan hit Justin Hardy for 11 into Saints territory at their 42. Freeman was open up the middle and hustle for 35 yards for a first and goal at the 7. Tevin Coleman got the rest with a catch and run into the end zone to put Atlanta up 7-0. The drive took just 2:11 using four plays and 68 yards.
  This time, the Saints started moving with an eight yard completion to Mark Ingram followed by another catch for 14. Brees hit Brandin Cooke for 12 to that Atl39. Michael Thomas caught another for 10 yards,
  Sean Peyton, in what could be his last game as New Orleans head coach, went for it on fourth and one and connected with a 25 yard pass to Colby Fleener for a first and goal at the 5. Dan Quinn took his first time out. A Saints reporter sitting next to me seemed certain that Peyton would be taking the Rams job and suggested that there might be fireworks in his post game press conference. (Not much. Mostly the predictable denials).
  Atlanta stuffed the run to make it third and goal at the one. Ingram left the field with a limp. Fleener got the score with a TD catch in the left corner. But replay said he didnít maintain possession. Instead of seven, they got three on a 19 yard field goal from Wil Lutz, who used to play his college ball in this building for Georgia State.
  Atlanta began their second drive at their 25. On the first play, Freeman burst free and went the distance for an electric 75 yard touchdown putting Atlanta up 14-3. That put him over the 1000 yard mark for the second straight season, the first time a Falcon has done that since Michael Turner in 2010-11.
  New Orleans began at their 34. A pass to Thomas gained 20 to the Atl45. Tim Hightower took a handoff for 25 yards to the 20. An unsportsmanlike call on Courtney Upshaw made it first and goal at the 10. A holding call on Jonathan Babineaux moved it to the two. Hightower went in untouched to make it 14-10.
  If Atlanta keeps scoring so fast, they risk the defense getting tired. So far, their two drives took just five plays for their two scores using only about two and a half minutes.
  Atlanta began at their 30 after a neutral zone infraction. A pass interference call Roman Harper on a deep ball to Julio jones drew a 41 yard penalty to the NO24. A dropped pass by TE Levine Tollolo was the first Falconsí offensive play that had not worked. The next play took it to the three on a 21 yard catch by Jones ending the first quarter.
   A false start made it first and goal from the 8. Jones got them to the one then made a circus catch in the left corner of the end zone for a 21-10 lead. Another fast drive using just 1:35 and four plays. His 40th career TD catch tied him with Alfred Jenkins for 4th in team history. Maybe the Saints are using a rope a dope approach to tire out the Atlanta offense who had only been on the field for four minutes to get their 21 points
   New Orleans began at their 23 but could get nothing going. Atlanta took over at their 24.
  Julio got things going with a stretched out catch up the middle to the 43. Aldrick Robinson took his turn with a 17 yard catch to the NO37. With that completion, Ryan has 5,765 on the season, a new single season franchise record.
  Another first down on a catch by Mohamed Sunu at the 23. Tollolo moved it 18 closer to the five. A false start on Jake Matthews made it second and goal from the 10. No problem as Ryan found Sunu open for a fourth TD. 28-10. This drive took just 5:41 using 76 yards and nine plays.
  The Saints offense again moved the ball starting with rushes of 7 and 17 yards by Ingram. A pass to Thomas picked up 25 to the Atl26 but the drive stalled as they settled for a 49 yard Lutz field goal to make it 28-13.
  Ryan opened up with a 19 yard pass to Robinson at the 44. Hardy eluded a sloppy tackle for a 17 yard gain to the NO37. A holding call put it at the 27 at the two minute warning. Sunu caught another to the 15 as the clock moved to 41 seconds. Ryan finished the drive with a fifth TD, this one a pass to Hardy for an amazing 35-13 lead.
  In the first half, Ryan was 17-19 for 235 yards.
  Atlanta started the second half at their 25 with a Hardy six yard catch at the 33. But the Saints got their first sack of the game by Nick Fairly and their first drive out of eight that didnít result in a TD. Matt Bosher came in for his first punt of the game with the Saints fair catching it at their 25.
  Brees, to this point, had little difficulty completing passes between the 20s. Just not as effective in the red zone. Another completion to Willie Snead for 20 yards prompted Quinnís first time out. That was followed by a Grady Jarrett sack for an eight yard loss at the 37. Too much to overcome with the punt rolling out of bounds at their one.
  Working out of his end zone, Ryan dodged a few tackles to hit Jones for 15 and breathing room. Another catch by Julio for 23 to the 39. A change of pace with a handoff to Coleman, who took it 25 yards to the NE36. Freeman caught one running across the middle for 8 with Jones converting another after an 11 yard catch at the 15.
  It was announced that Saintsí DT Sheldon Rankins was out with a foot injury with his return questionable.
  On a third and 7, Nick Williams got his first catch for a first and goal at the four. Atlanta couldnít get it in and settled for a Bryant 22 yard field goal extending the lead to 38-13.
  The Saints began at their 25 and went three and out again.
  The Falcons had their best starting field position at their 40. An off sides call moved it to midfield with another first down on a Coleman dive to the 48. But, a holding call and false start made it first and 25 at the 37. Freeman got them close with an 18 yard gain to the NO41 as the game moved into its final quarter.
  From this point, both teams were mostly going through the motions knowing the inevitable.
  Bosher punted for the second time to the 22.
  Brees pulled out a third and ten with a 29 pass to Thomas followed by a Snead 35 yard catch at the 14. Thomas finished off the drive with an end zone catch to cut the lead in half 38-19, failing a two point conversion attempt.
  On the kick off, Sanu picked up an illegal block in the back penalty that forced the drive to start at the six. Out of the hole with a 9 yard Coleman run to the 18. The back walked gingerly off the field. Nothing more with another Bosher punted again for 58 to the NO28. An offensive penalty forced a rekick Kicking from the two, Bosher hit a 57 yarder to the 32.
  Brees again padded the stats with a 22 yarder to Thomas to the Atl46. After a 23 yard catch by Snead, Keanu Neal leveled him with his signature clout forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Saints at the 22. Both Neal and Snead went to their locker rooms to be evaluated for possible concussions from the collision.
  A catch by Coleman brought up a third and two at the 14. Another first down with a short Thomas catch at the nine. The drive ended abruptly as Jalen Collins picked Brees off in the end zone.
  Atlanta began at their 20 with a four yard Freeman run. With most of the motivation gone, the Falcons again went three and out.
After a 47 yard punt and an unnecessary roughness call on Upshaw, the Saints had the ball at the 50. Running through a bunch of half hearted tackles, Ingram got 38 to the 10. The former Heisman Trophy winner added 8 to the two then punched it in to make the score much closer than it was, 38-25.
  The Saints were successful with an on sides kick giving them the ball at their 43 with 2:4 to go. On an incomplete pass, Cooks was hurt and had to come out. The misery was prolonged with a catch by Thomas at the Atl35 at the two minute warning.
  A fourth and one was converted on a nine yard carry by Ingram to the 17 with just over a minute to go. Peyton called his final time out of the game and perhaps as a Saintsí coach. Robert Alford and Jalen Collins were both announced with injuries (knee and cramps respectively.) Thomas got another first down at the three with 45 seconds to go. Travaris Cadet put up the points on a three yard catch. Amazingly, the Saints had pulled to within a score, 38-32. Since pulling ahead 38-13, New Orleans had outscored a coasting Falcons team 19-0.
  Another on sides kick attempt loomed surprisingly large. This time, Sanu fell on it to put the Saints out of their misery.
  It got way too close for comfort in what was essentially a cake walk. But, the Falcons took their foot off the gas and let the Saints back in.
   With that, Atlanta secured the #2 seed in the playoffs. They will take the week off and await their opponent for the final game at the Georgia Dome in two weeks.
 

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