ATL-NO grades: Matt Ryan finishes off MVP-level regular season
Atlanta Falcons 38, New Orleans Saints 32
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded performances from the Falcons’ 38-32 Week 17 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Quarterback grade: Drew Brees, 45.4
Stat line flatters carefree Brees
With nothing on the line for the Saints Sunday, it at times felt like Brees was just letting loose as he chased another 5,000-yard season. The result may read 349 yards and just one interception, but the reality is there were two other throws that should have been picked off with only drops by Keanu Neal and De’Vondre Campbell saving face. Despite throwing 50 times, Brees had only five completions 10-plus yards or more downfield.
Top offensive grades:
WR Michael Thomas, 88.7
LT Andrus Peat, 80.2
RT Zach Strief, 79.2
WR Willie Snead, 78.6
LG Senio Kelemete, 78.2
Thomas ends excellent rookie year on high
He dropped a pass, but outside of that rookie Michael Thomas didn’t do a lot wrong. Despite pretty strong coverage from Jalen Collins, Thomas was able to exploit the match up with a number of tough catches, doing an especially good job working the sideline on back shoulder throws. The sky really is the limit for Thomas, who has the potential to be the kind of receiver Brees just hasn’t had during his time in New Orleans.
Top defensive grades:
LB Craig Robertson, 81.5
S Vonn Bell, 81.2
LB Dannell Ellerbe, 80.5
DT David Onyemata, 74.7
LB Nathan Stupar, 69.9
Saints show character in second half
Five drives, five touchdowns. That wasn’t just due to an on-point Atlanta offense, but some terrible defense featuring horrible angles and lacking the intensity to go man-to-man with a Falcons offense desperate to wrap up a first-round bye. But the New Orleans defense did stiffen in the second half as the Falcons eased up and that was a good show of character. 143 yards allowed on the ground isn’t something to be proud of, but given that 100 of those yards came on two carries, it’s worth noting they weren’t totally overpowered up front.
Quarterback grade: Matt Ryan, 86.3
Ryan inspires perfect first half
They might have taken their foot off the gas too soon, but the first half was a demonstration of how hot Matty Ice is right now. He did as he pleased throughout that first half as the team picked up four touchdowns and, while he fell short of the 5,000-yard milestone, he and the team got the first-round bye they wanted. Ryan was particularly on point when the Saints just sat back, positing a 141.1 QB rating on the 23 occasions they didn’t blitz.
Top offensive grades:
C Alex Mack, 86.4
QB Matt Ryan, 86.3
WR Julio Jones, 84.8
RT Ryan Schraeder, 79.9
RG Chris Chester, 78.4
Mack symbolizes change in offense
In 2015 the Falcons had a good offense, but they shot themselves in the foot over and over again, and no place more than at center, where snap issues wasted downs and turned the ball over. With Alex Mack in town those issues are no more, as he’s not just avoided those kind of mistakes, but really added something to the running game. His ability to reach block and get to the second level is a joy to watch and it’s no surprise he’s anchored a far more consistent offensive line.
Top defensives grades:
LB Deion Jones, 88.7
CB Robert Alford, 83.0
S Keanu Neal, 82.8
DT Ra’Shede Hageman, 81.3
CB Jalen Collins, 80.0
Rookies shine as playoffs beckon
If you questioned what the issue was with the Atlanta defense in 2015, you’d get a number of responses. The chief one? They were not quick enough. Too often their linebackers were exposed on slow developing underneath routes. No more with Deion Jones in town. He misses more tackles than you’d like (13 on the year) but he’s added speed to their linebacker unit while Keanu Neal has brought an aggression that puts a little fear into receivers coming over the middle. They’ve helped rejuvenate a defense that might still have a long way to go, but has come a long way this year.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Falcons QB Matt Ryan
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