They're still alive. The Falcons stunned the New Orleans Saints 30-14 Sunday to stay alive in the NFC South Division race. With the win, the Falcons are 6-9 and will face the 6-8-1 Carolina Panthers for the division title next week. I'll return shortly with a column on game. Until then, here are my three "Short Takes":
UPDATE: HERE'S a link to the game column on MyAJC.com.
1. Defense. Yes, that's right, defense: Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been publicly flogged in some corners for the dreadful performance of his defensive unit for most of this season. The Falcons were ranked 32nd in total defense entering the week, largely because of weak personnel and the absence of pass rush. But the defense forced four turnovers and sacked Drew Brees five times. The Falcons also pitched a relative shut out against the Saints in the first three quarters -- unless you count a one-play, one-yard touchdown drive that followed Jalen Saunders' 99-yard kickoff return to open the game. Brees was sacked three times in the first half alone and New Orleans was held to 78 yards in offense. The biggest plays: a strip by Kemal Ishmael against the Saints' Jimmy Graham at the goal line (held up on replay) and an interception by Robert McClain to end the game.
2. Julio Jones just might be bionic: The Falcons have been saying Jones has a hip injury. Now there are reports it's actually an oblique strain. Does it matter? This guy is bionic. After sitting out against Pittsburgh last week and then every practice leading up to the New Orleans game, Jones leaped and caught a 19-yard pass on the Falcons' second offensive snap. He had a key 24-yard reception on third-and-10 from the Saints' 27 with eight seconds left to set up the Falcons' first touchdown, a 3-yard shovel pass to Eric Weems to give the team a 13-7 lead. Jones said after the game that he didn't know if he was going to play until after pregame warm-ups but he finished the game with a team-high seven receptions for 107 yards. This is one more game that will be brought up by his agent in contract extension talks.
3. Who Dat Say ... Say what? So you think the Falcons have problems? Things could be even worse in New Orleans. In addition to getting swept by Atlanta in the season series, the Saints have fallen from 11-5 last season to 6-9 this year and, incredibly, have dropped five straight home games for the first time since 1980, when the team went 0-8 at home and finished 1-15. They've done this despite the fact Brees generally has been considered still one of the elite quarterbacks in the game, although Sunday's performance is strong evidence to counter that argument.