The homecoming didn’t belong to the New Orleans Saints this time. The Falcons provided no moment that would be commemorated in bronze, no joy to a division rival that has owned them for the better part of a decade, no fodder for more lampooning by a Monday night television audience.
There was only this: a 45-32 victory over New Orleans.
One post-Katrina celebration was enough for the Falcons.
“Ten years ago was a special night for the city of New Orleans,” Ryan said. “But there’s only two guys on our team who were there, Jonathan Babineaux and Matt Schaub. The rest of us weren’t a part of it. It wasn’t our deal. Tonight was just a completely different deal for us. It was get out there, compete on a Monday night game and not worry about all of those other things.”
The Falcons still have things to worry about, at least on the defensive side of the ball. But what a different view it is today than it was two weeks ago, when they opened the season with a 31-24 loss to Tampa Bay. They’ve won consecutive games over Oakland and New Orleans, pounding the two teams for 80 points and 970 yards in offense. They’re suddenly terrors in the red zone with five consecutive touchdowns Monday.
And then came the perfect punctuation to the evening: a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie linebacker Deion Jones in the fourth quarter.
Jones is a New Orleans native and, therefore, has some horrible Hurricane Katrina memories of his own, as his family had to evacuate to Mississippi and his grandmother was missing for days.
Jones had his black cleats painted with a red ‘X’ marked on them to commemorate the rescue workers who wrote on the doors of homes ravaged by Katrina after they had been searched for survivors.
“It was electric. It was a dream come true,” said Jones, who was mobbed by teammates on the sideline after the play. “I was glad my whole family was here to see it and be a part of it. I got great support from the guys on the sideline. ‘Spoon got a little emotional, but it was great.”
The ‘Spoon reference was to teammate Sean Weatherspoon, who picked up Jones on the sideline.
“After he scored, he told me, ‘That’s for my grandma,’” Weatherspoon said.
There’s your new post-Katrina memory — but a pleasant one for the Falcons this time. Ten years ago, they lost to the Saints on a Monday night 23-3.
The Falcons have had an inglorious history on Monday nights. Before this win, they had lost 12 straight Monday night road games, were 1-15 all-time on the road (the lone win coming in 1979) and were 11-27 overall — the worst Monday night record in the NFL.
But, hey, this must be a new era in Falcons’ football because suddenly even Kyle Shanahan isn’t getting beat up on social media anymore.
No Shanahan jokes? No red-zone jokes? What’s a cynical fanbase to do? This must have been what it was like when Richard Nixon left office and comedians lost half their material.
The Falcons had scored 35 points before Julio Jones even caught a pass in the third quarter. That turned out to be Jones’ only catch, as Ryan threw to eight different receivers. It helped that the Saints were missing four starters from an already soft defense, but give Shananan and the offense credit because New Orleans never seemed to know what was coming.
Drew Brees hit his standard Fantasy League jackpot against the Falcons — 376 yards, three touchdowns — but he couldn’t do nearly enough to keep pace with the opponent.
Shanahan alternated plays from run to pass, pass to run, run to play-action, left to right. The offensive line, led by center Alex Mack, appears to be improving by the week. Devonta Freeman rushed for 152 yards and had five receptions, including a touchdown. Tevin Coleman rushed for 42 and three scores.
There was one play in the first half when Freeman swatted defensive back Sterling Moore away like he was a flea.
The offense moved with amazing efficiency: 74 yards in 11 plays, touchdown; 75 yards in 11 plays, touchdown; 94 yards in eight plays, touchdown; 75 yards in six plays, touchdown. They even converted two fourth downs.
“We wanted to really be aggressive. We wanted to keep attacking,” coach Dan Quinn said.
“Kyle’s done a great job, keeping defenses off balance,” Ryan said.
Can the offense maintain this pace? Ryan said in training camp he believed the Falcons were capable of scoring 30 points per game, a remark that grew legs in the media.
Quinn attempted to smother that.
“I recognize (Ryan) is an aggressive guy and he wants that, but very few teams do that and we’re just getting going,” Quinn said. “We just need to keep attacking, and we have another tough opponent in the division next week.”
The next opponent is Carolina, which at 1-2 already has lost more games than a year ago (15-1). The Falcons (2-1) are in first place. There’s a view some wouldn’t have expected two weeks ago.