Saints find offensive balance, keep postseason hopes alive

Reggie BushNew Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton was rightfully criticized throughout the week for not maintaining enough offensive balance this season. While the Saints statistically rank as the best offense in the league, they entered Sunday’s game against the Falcons as a 6-6 team with slim playoff hopes. No offense – not even the best in the league – can win consistently if they can’t run the ball. But the Saints rushed for 184 yards and beat division rival Atlanta 29-25 on Sunday.

Their running game was essentially the key because it opened everything up for Drew Brees and the passing game. Outside of the opening drive of the first quarter and most of the third, the Falcons’ defense looked befuddled at what Payton was throwing at them. They had no answer for New Orleans’ offense and allowed Pierre Thomas to rumble for 102 yards on just 16 carries. If Payton can keep himself from going Andy Reid on everybody, the Saints are going to be tough to beat the rest of the way.

For the Falcons, their loss cannot be placed on rookie Matt Ryan (24 of 33 for 315 yards, 1 TD) and the offense. Ryan was unbelievable and got a ton of help from Roddy White (10 catches, 164 yards) and Michael Jenkins (5 catches, 69 yards), who made the rookie quarterback look good on a couple of errant passes. Outside of a rookie mistake on an interception thrown in the first quarter, Ryan was damn near perfect and constantly kept drives alive with pinpoint passes.

The Falcons really put themselves in a hole with this loss, however. At 8-5, they’re still very much alive in the playoff race, but they host a tough Buccaneers team next week and then travel to Minnesota before finishing with the hapless Rams. They’ll have to win at least two of their next three games to make the playoffs, so a win over the Saints could have gone a long way.

We’ll see what Ryan and the young Falcons are made of over these next three weeks.

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