The Atlanta Falcons received their official elimination from the NFL playoffs for the 2019 season Thursday after a 26-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The defeat dropped the Falcons to 3-9 this season.
Let's take a look at our 10 takeaways from the contest:
1. The first one should be obvious. The Falcons offensive line gave up nine sacks Thursday night after permitting six on Sunday against the Buccaneers. The Falcons have allowed 15 sacks in the last two games.
That's a major concern. The Falcons allowed 42 sacks last season and then dedicated essentially all of their available cap space and two first-round picks to fix the offensive line.
After those fixes, the line has somehow regressed statistically. The Falcons have allowed 38 sacks through 12 games, putting him on pace for more than 50 allowed in 2019.
2. With all of that pressure, it's not at all a surprise that Matt Ryan didn't have the best night. He threw for 312 yards, but it took 50 pass attempts to reach that number, and he threw two interceptions.
It hasn't been a good season for Ryan, but again, a large part of his struggles should be pinned on the protection in front of him. Ryan earned some much needed rest after Thursday night. He was sacked 15 times and hit 26 times in a four-day span.
3. It didn't help Ryan that his top target Julio Jones was out with a shoulder injury. Tight end Austin Hooper is still on the mend with a knee ailment too.
Those are Atlanta's top two pass targets and while it was nice to see Russell Gage and Christian Blake have some success with the opportunity Thursday, not having Jones and Hooper didn't help Ryan's cause or the offensive line's for that matter.
4. The running game didn't help Ryan much either. Devonta Freeman returned, but he only averaged 3.0 yards per carry. The Falcons were more dedicated to the run, which was a good thing after not caring to stay balanced against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Maybe that helped prevent the Falcons from giving up 12 or 13 sacks.
But without a consistent ground game, the offense was again pinned on Ryan and the banged up receiving core. The Falcons averaged 3.4 yards per rush.
Then again, the offensive line is also partially to blame for the running game woes as well.
5. On special teams, the Falcons produced quite a mixed bag. Younghoe Koo missed his first extra point with Atlanta, and was wide left on a 42-yard field-goal attempt. If the Falcons have those four points, then they probably don't go for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
That's five points the Falcons lost in this game. They then only would have needed a field goal to force overtime instead of a touchdown and two-point conversion on the final possession.
The Falcons also allowed the Saints to basically block a punt, though, it went forward eight yards, so it didn't officially count as a block. The Saints took advantage of the great field position with a touchdown off that drive anyway.
But at the end of the game, Koo successfully attempted two onside kicks, and he actually pulled off three good onside attempts if you count the one that was brought back on a penalty. Those extra possessions gave the Falcons a puncher's chance at the end.
6. While the offense severely struggled, the defense actually played fairly well Thursday night. The Falcons offense had three giveaways, but the Saints only scored six points off of those turnovers.
One of the Saints two touchdowns came after the near-blocked punt when New Orleans took over the Falcons 30-yard line.
7. Which brings me to my biggest criticism of Dan Quinn from Thursday -- maybe other than going for the two-pointer in the fourth quarter -- the Falcons again decided to take the ball at the start of the game. That's happened in every game since Atlanta's bye week.
While it worked decently in the Falcons' two recent wins, including the victory at New Orleans three weeks ago, Atlanta actually didn't start any of the last four games with a touchdown. On Thursday, it was a quick three-and-out and then an eight-yard punt.
To think this strategy would work against the Saints a second time this month was probably too much wishful thinking.
8. Back to the defense, the Falcons held the Saints to 279 yards, 2-for-10 on third down and 1 of 2 scoring touchdowns in the redzone.
That should be good enough for the Falcons to win behind a potent offense, but again it wasn't mostly because of the poor offensive line play.
9. It wasn't all good for the Falcons defense, though, as they gave up 5.3 yards per rush. At one point in the third quarter, the Saints were averaging more than 7.0 yards per carry.
Alvin Kamara had 61 yards on just 11 carries, and Taysom Hill rushed for a 30-yard touchdown in the first half.
10. The Falcons also would have given up a lot more points and yards if not for some drops from tight end Jared Cook. He flat out dropped one pass in the end zone and another that would have been a big play.
Keeping that in mind, despite all well the Falcons defense played for the most part, the Saints still could have easily had 30 points. The Falcons also went another game without a sack and have just two quarterback hits in the last two games