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Falcons add to Saints' worries

Matt Ryan (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Matt Ryan's growth showed in Sunday's victory in New Orleans.
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Howie Long

Howie Long is an NFL Hall of Famer and Emmy-Award winning analyst on the "FOX NFL Sunday" pregame show. He earned eight Pro Bowl berths in his 13-year career with the Oakland Raiders, helping lead them to a victory in Super Bowl XVIII, before joining FOX Sports in 1994.

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The Saints, the defending champs, have to be a little concerned. Not only did they lose in overtime to their biggest rival in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons, but they also still have to play a month or more without Reggie Bush, who can turn a 5-yard dump-off pass into 15, 25 yards or even a touchdown. They also lost cornerback Tracy Porter, one of their defensive stars in the Super Bowl, and that’s not good, either.

The Falcons won by being able to pound the ball on the Saints. They have something very good going right now with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling pounding the middle of the line. But I came away from the game being impressed by the growth of quarterback Matt Ryan. A year ago, he went into the Superdome, and he threw three interceptions, two inside the 5-yard line. Today, zero.

Instead, it was Drew Brees who uncharacteristically turned the ball over. Since the 15th game of last season, he had gone 241 pass attempts without a pick. But he threw two interceptions today, so turnovers were the difference.

Each and every personnel move general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith have made was geared toward beating New Orleans, particularly on defense with the acquisition of Dunta Robinson and rookie linebacker Sean Witherspoon. They made moves to improve their overall team speed and pass coverage, and it’s working.

Brees took a big hit on his left knee toward the end of the game. I’m not sure whether that factored into Sean Payton’s decision to not try to punch it in when they got down to the Atlanta 11-yard line. Payton opted to kick the field goal immediately with a first down. And when Garrett Hartley missed that 29-yarder, the Saints defense got worn down on the final drive.

Defensively, the Saints have made a living off giving up the yards and counting on their opponents to make mistakes. No defense does a better job of stripping the ball away from the opponents. But with the exception of the fluke turnover on the punt return, the Saints produced zip in this big division game.


 

Open letter to Jerry Jones

 

I will admit you are a great owner. No owner is better at maximizing his team’s money-making ability, paying his players or going out and getting the best players for his team. You also have a sensitive, understanding side, like giving your private plane to nose tackle Jay Ratliff so he could attend his grandparents’ funeral last week.

Your team has as much talent as anyone, but you should eliminate the distractions to your team like having fans attend Friday practices at Cowboys Stadium. You must allow your team to focus on the very thing you really want — a fourth Super Bowl title.

Today’s production was great. Your team had balance on offense, but eight penalties are still too much to win those close games down the road.

 

Minnesota finally wins

 

Brett Favre got drilled at least eight times by the Lions. For a quarterback soon to be 41 years old, he never looked tougher. The Vikings needed this win, but the protection has to improve or Brett won’t make it to midseason.

I will say this: Minnesota’s defense is as good as ever. The key is whether it can hold the fort until Sidney Rice gets well and the passing game improves. Adrian Peterson reminded us all how special he really is. He scored twice and ran away from the Lions on that 80-yarder.

 

Rams made right pick

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Sam Bradford is so impressive. His best attribute is how even-keel he is. Nothing seems to faze him. And his teammates have responded to that. They know he’s working hard, playing hard and will do whatever it takes to make a play. That’s all you can ask of your quarterback.

You have to wonder how good he could be right now if he had a deep threat like Vincent Jackson or how about those two Philadelphia receivers? He is playing great within the Rams’ system and with what he has. He beat the Redskins without his two best receivers from the start of training camp and still he produced.

Sunday, when the Redskins decided to stack the line against him, putting eight men in the box, he just worked that outside pass route to perfection. It should be obvious to everyone, after three games, the Rams definitely made the right choice in picking Bradford first in the draft. He is special and has a bright future. The Rams are awfully young right now, and as long as they keep drafting well, they should improve.

I’m sure there are a lot of teams that would want Bradford right now.

 

Showdown next Sunday

 

It will be interesting what kind of reaction Donovan McNabb gets next week in Philadelphia. That’s a great game for us at FOX, and what has made it really special is how Michael Vick has performed these past two weeks. I mean, he has done his part to complicate the situation. We all know Vick never would have gotten this opportunity if Donovan were still in Philadelphia.

The way Vick has played, I’m sure Andy Reid really believes his team has a shot at the NFC East title. Yes, the Cowboys will be in the race to the end, but Vick has really picked up the Philadelphia offense, the whole team for that matter. His performance against Jacksonville was so effortless, so natural.

Donovan faced a lot of these Eagles in practice for a long time. And what he will see will be similar to what he saw today from Steve Spagnuolo’s Rams. He was 1 for 10 on third down against the Rams. Is it a precursor for next week?

In the NFL, it doesn’t get any more dramatic than this. How tough will it be on Donovan? We don’t know. But it’s going to be something to see and experience, you can count on that!

Tagged: Falcons, Cowboys, Rams, Vikings, Saints, Eagles, Redskins, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Sam Bradford

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