Falcons’ defense had no answer for Saints’ Taysom Hill

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons’ defense wasn’t prepared for a rematch against the Taysom Hill-led Saints offense in a 21-16 loss, a poor reflection on interim head coach Raheem Morris.

The Falcons’ defense has improved since Morris took over as head coach. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Falcons had just played their best defensive game of the season against the Raiders, forcing five turnovers and five sacks. Against Hill and the Saints, they looked like a completely different and much worse unit.

Sunday was the second time in three weeks the Falcons played the Saints, who got the best of Atlanta 24-9 in Week 11. In the first half, Atlanta had trouble stopping the Saints, whether in a zone or man-to-man. New Orleans was especially good with the intermediate passing game and run in the first half.

The Falcons’ defense played better in the second half, but in terms of a complete body of work, it’s exactly the kind of performance you wouldn’t want to see from your defense against an inexperienced quarterback.

Atlanta’s defense gave legitimacy to Hill being a candidate to be the Saints full-time starter of the future. That’s not a dig on Hill or his talent — he went out and performed well.

But from a defense’s perspective, the Falcons let a player with an NFL career that had mostly consisted of being a punt gunner and gadget player look like a good quarterback. That’s a tough pill to swallow and will force the Falcons to take a closer look in the mirror as we enter the final month of the season.

When it came down to forcing the Saints to get a stop, it was nearly impossible for Atlanta. Taysom Hill completed 8-of-9 passes for 92 yards and a TD on third downs in the first half. Entering today, the most such completions in a 1st half this season was seven.

The lone bright spot offensively: The Saints had not allowed a touchdown in 14 quarters, the longest streak in their franchise’s history. The Falcons broke that in the fourth quarter with Matt Ryan’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Russell Gage midway through the fourth quarter. The last team to go that long within a single season was the 2000 Steelers, who went 21 straight.

A silver lining: Younghoe Koo is the long-term answer at kicker. Koo had already established this with the season he’s had, building off a solid 2019 campaign. But in a game that left the Falcons looking for any sort of positives, Koo remained the one constant that Atlanta doesn’t need to fix.

Koo finished the game 3-for-3 on kicks, one of which came from 53 yards out. He’s made 50-plus yard FGs in four straight games, one of the reasons why he shared NFC Player of the Month honors for November with the Saints’ Cam Jordan.

Matt Bryant was automatic for the Falcons for years, and they’ll hope the 26-year-old Koo can do the same.

Pivotal play: The Falcons appeared to be having a drive that was going to lead to a comeback, but a Todd Gurley rush for minus-7 yards on third-and-2 with 1:49 left set the Falcons back. The next play, Matt Ryan threw an incomplete pass to Julio Jones in the end zone.

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