Siemian wasn’t one of Saints’ many problems in loss to Falcons

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Trevor Simian, Deonte Harris
(Photo: Parker Waters)

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints had a lot of problems in their last-second 27-25 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Trevor Siemian wasn’t one of them.

Siemian understandably was the center of attention as he made his first start under center in the wake of Jameis Winston’s season-ending knee injury last week.

He played well enough for the Saints to win, but the Saints didn’t play well enough in other areas to win.

Siemian completed 25 of 41 passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception, but he did commit a costly turnover when he fumbled while taking his only sack of the game early in the fourth quarter.

A 32-yard return by Steven Means set up Atlanta at the New Orleans six-yard line and one play later Matt Ryan was throwing his second touchdown pass to Olamide Zaccheaus for what seemed like a comfortable 24-6 lead with 10:39 remaining.

But Siemian, who drove the Saints 70 yards to a winning field goal late in the first half of the 36-27 victory over Tampa Bay in Winston’s absence a week earlier, wasn’t done.

He took the Saints on touchdown drives of 66, 54 and 43 yards in a span of 9 minutes and
33 seconds to give them their first and what wound up being a very brief lead.

“We didn’t do the things that winning teams do consistently,” head coach Sean Payton said accurately.

His team is still a winning team with a 5-3 record after seeing a three-game winning streak end, but the Saints have now lost twice at home in games in which they led teams with worse records than theirs in the fourth quarter.

The loss to the 4-4 Falcons was the first since a 27-21 overtime loss to the 3-6 Giants, who scored the final 17 points.

On Sunday, the Saints were penalized 10 times for 74 yards. They sacked Matt Ryan just twice and let the scrambling-challenged 36-year-old run for a touchdown and elude their sporadic pass rush on multiple occasions.

The most game-turning short-coming was the inability to hold that brief lead, which was the result of one play.

On the first offensive play that the Falcons ran while trailing, they recognized a favorable matchup with rookie corner Paulson Adebo covering Cordarrelle Patterson and Ryan launched a pass up the east sideline toward midfield that produced a 64-yard catch and run.

Moments later Youngshoe Koo was kicking a 29-yard field goal, the clock was expiring and the Falcons were celebrating.

If Adebo had broken up the pass or knocked Patterson out of bounds, or Koo had somehow botched the chip shot, or somehow the Saints otherwise had made that singular lead hold up, it would have been a remarkable victory.

But this game was lost as much at the beginning as the end.

The Saints trailed 10-0 at halftime and fell into a deeper hole early in the fourth quarter primarily because they couldn’t catch enough catchable passes and they couldn’t stop the Falcons from catching passes with sufficient consistency.

Siemian’s solid numbers would have been more impressive if not for a handful of passes that, though imperfect, still hit professional pass catchers in the hands and went incomplete.

Meanwhile Ryan completed 23 of 30 passes for 343 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, often finding receivers who were wide open and snared passes they should have snared.

The Saints rushed for three times as many yards as the Falcons (109-34) and averaged a satisfactory 4.4 yards per rush, but converted just 3 of 10 third downs and failed on their only fourth-down attempt.

Speaking of failures, their inability to convert either of the 2-point conversions they attempted after their final two touchdowns were significant as well.

Additionally, the Saints possessed the ball for 32 minutes and 21 seconds and the Falcons possessed it for 27 minutes and 39 seconds.

That’s a statistic that can be misleading, as it was in this game, because even though having the ball for more than half of the game means more offensive opportunities than the opponent, it doesn’t mean as much as how well you take advantage of however many opportunities you do have.

The Saints had an opportunity Sunday to tie Tampa Bay for the NFC South lead and tie East-leading Dallas and North-leading Green Bay in the loss column.

But they didn’t take advantage despite having sufficient quarterback play to do so.

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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