FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a decent day statistically, but a few blunders helped sidetrack the team against the New Orleans Saints in Thursday night's 31-21 loss.
After two sub-standard games for the two-time Pro Bowler, the team's franchise quarterback can take a mini-break before the return to action against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, Oct. 25.
After having three turnovers in an overtime victory over Washington, Ryan had three fumbles against the Saints. Two of them came in key situations and the other late in the game when things were decided.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn preaches about the important of ball security.
One of Quinn's football rules is to secure the football and take it away from the opposition. The Falcons whiffed on both fronts against the Saints with a national television audience watching.
"I would argue that every meeting that I've been in that Dan has been there that there have been references to ball security and taking the ball away on defense," Ryan said. "That's who we have been the last couple of weeks early in the season."
The bright sport for the Falcons was the continued emergence of running back Devonta Freeman.
He extended his streak of scoring at least one rushing touchdown in a game to five. His 25-yard run was his ninth rushing touchdown of the season, and his longest touchdown run of the season. Freeman finished the game with 13 carries for 100 yards, which was his second straight game with at least 100 yards rushing.
He has more touchdowns through the first six games than any Falcons player had all last season. Freeman is also a threat out of the backfield. He added eight catches for 56 yards and finished the game with 156 total yards from scrimmage.
He has five straight games of recording 100 total yards. He also caught his first touchdown pass of the season on a 13-yard catch and run in the fourth quarter.
Overall, Freeman's 10 total touchdowns lead the NFL. Dating back to 1991, Freeman is the ninth Falcon to score 10 total touchdowns in a single season and the first since Julio Jones in 2012.
Ryan believes the Falcons will regroup.
"It was a tough night," Ryan said. "I don't think there's a loss of identity or anything like that. We just didn't play as well as we are capable of."
The Falcons were downright awful. They had untimely fumbles, a blocked punt and a host of penalties.
Ryan was 30 of 44 for 295 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons had five fumbles and they recovered two of them.
There was a botched snap and Ryan bumped into fullback Pat DiMarco to force another fumble that was a drive-killer.
There was no precision to the offense against the Saints.
Despite all of the mistakes, the Falcons trailed 14-7 at halftime and had the ball to start the third quarter.
But the drive stalled after right guard Chris Chester was called for a holding penalty.
"We had an opportunity to convert on a pretty good third-down situation when a ball got tipped down," Ryan said. "It's one of those things in order to kind of get the momentum, you have to be good on third down. Turnovers and third downs, we were not very good on that tonight. That's an area where we need to be better."
Running back Tevin Coleman had a fumble in the red zone.
"We just didn't play the way that we are capable of in terms of ball security," Ryan said. "When you don't protect the football and you have a number of turnovers, it's difficult to win."
REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS
--PASSING OFFENSE: C. QB Matt Ryan needed that late garbage drive to keep his streak of games with 250 yards passing or more alive. He was credited with three fumbles. He's been a turnover machine over the past two weeks. He completed 30 of 44 passes for 295 yards and finished with a passer rating of 102. Somebody go find the real Matt Ryan. Overall, the wide receivers and tight ends caught 19 of 29 targets. Julio Jones needs to get that hamstring right so that he can add some pop back in the passing attack. He stumbled after hauling down a big 30-yard gain in the first quarter. He would have aggressively taken that ball at the safety if healthy. Roddy White caught three of four targets, including a 7-yard touchdown grab. Leonard Hankerson had a bad drop late. The pass protection was shaky as they gave up five sacks. That's eight over the past two games. Left guard Andy Levitre (false start), right guard Chris Chester (holding) and right tackle Ryan Schraeder (holding) also had costly penalties. Is the patchwork line starting to show some cracks?
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus. Devonta Freeman shined again with 100 yards on 13 carries. He also caught eight passes for 56 yards. The grade is lowered because Tevin Coleman's red-zone fumble in the second quarter was reprehensible. He could have gone out of bounds, but he took on the safety. He should have wrapped the ball up and ran over the safety if he was going to take him on. He's a rookie, he'll learn that the safeties in the NFL can bring the heat. The Falcons could have tied up the game, captured the momentum and quieted the vociferous Saints fans. Freeman played 63 of 73 snaps. Coleman had seven snaps and Terron Ward played five snaps. The quickest way to get in running backs coach Bobby Turner's doghouse is to the put the ball on the ground.
--PASS DEFENSE: D-minus. The nickel pass rush line of O'Brien Schofield, Adrian Clayborn, Jonathan Babineaux and Vic Beasley was controlled by a line that had given up 15 sacks. Clayborn had a sack and there were four hits on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. With no pass rush, Brees cut up the zone defenses as he completed 30 of 39 passes for 312 yards and a touchdown. Paul Worrilow had a rough time in coverage when he had TE Benjamin Watson. Robenson Therezie started at free safety for Ricardo Allen. He finished with seven tackles and came up strong in run support. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford played well. Brees just found the voids in the zones. Watson caught 10 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown.
--RUSH DEFENSE: B. The run defense was stout as Kroy Biermann, Ra'Shede Hageman, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson held the point of attack well. The Saints averaged 2.5 yards on 32 carries. The Falcons gave up 81 yards, just a few over the 78.4 average that they entered the game with. On Mark Ingram's first touchdown run, Nate Stupar was overpowered. Worrilow led the way with nine tackles. Joplo Bartu started at weak-side linebacker as the Falcons opened in their base defense. He had five tackles and a pass deflection. Brooks Reed, who's yet to make an impact, had two tackles.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: F. The Falcons didn't handle a simple twist and Saints linebacker Michael Mauti came free up the middle of the punt protection to block Matt Bosher's punt in the first quarter. He recovered the block for an energizing touchdown. Mauti, a New Orleans native who was in the stands for Steve Gleason's historic blocked punt against the Falcons in 2006, came between snapper Josh Harris and the right guard. Also, up-back Eric Weems appeared to miss the block. Bosher had an off day as he averaged 41.3 yards on three punts with a net of 28 yards.
--COACHING: D-minus. Sean Payton continued his dominance over the Falcons. The Saints are 14-5 against the Falcons since he took over in 2006. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn preaches about taking care of the ball, but the Falcons didn't do that. The Saints came out with an opening touchdown drive off their script and then got a special teams touchdown to give them life. The quick start and Falcons' turnovers was all they needed. The Falcons didn't adjust on defense and allowed Watson to catch 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons have to consider some man-to-man coverage and some well-timed blitzes to help fabricate a pass rush. The Falcons have just seven sacks after six games.