The Falcons gave the division-leading Saints all they could handle Thursday night, but New Orleans prevailed, 17-13, as two teams at opposite ends of the NFC South spectrum squared off in front of a prime time national television audience. Let’s take a look at a few of the numbers behind the narrative that provide perspective to the clash of bitter NFC South rivals.
.517 - Winning percentage for the Falcons in the all-time series matchup between the two teams. Including Thursday evening’s 17-13 Saints victory, the two teams have met 89 times in the regular season, with the Falcons still holding a 46-43 edge.
0 - Number of times in the game either team was more than one score ahead. Atlanta actually held the biggest lead of the night after their first quarter touchdown staked the home team to a 7-0 lead.
1 - Number of Oscar-nominated Hollywood icons named Samuel L. Jackson who were in attendance Thursday night. The face and voice of the Falcons’ popular “Rise Up” commercials roamed the sidelines for about an hour before kickoff then watched the game as a guest in Falcons Owner Arthur Blank’s suite. Jackson was shown throughout the game on the Georgia Dome video boards, much to the delight of the Falcons faithful.
3 - Times Coach Smith’s Falcons’ squads have beaten the Saints in 12 matchups between the two teams. The two teams split their two contests in 2010, while the Saints swept the series in 2011. The teams split again during Atlanta’s 13-3 NFC South Championship season in 2012, but tonight’s Saints victory gives them the 2013 series sweep.
4 - Number of games in a row Paul Worrilow has led the Falcons in tackles. The undrafted rookie starting linebacker, who NFL Network’s Steve Wyche dubbed “True Blood” for his relentless energy and toughness, has amassed 63 tackles over that stretch with games of 19, 19 and 16 prior to tonight’s 9 stops against the Saints.
4 - Number of losing seasons for the Falcons since 2002, when Arthur Blank bought the team. With their ninth loss tonight, the 2013 campaign joins only 2003, 2006 and 2007 as losing seasons in the past 12 years.
4.5 – Minutes the game was held up after Jimmy Graham shadow-boxed the west end zone goal post shortly after his 44-yard touchdown catch. The crossbar leaned to the left about 10 degrees off center before Georgia Dome staffers brought out a ladder and leveled the uprights.
5 - Number of times either team moved inside their opponent’s 20-yard line in the game. Both the Falcons and Saints converted once in their two trips to the red zone. While it doesn’t technically count as a red zone visit, the Saints also ventured inside the Falcons’ 20-yard line on Jimmy Graham’s 44-yard second quarter touchdown catch.
7 - Time of possession differential in the game, as the Falcons held the ball for 33:46 to New Orleans’ 26:14. The Saints only possessed the ball for 3:36 in the second quarter, as Atlanta notched drives of 7, 14 and 5 plays. The Falcons’ sustained drives and subsequent success keeping the explosive Saints’ offense off the field was a big reason Atlanta was in the thick of this one right up to the final whistle.
10 - Number of days before the Falcons’ next game, a December 1 clash against the Buffalo Bills in Toronto. The game will mark the first time the Falcons have played a game on Canadian soil.
18 - Players who caught at least one pass in the game. Both Matt Ryan and Drew Brees spread the ball around, each completing passes to 9 different receivers.
38 - Percentage of pass plays where Matt Ryan sustained a hit from the Saints’ defense. Ryan attempted 39 passes and was sacked 5 times and knocked down another 10 times. Ryan also found himself scrambling out of the pocket several times to escape the relentless pressure he saw all evening.
67 - Yards receiving for rookie WR Darius Johnson, on 6 catches. Five of those catches (and 65 of those yards) occurred in the first half, as Matt Ryan developed some genuine chemistry with the undrafted free agent from SMU. Unfortunately, a dropped third-down catch in the third quarter and a fourth-quarter fumble on the Saints’ 20-yard line that snuffed out an 11-play, 70-yard drive marred what was a very promising night for Johnson.