COMMENTARY | Tom Brady did the Atlanta Falcons a huge favor by manufacturing his 32nd career game-winning drive to beat the New Orleans Saints 30-27 in Week 6. Incidentally, this game marked the first time Brady has beaten Drew Brees since the "golden boy" was dropping back for the University of Michigan and Brees was taking snaps at Purdue.
With the Saints' loss dropping them to (5-1) on the year, the idle Falcons were able to do something on their couch that they had been unable to do on the field this season: gain ground in the NFC South standings.
Although it may be a little depressing for a once-highly-thought-of Super Bowl contender to be overly excited about picking up a half game in the division, this small glimmer of hope lays out the blueprint for how Atlanta can turn around their season and get back to playoff relevancy.
Saints Will be Rendered Helpless in Week 7
The Saints will be dormant in Week 7, allowing the Falcons to gain another half game with a win over the (0-5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Falcons got some help from the New England Patriots on their bye week and will now have the opportunity to hurt the Saints when they sit home on Sunday to watch the action through their NFL Sunday Ticket package.
The Bucs are in disarray after cutting their former franchise quarterback, Josh Freeman, and promoting rookie Mike Glennon to the position of Tampa Bay gunslinger.
Even worse news for the Bucs is the report that the NFL will open an investigation into head coach Greg Schiano for allegedly leaking confidential information about Freeman being in the NFL's substance-abuse program. Needless to say, the Bucs may be the one NFC team in worse shape than the Falcons are right now.
Getting through Week 9 Unscathed is Very Important
Forget the (1-4) record. The Falcons can't do anything about how they started, but they can do something about how they finish.
Assuming the Falcons are able to sidestep the Bucs in Week 7, they will be four games behind the Saints heading into back-to-back road games against the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers. It is never easy to win on the road in the NFL, but seeing as how the Saints will face the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in those same weeks; it is safe to say Atlanta will need to win both to refrain from giving back their bye-week bounty (sorry for the unfortunate wording New Orleans).
Reeling off this three-game winning streak will push Atlanta into second place in the NFC South and put them in position to start chipping away at the Saints as New Orleans will begin the toughest portion of their 2013 schedule.
Saints Will Have to Earn It Starting Week 10
After a rather weak beginning to the season, the opponents for the Saints will start to get a little more formidable in Week 10. Starting with their Sunday-night game against the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans will have a string of four very losable games.
After hopefully giving up another 500-yard performance to Tony Romo -- a la the Denver Broncos in Week 5 -- the Saints would then play host to the San Francisco 49ers. San Fran got the better of Brees in 2012 when they picked him off twice, including a 42-yard Donnie Whitner interception return for a touchdown.
In Week 12, Brees will be coming down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal when Atlanta gets to seek revenge for their Week-1 loss. The division rivals will hit the stage as the late game on Thanksgiving. Here's hoping the tryptophan has Brees feeling a little groggy by then.
Assuming all goes according to plan, the Falcons will be slowly rising up the rankings when the Saints have to go into CenturyLink Field to play the Seattle Seahawks in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. The decibel levels of the Seahawks' nest have been recorded just under that of a Boeing 747 jet engine.
The combined merriment of the "12th Man" has caused a league-high 121 false start penalties for opponents since 2005. And it just so happens that Brees notoriously plays worse on the road that he does safely ensconced inside his Superdome.
If Atlanta can just weather the storm a little longer, the New Orleans seas are going to start getting very choppy. There is still time for Atlanta to make up ground. Remember: six teams since the merger have been able to make the playoffs after starting (1-4).
Understanding What Has to be Done is Not the Same as Doing It
The Falcons have the blueprint to get back into the race, unfortunately, the reason they dug themselves a hole in the first place is still very much a concern. Julio Jones foot is not magically going to get better. Neither is the torn right Achilles of Kroy Biermann.
The good news is that Steven Jackson and Roddy White should get back healthy at some point. Jackson is still dealing with a hamstring injury he suffered in the first quarter of Atlanta's Week 2 win against the St. Louis Rams, and White has been nursing ankle and hamstring injuries of his owe for the entire season. Adding back two Pro Bowl offensive weapons will go a long way to Atlanta returning to form as a playoff contender.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Falcons since they first started playing games inside the Georgia Dome. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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