- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Next in line? Matt Ryan said he was pleased with how his offensive line played to start the game. He didn’t say he was happy with how the line finished. Ryan was sacked a season-high five times and hit 10 times. One of those sacks occurred on second-and-10 from the Saints’ 29-yard line with under three minutes to play -- two plays before the Falcons decided to send Matt Bryant on the field for a 52-yard field goal that he missed after the Saints called a timeout to freeze him. Falcons coach Mike Smith seemed resigned to the fact that there’s no fixing this line now. "We’ve got to continue to work with the guys that we have," Smith said. "We’ve got some opportunities to maybe bring some other guys up that haven’t been active .... We’ve got to be better schematically. We’ve got to make sure we’re putting them in their best positions as a coaching staff in terms of the things we’re asking them to do. Entirely too many pressures on the quarterback in the football game tonight." The Falcons once again benched right guard Garrett Reynolds in favor of Peter Konz, who lost his starting job at center, then was benched himself last week at right guard in favor of Reynolds. Left tackle Lamar Holmes had a rough time against Saints right defensive end Cameron Jordan (2.5 sacks).
Hit parade: Smith was obviously upset when Saints left defensive end Akiem Hicks hit Ryan high in the second quarter and even appeared to grab Ryan’s face mask while beating Reynolds for a sack. And although Smith motioned to an official how he felt Ryan got hit in the face, Smith refused to complain about it to the media afterward. "That was not a penalty, because there was not a flag thrown," Smith said. "Again, we will have to wait and see what happens later in the week [regarding a possible fine]. The explanation I got was it wasn’t a penalty. They didn’t see any contact to the head or neck area, and of course what they see is what it is." Ryan also refused to complain about the officiating on the play, but the sack did kill the Falcons’ momentum and forced them to settle for a field goal. "The officials do the best that they can out there and the game moves fast," Ryan said. "You just have to keep playing. It’s a physical game. Hits are going to be physical but, again, it’s not for me to decide." And this came a few days after the whole controversy surrounding Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the hit by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks.
Another explosion: By defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s count, his defense gave up five more explosive plays against the Saints -- two passes of 20 or more yards and three runs of 10 or more yards. The biggest was a 44-yard touchdown reception by talented tight end Jimmy Graham, who beat safety William Moore with a double move. The Falcons have now surrendered 18 plays of 40-plus yards this season. In talking to Moore, the latest one to Graham could have been avoided. "That was all me," Moore said. "They set that up. Graham was basically jogging a few routes. And he came out there one play ... it was basically a trick play. And I’ve got to have my eyes where they need to be .... I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when."
Missing man: Receiver Roddy White got banged up Thursday but remained in the game. Even before the injury, he wasn’t a big factor in the offense. He finished with just two catches for 24 yards as he was targeted twice. Ryan targeted Harry Douglas and rookie Darius Johnson a combined 19 times. Douglas had nine catches for 79 yards and Johnson, six for 67. The defense played by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis can’t be overlooked. White, however, simply hasn’t been himself all season coming off a high ankle sprain and hamstring pull. "Obviously, he’s an explosive player for us, and we do like getting him the ball," Ryan said of White. "Just didn’t shake out that way [Thursday] ... Sometimes defense dictates where you’ve got to go with the ball." White, who missed three games, has just 20 receptions this season. Douglas now leads the team with three times as many (60).