The MVP candidate, quarterback Matt Ryan, struggled. The running game bogged down after the first quarter. And yet the Atlanta Falcons still pulled off their biggest win of the season Thursday night in the Georgia Dome, 23-13 over the New Orleans Saints.
This Falcons team doesn't always pass the eye test. They often seem to get outplayed -- like against the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders -- yet find a way to win. They win games in the final seconds, like against Carolina and Tampa Bay. And they beat their biggest division rivals on Thursday night in a sloppy, often inexplicable affair.
This is just how the Falcons are going to be. Get used to it, because they are headed for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and we're going to be talking a lot about them. They will officially clinch the NFC South if the Tampa Buccaneers lose or tie on Sunday.
On Thursday night, the Falcons showed they can win games with their defense. On a night when Ryan only had 165 yards and plenty of wayward passes, the Falcons picked off Drew Brees five times. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's unit gave up a lot of yards, but buckled down in the red zone. They knocked down 12 passes with swarming pass coverage. They got a huge sack from John Abraham in the fourth quarter when the Saints were driving, only down by seven. Yes, they got their share of luck.
At 11-1, the Atlanta Falcons clearly aren't a perfect team. But they do have a perfect record at home. After this win over their most hated rival, they should be playing at home through the NFC playoffs. That matters a lot more than any eye test.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.