The Covington News - - Sports -

stag­ger­ing av­er­age of 7.0 yards on a com­bined 26 car­ries by Pierre Thomas and Reg­gie Bush.

In the fi­nal 7:51, the Fal­cons flailed help­lessly to stop Thomas, who re­turned a kick­off 88 yards and ran six times from scrim­mage for 29 yards, one touch­down and the game's fi­nal first down.

At­lanta's poor de­fense of Thomas' kick­off re­turn was par­tic­u­larly trou­bling to Smith.

"There were ac­tu­ally three missed tack­les on the kick­off re­turn," Smith said. "There were also a cou­ple of lever­age is­sues where guys were out of po­si­tion."

He and his staff of­ten chose the wrong time to bring rookie mid­dle line­backer Cur­tis Lofton to the side­line in fa­vor of an ad­di­tional cor­ner­back to fill pass­ing lanes against the Saints' NFL-lead­ing air at­tack.

New Orleans coach Sean Pay­ton used many of those sit­u­a­tions to gouge the Fal­cons for big gains on draw plays. The Saints would line up in a pass­ing for­ma­tion, caus­ing lineback­ers Keith Brook­ing and Michael Bo­ley to ad­just their tech­niques to drop into cov­er­age.

"They had some re­ally big run­ning lanes," Brook­ing said. "You have to credit Sean Pay­ton with de­vis­ing a heck of a game plan."

For Lofton, who has emerged as an out­stand­ing de­fender against the run as a sec­ond-round draft pick from Ok­la­homa, the sight of Bush break­ing off a 43-yard run in the first quar­ter and Thomas twice run­ning for 18 yards in the sec­ond was hard to watch.

There was noth­ing he could do, how­ever, as long as At­lanta de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian VanGorder was de­ploy­ing his nickel per­son­nel.

"We lost as a team," Lofton said. "It wasn't one guy's fault or one coach's fault or one group of guys or any­thing like that. The bot­tom line is (New Orleans) made the plays they needed to win the game. We just have to get bet­ter."

When Tampa Bay vis­its the Ge­or­gia Dome on Sun­day, the Fal­cons (8-5) will have to con­tend with an ar­guably more ef­fec­tive and ver­sa­tile corps of run­ning backs in for­mer team­mate War­rick Dunn, Cadil­lac Wil­liams and Earnest Gra­ham.

The Buc­ca­neers en­tered their game at Carolina Mon­day night with the NFL's 11th-best rush­ing at­tack.

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