ATLANTA - The game was already decided and the Georgia Dome almost empty. But that didn't stop David Irons from celebrating the first fumble recovery of his NFL career.
"I was excited," the Atlanta Falcons rookie from Dacula said. "I wanted that ball."
Irons, down fast on punt coverage as usual, fell on Lance Moore's fumble at the 16-yard line early in the fourth quarter to set up the Falcons' second and final touchdown.
The former Auburn cornerback headed to the sideline celebrating wildly and afterwards had the game ball as a souvenir. But even for Irons, it was a long and otherwise disappointing night.
"It's hard to keep losing," he said after Monday's 34-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints that was the Falcons' fourth straight and dropped them to 3-10.
Worse yet is Atlanta's record in primetime games. The Falcons have been outscored 99-37 in losses to the New York Giants, Indianapolis and New Orleans.
"Other teams show how good they are when the lights come on," veteran tight end Alge Crumpler said. "We show how bad we are."
"It doesn't get any worse than this," veteran center Todd McClure said.
Of course, the Falcons wouldn't have been on national television if ESPN had known prior to the season that quarterback Michael Vick would be wearing prison stripes rather than an Atlanta uniform.
Just hours before kickoff, Vick received a 23-month sentence in Virginia on federal dogfighting charges.
"It was a tough day and playing this bad makes it worse," Crumpler said. "It really hurts."
Chris Redman, selling insurance this time last year, became the third person to start at quarterback in place of Vick. He didn't play badly, completing 23 of 40 passes for 292 yards and both Falcons touchdowns.
An interception ended any Falcons hopes, although it wasn't Redman's fault. Michael Jenkins had a pass go off his hands and Roman Harper returned it for a Saints touchdown early in the third quarter.
The real problem for the Falcons was a poor defensive performance and lack of any running game as the Saints improved to 6-7 and kept their faint playoff hopes alive.
Although playing without Reggie Bush, who is likely lost for the season, New Orleans had touchdown drives of 99, 94 and 80 yards.
"We all have to look in the mirror," veteran strong safety Lawyer Milloy said. "This effort wasn't good enough. We need to find out which players are willing to fight to win."
The Falcons couldn't stop the Saints passing or running, with Drew Brees going 28-for-41 for 328 yards and three touchdowns and Aaron Stecker rushing for 100 yards on 20 carries.
Meanwhile, New Orleans had no problem stuffing Atlanta's ground game. The Falcons had just 37 yards, with Warrick Dunn getting three on six carries.
Late last week, the 10,000-yard rusher called the season a 'nightmare' and things only got more frightening against the Saints.
"This is the worst and I've never actually been through anything like this," Dunn had said of the season. "It's truly like a nightmare and we're just hoping this nightmare hurries up and ends."
The Falcons have three games remaining, playing at Tampa Bay and Arizona the next two Sundays before hosting Seattle on Dec. 30.
Asked what the Falcons needed to do, Crumpler said: "I have opinions, but no answers. We just have to keep fighting."
SideBar: Falcon players honor Vick during MNF game
ATLANTA - DeAngelo Hall ran out for the pregame introductions holding a Michael Vick poster. Then in the first quarter, Roddy White did him one better.
After catching a 33-yard touchdown pass from Chris Redman, White pulled up his jersey to reveal a black shirt with the words "Free Mike Vick" in white letters.
A number of fans wore Vick's No. 7 jersey to Monday night's game against the New Orleans Saints and his former teammates showed their support as well.
"That was homemade. I did that myself," White said of his shirt. "It ain't too much to say, you know. The team misses him."
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison Monday on federal dog fighting charges.
Hall, who like Vick played at Virginia Tech, had "MV7" in white on the black shade under each eye in addition to carrying the poster onto the field.
"I just wanted to let him know we're still thinking about him and we still love him," Hall said.
But Vick is very unlikely to ever play for the Falcons again.
"At this point you can assume that he's out of the picture," owner Arthur Blank said before the game. "That's the assumption that we're working on. He's out of the picture."
The Falcons are trying to recoup $20 million of the $37 million bonus money already paid to Vick, whose contract runs through the 2013 season.
Hall taped the Vick poster to the Falcons' bench, with the quarterback's photo facing the crowd. But it lasted just one series before being removed.