I can’t remember the last time following a New Orleans Saints loss I didn’t know who to be most mad at? Following the Saints heartbreaking 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons I can’t decide if I should be madder at the referees, Drew Brees, injury misfortune, or Roger Goodell for creating Thursday night football?

The thing that makes this loss so gutting is that in spite of so many injuries at one point Saints players were waiting to take turns into the medical tent on the sideline, victory was within sight.

“I’m sorry Kenny Vaccaro; you are going to have to wait while we check on the other four starters who are hurt. Also could you fill out this insurance form and make a copay.”

A victory would have been maybe the finest, gutsiest, most enjoyable regular season win in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era. Add in killing the Falcons season? The deliciousness of it WAS SO CLOSE. The three points a penalty took off the board right before half will haunt my dreams. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

I hate to blame referees for loses but my goodness alive, every single questionable call went against the Saints. Atlanta received 9 first downs via penalty including a roughing the passer penalty on Sheldon Rankins that defies logic and description. The referees were at least consistent; every single big call went against the Saints. Sean Payton getting a bizarre penalty for running on the field was actually the perfect ending to this awful football game.

Sean Payton was a much more reasonable person than I following the game.

“I’ve never been a part of a game like that.” That’s being very diplomatic coach.

This kind of game is pretty standard for Thursday night. Are you happy Roger Goodell? There’s nothing America enjoys more than watching two really good teams play with penalty flags reigning down and injured players taking numbers to go into the sideline tent. I’d venture to say anyone watching this game who wasn’t a Falcon fan probably found it as enjoyable as eating stale toast. Deep down Falcon fans probably didn’t enjoy watching Matt Ryan look like name brand Blake Bortles and throw three interceptions either.

The NFL is probably going to be paying some consultant millions this offseason to explain why their ratings continue to decline. Hey Roger, I’ll take 50,000 grand and a plane ticket to New York to give you a detailed presentation on why people aren’t watching. My presentation will involve tying you to a chair and making you watch this game on a loop while whispering in your ear, “Stop doing this. It’s horrible.” Thursday night football needs to go play in traffic.

Do we need to talk about the injuries? Oh the horror. Alvin Kamara was the first to go with a concussion. He was followed by Kenny Vaccaro, Senio Kelemete, A.J. Klein, and Trey Hendrickson. Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas, and Ted Ginn Jr. were also shaken up. There was a moment late in the game where it seemed the Saints weren’t so much going to lose as simply not be able to have enough players on offense to continue.

In spite of the injuries, the horrible officiating, and everything seemingly stacked against them, the Saints marched 69 yards in 10 plays and seemed on the cusp of getting to 10-3. Brees completed five passes and Sean Payton even passed up the game tying field goal on fourth and one to go for the win. By the way, it was the absolute right call even if it hadn’t worked. Payton knew the Saints defense was gassed and overtime was not something that favored the Saints.

Brees admitted the throw to Josh Hill was a bad one, “That was not a risk I should've taken."

It was a combination of a poor decision and a spectacular interception by Deion Jones.

The poor throw by Brees will overshadow what for him was a fairly remarkable night considering the circumstances. The Saints lost Kamara on the first series, were forced to play their third string guard, and yet he was 26-35 for 271 yards and two scores. It wasn’t great but Brees was forced to throw into tight windows all night mostly and looked good doing it…until he didn’t.

While the Saints offense never seemed to get on track following the loss of Kamara, the defense kept losing guys and hanging tough all night. The Saints intercepted Matt Ryan three times and even when the game seemed hopelessly lost after the Brees interception they nearly created a fourth turnover by forcing a fumble.

Atlanta had the ball 34 minutes but only managed 343 total yards and if not for some VERY questionable calls probably doesn’t even score 20 points. Manti Te’o was magnificent with 10 tackles, including eight solo. The Saints only had one sack but Matt Ryan never looked comfortable at any point.

The Saints missed a golden opportunity to bury their most hated rival once and for good in 2017. So what now?

The good news is despite the Saints having an injury list following the game that feels like the length of a novel, the only injury which appears serious is Trey Hendrickson. Granted Kamara and Kelemete are in the concussion protocol the NFL mandates but they didn’t appear serious, and Vaccaro, Klein, and Ginn all said following the game they are fine.

The Saints have 10 days to get ready for the Jets but a chance at having a bye in the playoffs is officially gone. I still don’t know who’s to blame most for this Saints lose but I’m 100 percent certain I hate Thursday Night Football more than ever. I’d say the same thing if Saints had won.

Ralph Malbrough is a Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at Saintshappyhour@gmail.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SaintsForecast or download his podcast at Itunes.