The Falcons went exclusively with their no-huddle offense most of the game against Tennessee, a departure from how they’ve operated all season.
The move didn’t fix their red-zone woes or eliminate penalties, but it allowed them to build a 17-point lead and hold on for a 23-17 victory over the Titans on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons (6-4) picked up half a game on the idle New Orleans Saints (7-3).
“We came into this ballgame looking to get back on track,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “That was our No. 1 objective, and we got that accomplished.”
The Falcons were coming off a tough 26-23 loss to New Orleans in overtime last week after a controversial call by Smith to go for it on a fourth-and-1 play from the Falcons’ 29-year-old failed.
Under Smith, the Falcons are now 16-3 following a loss during the regular season, including eight consecutive wins in bounce-back games.
“We have a mature locker room,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We have guys that understand what it takes to be a professional. In this league, you’re going to have some tough losses and you need to move on from that.”
The Falcons opened the game in their no-huddle offense and stuck with it after Ryan tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez to end a crisp five-play, 56-yard drive.
“It wasn’t planned,” running back Michael Turner said. “We pretty much just went with it. Everything was working. Coach said they are not stopping it, so why should we stop doing it? It was keeping them off balance. They were trying to make calls to stop the no-huddle, but everything they were doing we had an answer for it.”
All-Pro wide receiver Roddy White had his best game of the season, finishing with seven catches for 147 yards. It was just his second 100-yard game this season; he had 140 yards receiving against Tampa Bay on Sept. 25.
“We fixed some things today,” White said.
Out of the no-huddle, the Falcons used Turner in the backfield, three wide receivers in White, Harry Douglas and Eric Weems, and Gonzalez at tight end. On other plays, Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers were flanked out to the left slot to give a five-receiver look.
“Coming into this week, I thought it was time for me to get a little more [involved] in the offense and make some big plays,” White said. “Today was a good day.”
The Falcons’ pass defense suffered a major blow when veteran nickel back Kelvin Hayden left the game with a right foot injury with under four minutes to play in the second quarter. He was taken to the locker room on a golf cart. Christopher Owens took over for Hayden.
Behind the bruising runs of Turner, the Falcons held a 13-3 lead at halftime.
The Falcons opened the second half with an 80-yard drive that was capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Turner. White got open for a 43-yard gain. He hauled down a Ryan pass while being covered by Tennessee safety Jordan Babineaux and cornerback Jason McCourty.
After stalling in thered zone, Matt Bryant added a 24-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 23-3. The Falcons were two of six in the red zone against the Titans.
Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker, who came on for the injured Matt Hasselbeck in the third quarter, tossed his first NFL touchdown pass to Nate Washington to make it 23-10.
Washington caught the ball along the right sideline and faked out Owens and safety Thomas DeCoud on his way to the end zone on the 40-yard play.
The Falcons had another promising drive stall in the red zone when Turner fumbled.
Locker, a rookie from Washington, engineered a second touchdown drive, completing it with a 4-yard pass to Washington with 3:06 left to play to make it 23-17. Locker led the Titans on a 14-play drive that covered 84 yards.
The Falcons had their “hands” team on the field and expected an onside kick, but the Titans elected to boot the ball out of the end zone. The Falcons were able to run out the clock to secure the victory.
Turner finished with 100 yards on 21 carries. It was his 24th 100-yard game with the Falcons, tying a team record held by Gerald Riggs set in 1982-88.
A week after posting career highs with 351 yards passing and 52 attempts against the New Orleans Saints, Ryan completed 22 of 32 passes for 316 yards and one touchdown against the Titans
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog