10 best Falcons plays of 2012 regular season

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan gets a pass off under pressure from Carolina Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander during 1st half action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday , Sept. 30, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan gets a pass off under pressure from Carolina Panthers defensive end Frank Alexander during 1st half action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sunday , Sept. 30, 2012. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

FLOWERY BRANCH — Just as in 2010, the Falcons posted a 13-3 record and won seven games by one score or less on their way to winning the NFC South title and earning the NFC’s top seed for the playoffs.

The Falcons blended a potent passing attack with an opportunistic defense to carve out the NFL’s best regular-season record.

The offense, which featured the passing of Matt Ryan, had two 1,000-yard receivers and a 93-catch tight end and led the league in screen passes that went for touchdowns, with six.

Ryan completed 422 of 615 pass attempts (68.9 percent) for 4,719 yards with 32 touchdowns and a 99.1 passer rating. He set franchise records for attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns.

The defense helped the Falcons tie for fifth in the league in takeaways, with a 13-plus margin. Free safety Thomas DeCoud (six interceptions), cornerback Asante Samuel (five) and strong safety William Moore (four) led the ball-hawking efforts.

Here’s a look at 10 key plays that made a difference for the Falcons in 2012:

1. Moore set early tone

What happened: Moore stepped in front of a Peyton Manning pass intended for Jacob Tamme on Manning’s second attempt of the game. He returned in 33 yards to 1-yard line.

Why it mattered: His interception set the tone and was the first of three against Manning in the Week 2 “Monday Night Football” game.

Quotable: “We felt that if we could rattle (Manning) early, we could dictate the flow of the game. The main focus was to confuse him all game.”

— DeCoud

Result: The Falcons used Manning’s mistakes to jump on the Broncos early, but were forced to hold on for a 27-21 victory before a raucous crowd of 70,427 at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 17.

2. Weatherspoon caused key fumble

What happened: With San Diego driving for an apparent touchdown and the lead in Week 3, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon put a hit on running back Ryan Mathews to force a fumble that was recovered by DeCoud.

Why it mattered: The Chargers were set to take a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter. Instead, the Falcons drove 96 yards on 17 plays to open a 13-0 lead.

Quotable: “I feel as confident as I ever have for sure, and a lot of that has to do with experience. … Having good experiences and bad experiences. I’m now realizing that I can do it. I can make the plays we need to make in order to win.”

— Ryan

Result: With Ryan operating at near peak performance and the defense confounding San Diego’s offense, the Falcons defeated the Chargers 27-3, before 61,297 fans, to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2004. Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

3. DeCoud blanketed Gates

What happened: DeCoud made an acrobatic interception of a Philip Rivers pass intended for tight end Antonio Gates along the sideline at San Diego’s 29-yard line with 1:53 left in the second quarter.

Why it mattered: The Falcons went on to score a touchdown and take control of the game with a 20-0 halftime lead.

Quotable: “We are a defense that is offensive-minded, and we want to get the ball back for our offense. I think we’ve really taken that to heart.”

— DeCoud

Result: The Falcons defeat the Chargers 27-3 on Sept. 23.

4. Abraham’s timely forced fumble

What happened: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had picked up the first down and appeared to have secured a 28-27 victory in Week 4, but defensive end John Abraham poked out the ball and it went backwards. The ball was recovered by the Panthers short of the first down, and they elected to punt on fourth down.

Why it mattered: The Panthers could have run out the clock and secured the victory if Abraham didn’t force the fumble.

Quotable: “Well, I’m a player on this football team and I listen to coaching. And coach decided not to go for it on fourth down, so I back coach 110 percent.”

— Newton

Result: The fumble set up the punt and game-winning drive. The Falcons won 30-28 on Sept. 30.

5. Ryan aired it out

What happened: Backed up at the Falcons’ 1-yard line against the Panthers, Ryan dropped back near the back of the end zone and launched a bomb to wide receiver Roddy White for a 59-yard gain.

Why it mattered: It got the Falcons into Carolina territory in position to work the sidelines and get in field-goal range.

Quotable: “(Ryan) told me to go get it. So, I knew he was throwing it to me.”

— White

Result: Matt Bryant kicked the game-winning points with 10 seconds left in a 30-28 game Sept. 30.

6. Samuel provided spark

What happened: Samuel had a 79-yard interception return to put the Falcons up 20-13 with 2:40 to play. He stepped in front of a pass thrown by Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer that was intended for Denarius Moore.

Why it mattered: The Falcons were struggling and needed a spark in their Week 6 game.

Quotable: “Making that mistake I made is crucial. It’s on me. It’s on me. It’s my fault.”

— Palmer

Result: Kicker Matt Bryant made a 55-yard field goal with one second left to lift the Falcons to a 23-20 victory over the Raiders on Oct. 14.

7. Ryan to Jones, part 1

What happened: Ryan’s 63-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones with 6:33 in the second quarter put the Falcons up 21-7 against Philadelphia in Week 8.

Why it mattered: The Falcons took control of the game.

Quotable: “Our offensive line did a great job in that (opening 80-yard) drive and, really, throughout the entire day of keeping a great pocket.”

— Ryan

Result: Falcons roughed up Michael Vick and the Eagles to improve to 7-0 with a 30-17 victory on Oct. 28.

8. Ryan to Jones, part 2

What happened: With the Falcons down 13-10 against Tampa Bay in Week 12, Ryan tossed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Jones.

Why it mattered: Every point was important in this squeaker.

Quotable: “Julio made a great play. We had one-on-one coverage. He got an inside release on (Bucs cornerback Leonard Johnson) and just tried to get back to the outside. I tried to throw it down there high and outside so he could make a play on it. He did; he made a great adjustment. That was a really big play for us this game.”

— Ryan

Result: Falcons won 24-23 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Turner on Nov. 25.

9. Samuel’s interception

What happened: Samuel stepped in front of Eli Manning’s first pass attempt and established the tone for the Week 15 rout of the defending Super Bowl champs.

Why it mattered: The Falcons were eliminated from the playoffs by the Giants after the 2011 season and needed to get off to a good start.

Quotable: “We showed we can play with the big boys.”

— White

Result: Falcons went on to pummel the Giants 34-0 on Dec. 16 to improve to 12-2.

10. White in the screen attack

What happened: White picked up a nice downfield block from left tackle Sam Baker and scored on a 39-yard screen pass against the Lions in Week 16.

Why it mattered: The Falcons needed a win to secure the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

Quotable: “It means a lot because this was one of the goals. We wanted to play in the (Georgia) Dome and have everybody come to us, and then we’ll give them our best shot.”

— White

Result: The Falcons won 31-18 on Dec. 22 to improve to 13-2.

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37 comments Add your comment

retired

January 6th, 2013
3:45 pm

let’s have ten more great plays in the next three games

Esquire

January 6th, 2013
4:13 pm

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!!!

Esquire

January 6th, 2013
4:14 pm

5-6-7-8
Everywhere we goooO,
Everywhere we goooO,
People wanna knooOw,
People wanna knooOw,
Who we aaa are,
Who we aaa are,
So we tell theem, So we tell theem,
We are the FALCONS!! We are the FALCONS!!
MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS, MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS !!
OHH AHH OHH YEEAHH

Esquire

January 6th, 2013
4:20 pm

Matt Ryan’s 2012 Passer Rating is 99.1? Wow, pretty good.

Hey, that’s even better than that Joe Fluccup guy, 87.7 for 2012.

Too bad Joe won’t be in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

January 6th, 2013
4:57 pm

Skins looking good so far, still would like to face them over Seattle next weekend.

Old Man Peabody

January 6th, 2013
5:17 pm

Why would you want to face them, every team ATL has faced twice this year, they lost one. Something to think about.

Some things never change

January 6th, 2013
5:46 pm

Flacco 5 straight years of playoff wins.

Flacco 6
Ryan 0

Some things never change

January 6th, 2013
5:52 pm

If Ryan was down 14-0 he would have rolled over like a beaten old dog, but not Wilson.

Some things right

January 6th, 2013
5:56 pm

I agree with Some things never change, Ryan is better than Wilson but both are better than brees.

Some things right

January 6th, 2013
5:56 pm

I agree with Some things never change, Ryan is better than Wilson but both are better than brees.

Regular Season Champs

January 6th, 2013
6:11 pm

Poor Falcons fans. They get those easy regular season schedules and then their hopes get crushed when the real teams show up in the playoffs.

Esquire

January 6th, 2013
6:13 pm

Either of these teams are coming to Atlanta limping, we got either one hands down.

WE ARE THE MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS!!!

RSC

January 6th, 2013
6:14 pm

Regular Season Champs makes a great point. It has been great watching the birds go 13-3 and now poor loser brees has to be humiliated one more time as the Falcons win the SuperBowl in his hometown.

Well Rested

January 6th, 2013
6:32 pm

The Redskins and Seahawks are beating each other up real good,

then one of ‘em can come to Atlanta for the knock out punch.

FALCONS RULE !

Well Rested

January 6th, 2013
7:08 pm

Bring on the Seahawks for the 14th Rise Up!

UGA ECONOMICS MAJOR

January 6th, 2013
7:17 pm

GEORGIA DOME….NEXT WEEK BLOW THE ROOF OFF THE DOME WITH EAR SPLITTIN NOISE…THIS IS ATLANTA FALCON TIME!!!THIS IS IT ..AND ATLANTA FALCONS!!!ITS TIME TO RISE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Norris Chuck

January 6th, 2013
7:18 pm

Man Seattle is destroying Washington’s D right now! And RG3 should have hung up his cleets in the 3rd qtr! They had a better chance with Cousins but Shannahan(like most coaches) was stubborn by keeping RG3 in the game and almost costing him his NFL career.

Little bit too late to bring in Cousins! And Seattle is going to rape Atlanta’s D as well!

Norris Chuck

January 6th, 2013
7:22 pm

And i must add that the Redskins are a poor tackling team.

Norris Chuck

January 6th, 2013
7:25 pm

NEWS FLASH!!!!

The Falcons are in trouble next week if they allow Seattle and Russell Wilson to role out and run the same plays over and over and not stop them.

The Falcons are in even more trouble if Michael Turner is rushing for 20 yards on 15 carries!

Another Rookie QB Playoff Win

January 6th, 2013
7:32 pm

Matty Ice…..feel that pressure?

Nervous Falcants Fans

January 6th, 2013
7:36 pm

0-4 here we come.

MarkATL

January 6th, 2013
7:38 pm

Time for us to get loud in the dome and give Wilson just what he deserves. A playoff loss! :)

Michael M.

January 6th, 2013
7:40 pm

You know what happen the last time somebody name Sherman com through Atlanta ?………………

I hope the Falcon players watched that game and saw RG3 and the RedSkins on the sidelines in the defeat. They better come out playing hard on offense and putting touchdowns on the board and playing light’s out defense or they ” Will ” be one and done again!

National Media

January 6th, 2013
7:42 pm

You guys wanted some respect, now come prove it.

Pass Rush+Big Physical DBs = Matty Ice TKO’d.

SeaSick

January 6th, 2013
7:43 pm

… the seahawks are in serious trouble facing the ferocious FALCONS.

MarkATL

January 6th, 2013
7:46 pm

If the Falcons can destroy the Giants in the GA DOME, they can destroy any team coming into the dome. GO FALCONS!!! Let’s beat the hell out of Seattle!!

Mega Millions Lotto

January 6th, 2013
7:50 pm

30-24 48-21 24-2

Feeling lucky?

Pigskin

January 6th, 2013
7:55 pm

I wanted the Seahawks, now we got ‘em.

What now?

Esquire

January 6th, 2013
8:24 pm

——————5-6-7-8
Everywhere we goooO,
Everywhere we goooO,
People wanna knooOw,
People wanna knooOw,
Who we aaa are,
Who we aaa are,
So we tell theem, So we tell theem,
We are the FALCONS!! We are the FALCONS!!
MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS, MIGHTY MIGHTY FALCONS !!
OHH AHH OHH YEEAHH

Esquire

January 6th, 2013
8:31 pm

Fly home Seahawks………………it’s a long flight………….

Now fly to Atlanta Seahawks……………it’s a long flight…………..been flapping those wings a lot.

They are gonna be so tired.

Answer This

January 6th, 2013
8:43 pm

If you here to tell us we wont beat Seattle next week or we are in trouble, then take your Bit$% A$$ to the Seahawks blog. Otherwise we Rise Up!

Falcons are this generation's...

January 7th, 2013
8:14 am

…Buffalo Bills – zero for however many they play…

SirReal

January 7th, 2013
9:29 am

Man, nobody is scared of Seattle. Yeah they are hot? BFD. Yeah they just beat an over achieving Skins team. So? They havent come to the Terror Dome!!!! They havent had to deal with a FLEET of WRs. They havent had to deal with a DC who is a mad scientist who flustered legendary QBs this year. Beast Mode? True…but if they become one dimensional he quickly becomes LEAST mode. Rise up!

Joshua Brown

January 7th, 2013
1:35 pm

LET’”S GO!!!! Falcons fans: BE LOUD!!!!!!!! Let’s get this city buzzing. I want to be the loudest city in the country!!! RISE UP

[...] D. Orlando Ledbetter Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan gets a pass off under pressure from Carolina Panthers [...]

bullrusher1

January 7th, 2013
11:13 pm

Julio Part 3. Ryan throws a strike to the end zone against former Falcon Chris Houston. Jones makes a grab, drags his feet, and holds onto the ball, despite crashing into a strange object on the way down.

P

January 8th, 2013
11:32 am

ATL don’t care about no stats nor history.
FALCONS are going to rise up this Sunday. Sherman marched through Atlanta and set it on fire & from out of the ashes rose something high in the sky. A Falcon, we saw soaring with wings with a Seahawk in its mouth winning the game. The talent is so raw that they can not be contained the defense is so tough, but the offense is going to win the game!

RISE UP ATLANTA
We believe!!!!!!!!!!!