The Atlanta Falcons finally won on the biggest of stages after falling flat the last few times, and every time in the Mike Smith Era. The Birds welcomed one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time full of hype after beating the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers. It was an entertaining and very long game that was filled with plenty of turnovers (for the Broncos) and a bunch of stoppage times from the replacement refs. We can talk all day long about how the Falcons almost let a big slip away, but the fact remains that they didn’t. In fact, this was a big win for no other reason than help the Falcons themselves, the organization, and their fans psyche in believing they can win the big ones. A look at the huge win……….
There were plenty of great performances to go around, but it one player had to be chosen it was safety William Moore. The former Missouri product has become a quick fan favorite for his hard-hitting and many have been waiting for his breakout season. If last is any indication, we might be seeing it in 2012. Moore started the Manning pick party by making a great play on the ball, bobbling it, intercepting, and taking it all the way to the one yard line. Moore had his hands on several more and was all over the place, making huge hits, batting balls, and making key stops.
With Falcon fans shaking in their boots seeing Manning start to heat up, Moore made one of the biggest plays of the game by sacking Manning on 3rd and 6 in Falcons territory. He blitzed off the edge and dropped Manning like a cold stone. Some though guys like Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, or Sean Weatherspoon would benefit the most from Mike Nolan’s aggressive defense, but Moore might be the guy after all.
Some of the NFL Media elite have tried to downplay the significance of the win after the fact, saying it was more Manning making mistakes than it was the Falcons getting the huge win. Wrong. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith had never won on Monday Night Football and everyone loves to talk about the times the Falcons have come up short. In fact, someone should create a Mike Smith-Matt Ryan-playoffs-0 and 3 drinking game with the sheer redundancy all media parrot the tired description. Peyton Manning was back. He beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and couldn’t be stopped in the talking heads beliefs. More than anything, the Falcons proved they could win a tough, tight, and big game against a very good defense and an elite quarterback.
The headlines were quite succinct after the Falcons big win: “Manning throws 3 picks,”Manning can’t overcome turnovers,” and “Manning fails in late comeback.” Was there another team playing? One reason many Falcons fans have tuned out and turned off the “NFL Media Elite” is because of this very reason. All we heard in the post-game was how Manning made the mistakes and that’s why they lost. Dead wrong. Mike Nolan and the Falcons defense played lights out and FORCED those interceptions from one of the greatest to play the game. Nolan had a fantastic scheme, coached his players up, and they executed to perfection. The vaunted Steelers defense didn’t force an interception. The Falcons forced three in the first quarter. I’m sure they were all luck, right? To be fair, there were a few pundits who gave Mike Nolan and the Falcons defense due credit, but not many. The Falcons played hard, tough, and aggressive and deserve every bit of that victory.
It’s only the second game of a long season and this isn’t meant to denigrate past defenses, but the defense against the Broncos facing one of the best QB’s of all time was one of the best in a long, long time. They were aggressive, tough, hit hard, and opportunistic in their defensive effort. They had picked off Peyton Manning 3 times in the first quarter and didn’t relent until they finally started getting a little tired after the offense had 3 weak series in a row. The Falcons have now forced 7 turnovers in the first two games. The blitz schemes and disguises were superb and confused one of the best of all-time. As mentioned earlier, there’s still a long way to go, but the sky’s the limit for a defense long looking for someone to help them turn the proverbial corner.
The long beleaguered Falcons offensive line have done an excellent job protecting Matt Ryan through two games in the season. Sam Baker was singled out several times by Jon Gruden for his excellence in stopping one of the best pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil. Garrett Reynolds has done well working at right guard, as have Justin Blalock and Todd McClure. Tyson Clabo has struggled a bit this year, giving up the only two sacks, but there’s no reason to think he can’t turn it around. Major congrats on a job well done so far this season protecting Matt Ryan and giving him time to run this new aerial offense.
For as good as their pass blocking has been, their run blocking has been anemic. Matt Ryan was the leading rusher at one point in both the games against Kansas City and Denver. It’s surely not all the offensive lines fault (Michael Turner we’re looking at you), but they haven’t opened up hardly any holes for any of the running backs. It’s true that maybe Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling could squeeze out a few more yards than Turner, but not much. Something has to get fixed in the run game and the offensive line shares the blame.