The offense was anemic after the first drive and it was yet another nail-biter, but the Falcons removed another monkey off their back by beating their fiercest rival Saints on Thursday Night Football. After getting up early 17-0 and giving fans a hope of a blowout, the Falcons offense hit a stonewall and leaned heavily on one of the best defensive efforts likely in it’s history to beat the Saints. Not only did they win a big game, but the defense also nabbed a new career high 5 interceptions from Drew Brees along with snapping his 54 game streak with a touchdown pass. As of Sunday, the Falcons also clinched their 2nd NFC South division title in 3 years with the Tampa Bay Bucs losing to Denver.
With the Tampa Bay Bucs losing in Denver on Sunday, the Falcons clinched their 2nd NFC South Division Title with 4 games remaining on the season. It’s hasn’t always been pretty and spectacular, but the fact remains that the Falcons still are tied for the best record in the NFL at 11-1 and, besides the Houston Texans, most other teams are finding their own struggles and actually losing games. No one is likely celebrating in Flowery Branch on the news of winning another NFC South Title, but rather on what they need to get fixed in the next month before the playoffs start. However, Coach Smith, all the coaches, the Falcons players, Thomas Dimitroff, Arthur Blank, and everyone else involved with the Atlanta Falcons franchise deserves amazing credit for giving Atlanta and it’s fans something to be proud of, which is a team that is consistently good to great every single year and has a chance at getting the whole thing someday.
Really all that needs to be said is the stat line: Drew Brees intercepted 5 times, which has never happened before and the Falcons defense breaks his long-standing TD streak at 54 games. It simply was a beautiful thing to behold, a defense that has had fits trying anything to shut down Brees and one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL the last 5 years. Even though John Abraham came away with only one sack on the night, the entire defense hurried, harangued, and hit Brees all night long to get him out of his comfort zone. The linebackers were all over the place batting balls, making plays, and giving tight coverage. The defensive backfield really stepped up with William Moore looking every bit the Pro Bowler with 2 awesome picks. Thomas DeCoud set the tone with his pick in the endzone in the beginning of the game. Along with Dunta Robinson, Robert McClain continued his excellent year with Christopher Owens having one of the best games of his career. And finally of course, much of the credit goes to one Mike Nolan for finally taking this defense to the next level in less than a year. In fact, if the offense never gets their consistency down, the Falcons defense may have to lead the way in the postseason.
Let’s all just hope it was a really bad night on offense and not a disturbing trend. Matched up against one of the worst defenses in the NFL, the Falcons offense hit a cement stonewall after their awe-inspiring and dominating first drive. It was a thing of beauty to witness the Falcons shoving the run game down the Saints throats, but after that they evidently checked out. Ryan was off-target, the running game got cute and had some more of those infamous wasted plays, the receivers were dropping the ball and disappearing, and they couldn’t gain a first down to save their lives, normally a very good area (coming into the game as #2 in NFL in 3rd down conversions). Roddy White said they got complacent. Let’s all just hope that it was one of those bad nights, but it’s still unfathomable to understand how an offense loaded with so much talent can get completely shut down. They better get some things fixed and start getting it together very soon because the calendar is running out and they don’t want to head into the playoffs limping on offense. Especially when the defense is playing at such a high level.
It was the best that Michael Turner has run in a long while. The first offensive drive was a sight to see. Turner was pounding the rock, running hard between the tackles and Jacquizz Rodgers was adding in the quick and shifty runs as a perfect complement. This was exactly what Falcons fans had been waiting to see: a sort of “thunder and lightning” combination. It sure was nice to see, but for whatever reason, the running game and the offense as a whole just fell off a cliff. It was a shame to see the running game going so well early on and the passing game be so terribly off. Which leads directly into the next point.
You surely can’t blame the defense at this point, but this will be an ongoing question either until this team comes together in all three phases or they it will be a case of untapped potential. Yes, they’re still winning, but the teams that find a way to get to the Big Dance and hoist that Lombardi Trophy are the ones that find a way to come together and play great in all three parts. At times it’s been the offense and others it’s been the defense. Others, the special teams has bailed the team out. Fans keep waiting. Offense are you listening?
There’s nothing else to say that already hasn’t been beaten to a pulp going all the way back to preseason and even last year. There’s certainly no immediate help and, just like the team itself, it seems as though the entire line can’t all perform on a high level at the same time. In the past the problem has been pressure from the outside, particularly from Clabo’s end. Sam Baker has done pretty well overall. During the Saints game, the tackles seem to hold their ground only to see the middle get blown up all game long. Rookie Peter Konz was getting handled, 35 year old Todd McClure had his hands full, and even the usual steady Justin Blalock was shaky. The Falcons don’t have a whole lot of reinforcements available this deep into the season and really didn’t change anything from last year’s underwhelming OL. At this point, it’s up to OL coach Pat Hill and Dirk Koetter to find ways to either improve the OL, minimize the deficiencies, and play to their strengths. Let’s all hope they find a way to fix it the best they can down the homestretch.
There definitely have been times when Matt Ryan has gotten off to a bad start and come back to play well. And surely, to an extent, all quarterbacks need to get some type of rhythm. However, it seems particularly acute with the Falcons quarterback. When Ryan gets off to a good start, he usually finishes with a fantastic day. Look no further than some of the games this year, the first Saints game comes to mind. Maybe it’s unfair to say that Ryan must start good to finish good, but the opposite does seem to be true: when Ryan gets off to a rocky start with constant pressure, he usually struggles the entire game. With this porous offensive line even the best quarterback would have a hard time, but when Ryan has a few bad series to get the game started, it appears to be an uphill battle from that point on. Three games in particular stick out this season in that regard: the Raiders, Cardinals, and the Saints most recent game. Thursday night’s game would seem to be a dream for Ryan with the running game dominating early on, but the passing game was non-existent and managed only one TD after the first drive even though the defense nabbed 5 interceptions. Once again, this may not be all his fault because the offensive line was dreadful and receivers had plenty of drops, but if Ryan needs a good, quick start to get going than that should be an emphasis in game-planning.
It didn’t come in a playoff game, but Christopher Owens had a night to remember. Long known (unfairly) as the main scapegoat to the Debacle in the Dome destruction vs. the Packers in the 2010/11 playoffs, Owens had a big night subbing in for Asante Samuel after the first play of the game. Owens had several nice passes defensed, including an especially athletic one in the endzone that would have otherwise gone for a TD. It was great to finally see Owens play up to his potential that most fans remember back when he took over at the end of 2009. Seeing Owens and Robert McClain doing so well under Mike Nolan’s defense has alleviated some worries at cornerback going forward the next several years.
It certainly doesn’t seem so. Stop if you’ve heard this one before. The Falcons get off to a great start, even going up 17-0 in the first half with a foe (the biggest rival in this case) they seem to have on the ropes and on the verge of burying them. And then……….the Falcons let them right back in the game and have to find a way to win at the very end of the game. Yes, it’s going to happen from time to time, especially when playing a good opponent with a high-powered offense. But this is a common occurrence with the Mike Smith led Falcons. It can’t all be put on Smith for getting conservative when getting a big lead (in fact they started throwing the ball after being dominant in the run game on the first series), but do the Falcons always have to put themselves in this position? The score was 17-0 and the defense was playing lights out, only to see the offense hit a brick wall and go 1 for 11 on third down conversions. One of the biggest complaints from fans in the off-season was the Falcons inability to develop any kind of killer instinct. Obviously all wins can’t be blowouts, but whenever the Falcons have a chance to put a game on ice, they simply can not find a way to do it, whatever the reason.
1) Simple Egg Toss – overall thoughts on beating the hated Saints on Thursday Night Football?
2) Is that one of the best Falcons defensive performances in franchise history?
3) Will the defense carry the torch in the playoffs, instead of the offense?
4) What in Hades happened to the offense?
5) Emerging trend (getting figured out) or just one bad night?
6) Thoughts on the running game vs. the Saints
7) Will this team ever fully click this season or postseason?
8.) Anything left to say about offensive line?
9) Is Ryan a rhythmic passer?
10) Thoughts on Chris Owens superb performance?
11) Will the Falcons ever find a killer instinct in 2012?
12) How good does it feel to be 2012 NFC South Champs?