Nothing like a little drama, right? The Falcons turned a 24-3 lead into a 25-24 deficit and suddenly nobody at the Georgia Dome knew whether they were a Super Bowl contender or a genetic mutation from the Marion Campbell era, returning for a haunting.
But they won, and it’s important to remember how they won. They were aggressive. They attacked. They didn’t run an offense like you would throw a dart. They ran an offense like you would fire a bazooka.
Remember this game. Because if the Falcons go on to make something special of this season, it will be partly because of the lessons learned in Sunday’s frenetic 39-32 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Matt Ryan threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns. He even passed on third and short. Roddy White had the kind of game Jerry Rice used to have: 11 catches covering 201 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion — those last eight points giving the Falcons the lead back immediately following a third-quarter, 22-point meltdown. He couldn’t be stopped.
“We’ve been doing some good things with the offense but today we took a lot of shots down field,” White said. “We were more aggressive with the play-calling and it paid off.”
Behold, the offense.
Falcons coach Mike Smith is old school. He’s all about physical play on defense and running the ball on offense. That’s fine to a point. The problem here is that the Falcons have weapons that at times haven’t been fully utilized.
It also has seemed that Ryan has been kept under wraps more in season three than he was in season one. Whether that has been the decision of Smith or offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, or just perception, can’t be certain. But there’s little question what we saw Sunday is not what we’ve been seeing lately. In the last three weeks, there were unimpressive victories over San Francisco and Cleveland and an ugly loss at Philadelphia.
Criticism of the offensive philosophy and play-calling grew as loud as it ever had been since the latest regime took over. And, yes, some of it was internal.
When asked jokingly if players had been standing outside coaches’ offices carrying torches, wide receiver Brian Finneran smiled and responded: “No, but I’m sure they heard the rumblings.”
The Falcons didn’t need a completely new offensive identity. They just needed to improve the old one. There’s no reason to be an eight-track offense in a digital world.
How much better does the running game get if a defense knows Ryan is willing to come out firing?
Appropriately, White was the centerpiece Sunday. He should be the centerpiece every week. As Smith conceded: “He’s probably been our best player through the first seven games. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
The Falcons believe White is an elite receiver. It’s why they gave him a six-year, $48 million contract last year. When there are that many zeroes on a contract, you should expect performances like this.
On the third play from scrimmage, White burned the Bengals for 46 yards on a crossing route. Two plays later, on second and 12, he caught a high bullet from Ryan for 18 yards at the Bengals’ 14, setting up the game’s first touchdown.
White opened the second quarter with his best catch of the day. Going against Adam “Pacman” Jones in single coverage down the right sideline, he made a one-handed grab of a Ryan throw for a 23-yard gain at the Cincinnati 33. Later in the quarter, on third and one from the Bengals’ 43, White again beat Jones in single coverage for a touchdown.
“That was a huddle call [by Ryan],” White said. “We haven’t thrown the ball out of that formation all year. That was our shot.”
White played a role in the blown lead. With the Falcons ahead 24-19, he made a catch but was stripped by Jones, who returned it 59 yards for a score. But Ryan drove the Falcons right back, finishing an eight-play touchdown drive with an 11-yard pass to White. Moments later, White leaped through the ozone for a two-point conversion.
“Hopefully,” center Todd McClure said, “this is a formula for success that we can use every week.”
Now there’s a concept.