This is where we stop asking: How good are they?
This is where we stop asking: How far can they go?
Don’t wonder about Matt Ryan’s ability to win against elite competition, because he can.
Don’t wonder if Roddy White is a legitimate MVP candidate, because he is.
The Falcons’ slogan this season is “Rise up” — and it has been a long time since an organization in this city rose this high and made this loud of a statement about its arrival among the league’s elite.
The Falcons punched through that “just pretty good” ceiling Thursday night at the Georgia Dome. They built a 20-7 lead against Baltimore, one of the NFL’s premier teams. They absorbed the Ravens’ counter-punches, falling behind for the first time in the game 21-20 with 1:05 remaining. Then they answered back — and that might have been the most impressive thing of all.
Ryan’s 33-yard touchdown pass to White with 20 seconds remaining gave the Falcons a 26-21 victory. The last gasp got them to their seventh win in nine games.
“We had a feeling that we belonged,” linebacker Mike Peterson said. “But you always wait for that statement game. You wait to play a team that everybody has put up on a pedestal so you can say, ‘We’ve arrived.’ We know now we can play with the best of them.”
It helps to have a quarterback like Ryan and a receiver like White. Ryan threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns. White had 12 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Imagine how good he would’ve been if he wasn’t playing on a bad knee.
When John Abraham was asked how the Falcons can keep winning close games, he responded, “We have Roddy White.”
Once leading 20-7, the Falcons watched Joe Flacco lead the Ravens to consecutive touchdown drives to fall behind for the first time, 21-20.
There was 1:05 left. Plenty of time.
Ryan moved the offense 80 yards in seven plays. An eight-yard pass interference penalty on third down moved the ball to the Baltimore 33. Ryan looked for tight end Tony Gonzales, who was double covered, but White popped free at the Ravens’ 17. Why was he so wide open? White pushed down cornerback Josh Wilson. Ryan hit him with an easy pass for the score.
White said, smiling: “He tried to grab me so I pushed him down. You gotta do what you gotta do to win. Whatever it takes.”
The Falcons are doing just that. They won as dramatic a game as we’ve seen in some time on the stage of national television against the vaunted Ravens. They played as dominating a first half as possible, considering they led only 10-0. Running out of mostly a no-huddle offense, they dwarfed the Ravens statistically in almost every category, including total plays (43-17), first downs (12-4) and yardage (184-76).
It was the first meeting between Ryan and Flacco, two talented quarterbacks from the 2008 draft class — and Ryan certainly played like the guy who was supposed to be taken first. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He led an offense that converted an almost cartoon-like eight of 12 on third down. Flacco was 5-for-8 for 31 yards. His offense didn’t get across midfield.
The Falcons’ first scoring drive must have been demoralizing for a defense such as the Ravens’. It consumed 14 plays and 91 yards and included three third-down conversions. Teams just don’t do that to Baltimore.
The touchdown play made the Ravens look foolish: Everybody was covered except for the guy who caught the ball, Jason Snelling. He was left wide open in the flat from the Ravens’ 28, caught the toss from Ryan and took off for the end zone, running over safety Dawan Landry along the way.
Two field goals by Matt Bryant made the score 13-0 before the Ravens mounted an offense. But when they did, they were hard to stop. A 5-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Anquan Boldin capped an efficient 65-yard, six-minute drive to make it 13-7. The Ravens scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions.
If there was one overwhelming message it was this: Both of these teams are good enough to see each other again at that final game at Cowboys Stadium.
The whole Ryan-Flacco storyline made for an interesting backdrop — especially since each could have wound up on the other team.
The Falcons had decided to draft Ryan with the third overall pick. They considered trading up to No. 2 with St. Louis to ensure they would get him, but decided to take a calculated risk — and it was a risk because the Ravens also liked Ryan. The story goes that Baltimore (in the 18th spot) offered the Rams a boatload of picks to swap places. St. Louis passed, and the Falcons exhaled.
Had the Ravens pulled off the trade, the Falcons would’ve taken LSU defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey. General manager Thomas Dimitroff likely would have followed that by attempting to trade up high enough with the team’s second pick for a shot at Flacco. Failing that, he kind of liked Michigan quarterback Chad Henne.
So instead of Ryan, the Falcons might’ve ended up with Dorsey and Henne as their top picks in 2008.
Quick. Somebody find some wood to knock on.
The hindsight report: Dorsey has been a disappointment in Kansas City. Henne was benched this week by Miami.
Dimitroff stating the obvious: “We obviously feel very fortunate the way everything worked out.”
And we know now that they have no ceiling.