(I’ll be back shortly with my column off the Falcons’ game against the Arizona Cardinals. Until then here are my three “short takes” on the game.)
1. Ryan’s nightmare afternoon: If the Falcons weren’t playing Arizona, which has one of the NFL’s worst offenses, they would’ve been blown out Sunday. As it was, Matt Ryan threw three interceptions in the first quarter (one actually was the fault of Roddy White, who dropped a pass and it was picked off in mid-air) and a career-high five in the game. With a fumble, the Falcons actually turned over the ball six times but Arizona capitalized with only one touchdown and two field goals — 13 points. Ryan had thrown as many three interceptions only twice previously in his career. But he did come through on the go-ahead drive, completing four of five passes and setting up the Falcons’ lone offensive touchdown drive (a one-yard run by Michael Turner). Trivia note: Ryan is the first quarterback since Bart Starr in 1967 to throw five interceptions and no touchdowns and win anyway.
2. Defense comes through: OK, for all the praise offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has been getting, this was Mike Nolan’s week. And everybody on the Falcons’ offense owes everybody on defense a nice dinner. The Falcons’ offense not only committed six turnovers, it often gave the Cardinals short fields to work with. Two of the Cardinals’ first three scoring drives were two plays for nine yards (touchdown) and four plays for nine yards (field goal). But the Falcons’ defense held Arizona out of the end zone after that first touchdown just 1:06 into the game and equaled the Falcons’ offense in t0uchdowns scored (one for Jonathan Babineaux on a fumble return, one for running back Michael Turner). Arizona was limited to 178 yards in total offense and its two quarterbacks were limited to 11-of-27 passing for 70 yards (three sacks). No Falcons player or coach who was asked could ever recall winning a game when their team committed six turnovers.
3. A big win because of what’s next: Losing to Arizona would not have crippled the Falcons in the NFC South (they started the day at 8-1 and with a three-game lead over Tampa Bay, four over New Orleans). But it might have made things uncomfortable. Here’s why: Atlanta faces divisional opponents in the next three games (at Tampa Bay, home against New Orleans, at Carolina), then finishes the regular season with three more difficult games: home against the New York Giants, at Detroit and home against Tampa Bay. Now at 9-1 with only six games to go, the odds are long that the Falcons are going to blow a six-game lead. And fortunately, this league doesn’t operate on style points, just wins.
By Jeff Schultz
Recent ramblings from the digital jukebox