The brand new Falcons play in prime time and find a way

Tony Gonzalez slams the ball and the Bears. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Tony Gonzalez slams the Bears. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

When last the Falcons played in prime time, they lost to the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 10, 2007, the same day Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail. Twenty-four hours later, they watched on TV as their head coach demonstrated how to call hogs. Thus did a surreal season reach its nadir, and we around here were asking ourselves, “How many years before this beset team gets good again? Five? Ten? Five hundred?”

On Sunday the Atlanta Falcons welcomed a nation of TV watchers back to the Georgia Dome, and it didn’t start well. The Falcons trailed 7-0 before they made a first down and were lucky not to trail 17-0. And right about then we were thinking, “An Atlanta team plays on the big stage and lays a royal egg. Haven’t we seen this before?”

But here’s the thing: These Falcons are not the feckless Falcons of old. They can look bad, yes. But they refuse to look bad for long. They’re too resourceful, too clever, too driven. And when NBC broke for halftime analysis, the team that started so slowly was leading 14-7 and had taken control of a game going wrong.

This being the NFL, the game would wobble all over creation. But when finally the end came, the Falcons had won the thing. They got a huge kickoff return from Eric Weems. They got a go-ahead touchdown drive that had Tony Gonzalez’s fingerprints all over it — well, it would have his prints if he didn’t wear gloves — and then got a stop inside the 10 inside the final 30 seconds on a defensive sequence that had the famous cornerback Jamaal Anderson (yes!) dropping into coverage.

And here we say, not for the first time and not for the last, that the New Falcons have done more than just win enough games that they again get to splash their faces on prime time TV. They’ve become a remarkable assemblage. They’re smart and they’re tough. They can take a punch. They can deliver one, too. They can win a lot of different ways, and now they’re 4-1 and looking again like a playoff team at worst and maybe like something much better than that.

They didn’t beat the Chicago Bears because everything went right. Not much did, truth to tell. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions. The offense sustained only three drives. (Two, if you discount Roddy White’s 40-yard touchdown on a quick hitch.) The defense leaked yardage to Jay Cutler and his tight ends, but somehow you looked up after 60 minutes and saw the Bears with just 14 points. Which didn’t quite compute but sure did matter.

We’ll make much of the final few minutes, of Gonzalez’s catches and Michael Turner’s touchdown and Jamaal Anderson’s improbable coverage — Erik Coleman was assisting downfield — on Cutler’s final fling, but this was a game won in that first quarter. The Bears, coming off a bye, started fast. The Falcons were doing all they could just to hang around. But that’s the point: They hung.

Thomas DeCoud intercepted two wretched Cutler throws, and the second changed the game. White scored his touchdown and Gonzalez scored his four seconds before halftime, and from then on the Bears were chasing a game they should have been leading. And the Falcons’ defense would yield ground but not points. (Jonathan Babineaux stripped Matt Forte of the ball inside the 5 in the third quarter, Coy Wire coyly recovering.)

And if you were watching at home in, say, Bozeman, Mont., you couldn’t have watched the Falcons and said of them, “Those poor pitiful losers.” If you saw this one, you saw a team that grows with every week, that in the span of 22 months has gone from pathetic to proudly professional. You saw a team that knows how to win.

211 comments Add your comment

SamInAtlanta

October 18th, 2009
11:56 pm

Great game tonight, but I worry about the next two weeks…right now, i will take a split

Meanwhile...while there's a lull in the action

October 18th, 2009
11:58 pm

Isn’t Bozeman, Mont. Beirman’s home?

Kelly Johnson Fan Club

October 18th, 2009
11:58 pm

SamInAtlanta

October 18th, 2009
11:58 pm

Great game…but I worry about the next 2 weeks. Right now, I would take a split

Kelly Johnson Fan Club

October 18th, 2009
11:58 pm

Damn. Not that I care.

Chris Deighan

October 19th, 2009
12:02 am

That was a great game with great plays made by both teams. Very entertaining and yes, great to see the Falcons rally and win. Props to the coaches for going no-huddle and keeping the Bears off balance…Wondering if we might need to retire Jerious and bump him to the PR department before he gets seriously hurt. He’s a great player, but too vulnerable.

DP

October 19th, 2009
12:02 am

Those hits that caused fumbles near the goal line on back to back plays were something to see. The Falcons didn’t always play their best tonight but they played with a lot of heart. Great win, great ball game.

bjfussell

October 19th, 2009
12:03 am

boys coming off a bye next week, they cant make this easy can they.

Raider Fan

October 19th, 2009
12:04 am

FIRST! Probably. I WANT MY CHECK.

Finchdawg

October 19th, 2009
12:04 am

Yeah, baby, Go Birds! But I’m worried about Norwood. We need him bad next week and for the rest of the season. Looks like Dimitroff’s risks (history of injuries) at the top of the draft this year aren’t paying off, but we’ll run with we got.

bjfussell

October 19th, 2009
12:06 am

raider fan, you poor joker. and your way off man

Ron Roberts

October 19th, 2009
12:07 am

The importance of this game cannot be overlooked.

1. We stay one step behind the Saints for the division lead.

2. We move AHEAD of every other NFC team going for playoff positioning (or wild card spots).

3. We won a meaningful game on a nationwide stage (further removing the memories the world has of this franchise being nothing more than a flash-in-the-pan ‘tease’ of a team).

Sometimes good teams win DESPITE being outgained on yardage; that’s what happened, tonight. Sometimes good teams lose DESPITE outgaining their opponents, because they make too many mistakes. When you tally up the mistakes, the Bears made more than the Falcons, and you can’t do that and expect to beat a quality football team.

I know Matty didn’t get sacked, but I AM concerned about the offensive line’s blocking; it was a little tested tonight, early on, and didn’t seem to give Turner many holes with which to burst out of, but in the end, mission accomplished.

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:09 am

Biermann is from Montana, but I’m not sure he’s from Bozeman.

Eric C.

October 19th, 2009
12:10 am

Sorry Bears…the Falcons robbed you again…better luck rest of the year. Will be another dog fight at Dallas next week…just keep clawing away Falcons.

Wesley Wallace

October 19th, 2009
12:10 am

I thought Ryan’s throws were unusually off tonight. Thankfully, the defense brought their “A” game. If we score a touchdown on the first drive against Dallas, they will unravel, especially if our defense makes Rutro go ut oh.

Meanwhile...Barry Sanders is my role model

October 19th, 2009
12:12 am

Mark, it was the first thing I could think of to um, be first; not that I would ever um, bring attention to myself for being first. I’d just hand the ball back to the moderator and act like I’ve been there before.

BugKiller

October 19th, 2009
12:13 am

Hey all you idiot fans of the dog killah, where u at?

Where’s your Matty Ice hate?

Where’s your three loss in a row Joe Fluke-O love?

What were you saying about the Eagles coming to the Dome in November? I believe one particular idiot said it was going to be the Falcons’ “Pearl Harbor” at the hands of the dog killah.

Matty Ice does nothing but win ballgames… even during a game where he admits he played poorly… that’s right, admit, not blame others, as the dog killah often did.

Suck it, haters!

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:13 am

That’s well said, Meanwhile.

Joe

October 19th, 2009
12:14 am

Congratulations Falcons.

Meanwhile...Barry Sanders is my role model

October 19th, 2009
12:14 am

And it’s a bloody good thing I didn’t make a show of it, as I find out 16 minutes after I posted I wasn’t first!

Eric C.

October 19th, 2009
12:14 am

Gotta cross our fingers that Norwood and Williams can get back soon…crucial losses at this point. Anyone have updates?

Ginger

October 19th, 2009
12:15 am

Very pleased with the Win and performance of the TEAM….thought we played great as a team. The guys were really running hard, blocking hard, playing fast, throwing bodies around…Thought we tackled pretty good and did not see a lot of runs after the catch…..Just loved the defensive stands…We love great defense.

REF

October 19th, 2009
12:15 am

We should win next week against Dallas, the Cowboys are a team that’s a tier under the Bears / 49ers (both teams we beat). However, we should lose to the Saints at the Superdome… that’s going to be a TOUGH Game. The Falcons with 3 straight weeks on National TV, when was the last time that happened? Tonight against the Bears on Sunday Night, Next week against the Cowboys (National Game on FOX), and then Monday Night against the Saints.

Joe

October 19th, 2009
12:16 am

next two weeks @ Dallas and @ New Orleans wow that is gonna be tough. It was important we beat The Bears cause I’m not sure we are gonna beat both Dallas and New Orleans especially not New Orleans @ The Superdome that is highly unlikely but we can beat Dallas though.

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:17 am

Yes. The worst thing would be to pull a Leon Lett.

Da Bears Fan

October 19th, 2009
12:20 am

Eric C.

October 19th, 2009
12:20 am

Don’t like playing the Cowboys coming off a bye after playing a dog fight this week…not sure the Falcons can pull that off. Looking at the big picture though, the Falcons are 2-1 so far in a very tough stretch that began with New England…you’ve got to be excited about that.

Bat Masterson

October 19th, 2009
12:22 am

Biermann is from Montana, but I’m not sure he’s from Bozeman .

Is there another town in Montana?

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:25 am

Missoula. That’s where he went to college.

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:25 am

Hey, Bat. Downloaded Jo Nesbo’s book. Haven’t read it, though.

Ginger

October 19th, 2009
12:26 am

Think we have decent shots at the Cowboys and Saints….Defense will be a huge key. Can’t look ahead to the Saints…take care of business first with Boys……So important for ATL to run the ball well and keep these other teams that have outstanding QB’s off the field as much as possible.

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:27 am

I don’t think the Falcons will win in New Orleans. I think they can win in Dallas.

Bat Masterson

October 19th, 2009
12:28 am

Well I hope you enjoy it, Mark. Did you get Nemesis, or Redbreast? Good blog tonight, and a good game.

Meanwhile...metaphorically speaking

October 19th, 2009
12:28 am

Mark are you convinced that come January, when contenders have separated themselves from pretenders, that this group of Falcons can take a punch, as you put it, and respond?

There is a certain belief, a certain sense of self assuredness that the New Englands, Pittsburgs, and Indys of the the world have. The Vikings may very well have it with Brett Farve this year.

Do you think the Falcons have that certain cachet, that “it factor”, if you will?

cricket

October 19th, 2009
12:31 am

Why are people so worried about Dallas? That’s not a good team right now. I don’t think Falcons lose there.

Ryder

October 19th, 2009
12:31 am

These are one of those games in which you were just happy to come out with a win. In the NFL, style points aren’t necessary.

That said, I do think Atlanta may have been a bit overconfident after what happened in SF last week. Dallas is going to be determined to come out strong and the Falcons must not start off as timid as they did tonight.

One thing I love about this team is that they have taken on the personality of their coach. You can see a bit of nastiness in them and a resolve (courtesy of the QB) that helps the team maintain composure when they get hit in the mouth first.

eric

October 19th, 2009
12:32 am

Great win. Period.

ATL

October 19th, 2009
12:32 am

Great game!
I guess we just have to listen to all the idiots on ESPN talk about how the Bears gave this game away, instead of how well the ATL “D” played.

GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:32 am

I now believe, Meanwhile, that the Falcons will make the plays they need to make. I’ve seldom felt that way about the Falcons over the years.

Bat Masterson

October 19th, 2009
12:33 am

I hope you enjoy it Mark, did you get Nemesis or Redbreast? Good blog tonight, to go along with a good game.

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:33 am

Got “Nemesis.” It was the only one available on Kindle.

Ginger

October 19th, 2009
12:34 am

New Orleans look absolutely great today….the Superdome is very loud and will be tough for sure. The Giants really got exploited regarding cornerback play and not being able to pressure Brees–He just picked them apart…….Think we have better chance against Dallas….but you know–the games still have to be played and I give us a fighting chance if we can pressure Brees big time and keep him off the field as much as possible.

REF

October 19th, 2009
12:35 am

What about Jamaal Anderson and how’s he’s performing at DT? Looks like he’s finally found his spot and can contribute positively to the team.

Mike

October 19th, 2009
12:35 am

Think our schedule is hard enough? Dallas and New Orleans coming up, both off their byes. People were saying Atlanta’s schedule was brutal going into the year…and maybe it has softened…but to be 4-1 is great. 5-2 heading back to the dome to play Washington is even better, but I expect to be 6-1!! Go Falcons!

We won pretty last week. We won dirty this week. This defense makes plays…and people were saying those “smoke and mirrors” werent going to get them anywhere this year. I dont need those smoke and mirrors…ill take the defense we have now. They are getting better and better.

Meanwhile...there are fans, then there are fans

October 19th, 2009
12:36 am

CMS just said on 11Alive that the Falcons have the best fans. Typical coachspeak, and you can’t blame him one bit for it.

But it reminds me of the old saw about Nebraska fans, and how knowledgeable they are. They say the average Nebraska fan, sitting seventy rows up, can point out how the weakside tackle blew his blocking assignment…

And so can her husband!

BraveCat

October 19th, 2009
12:37 am

Kelly Johnson, you wouldn’t. I hope you will be traded….like NOW…..but now it is all about the Falcons…….GO FALCONS!!!!!

Ginger

October 19th, 2009
12:37 am

yes..thought Jamaal–did very well stopping the run. Like him much better at DT

Mark Bradley

October 19th, 2009
12:37 am

Jamaal does seem to have found a home.

Ginger

October 19th, 2009
12:41 am

Just love Coach Brian V. Gorder and the blitzes…..Enjoy cheering for Fulton K. (Capt.Crazy) and Buddy Curry and the Grits Blitz……remember years ago when we were playing Dallas with Greg Brezina at linebacker and we upset the Cowboys…that game may have been in Dallas…..But we do love great defense in the South.

BraveCat

October 19th, 2009
12:41 am

And Mark, love the “I don’t think the Falcons can win in N.O.” Fire the Falcons up, buddy!!!!!!!!!!!