The Falcons needed to win and they won, but that’s about it

"That man! Right there! Can we sack him one time, please? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"That man! Right there! Can we sack him one time, please? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Maybe there’s no such thing as a Week 6 Must Win in the NFL, but this was taking on that look. After three quarters the touted-for-the-Super-Bowl Falcons trailed Carolina, which had won three of its past 19 games, and seemed transfixed by the rookie Cam Newton.

“We really needed to step up the intensity,” said defensive lineman Corey Peters, whose one-handed snatch of a Newton screen finally broke the Camster’s spell. “He was able to stand back there way too long.”

In those moments when Newton was standing and delivering, it seemed appropriate to run some sums. Lose this and the Falcons would be 2-4. Lose in Detroit next week, 2-5. Lose to Indianapolis after the bye … that won’t happen, so 3-5. Lose to New Orleans here on Nov. 10 and it’s 3-6 and desperation time. And besides: If you can’t beat Carolina at your place, who can you beat?

Moot point now. The Falcons played their best fourth quarter of 2011 — admittedly, that’s not the stiffest of competitions — and won by two touchdowns. “We showed good resolve today,” Matt Ryan said, but even Our Matty of the Platitude wouldn’t dare to use the word “great. This was a workmanlike victory, nothing more.

The Falcons didn’t take out any frustrations on one of the NFL’s worst aggregations. They spent most of the day getting more frustrated. After Carolina converted a particularly egregious third down — the Panthers were 8-of-10 on those through three quarters — head coach Mike Smith could be seen shouting and waving his playcard in the general direction of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. (It’s possible Smitty could have been yelling at someone in the booth, but it seemed apparent he wasn’t reciting, “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”)

Only in the fourth quarter did VanGorder begin to urn … uh, earn … his salary, and even the much-maligned offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey — we should change his nickname from Double M to Quadruple M — did the business. The Falcons ran Michael Turner at Carolina, and this bit of Mularkey was dipped in acuity: Carolina entered with the league’s sixth-worst run defense.

Smith spoke afterward of getting “back on track” and “finding our DNA [meaning the running game],” but we can’t know if this was the usual happy talk or an actual corner turned. This was, after all, Carolina.

“Turn on the film,” said center Todd McClure, the Falcon least apt to blow smoke. “They’re not the Carolina of last year. That’s a team that’s going to be good down the road.”

And this game? After those three indifferent quarters, hadn’t it mushroomed into something bigger than advertised? “I totally agree,” McClure said. “For the mental state of this team — this could have put us behind the 8-ball. But this type of win could give us momentum.”

It could, yeah. After six games, however, the 2011 Falcons have managed few gains and consolidated none. Their week-by-week worksheet: Loss, win, loss, win, loss, win.

About that DNA: Turner rushed for 139 yards on 27 carries, but it’s unclear how that might square with the Falcons’ vision of becoming more “explosive.” Julio Jones didn’t play due to an injury. Roddy White caught two passes for 21 yards, Tony Gonzalez three for 29. Only Ryan’s terrific throw-while-getting-rocked to Harry Douglas inside the final 10 minutes could be considered a vital downfield connection, and it spawned the go-ahead touchdown.

In sum, the Falcons have spent six weeks making us wonder just how good they are. They haven’t beaten anybody who’s above .500. They entered Sunday’s game 19th in total offense and 24th in total defense. (And got outgained by 43 yards by Carolina.) We’ve seen little to make us believe this is a playoff team, let alone a champion-in-waiting.

Maybe this fourth quarter was the beginning of the road to eminence. “The key word for this week was ‘finish’,” said cornerback Brent Grimes, “and I think we got that accomplished.”

The finish was fine. The Falcons won, which always beats losing. On this given Sunday, they got a little better. They still haven’t gotten well.

By Mark Bradley

234 comments Add your comment

Benjamin

October 16th, 2011
5:59 pm

First. And Mark, what exactly is a team supposed to do “beyond” win? I don’t get criticisms of teams after they win, really…

todd grantham

October 16th, 2011
6:02 pm

Mark, would have been first but still sore from last nights altercatioon in Nashville.

Bradley Curse

October 16th, 2011
6:04 pm

“Lose to Indianapolis after the bye … that won’t happen”

oh boy …..

Yo Vince

October 16th, 2011
6:05 pm

This happened. Everytime we Blitzed… something good happened. Watch the tape Van Goober

jarvis

October 16th, 2011
6:06 pm

To echo Benjamin, what did you want?

New Orleans beat this same Panther team by 3 points. This is the NFL not college. A win is a win…and we won by 2 touchdowns.

You’re the type of guy that would order a ham sandwhich and complain when they brought you a ham sandwich.

Brian Vangorder

October 16th, 2011
6:07 pm

What a buzz kill you are, Mark. You knew Cam would come back home and put some yards up! My defense is going up against Megatron next week, so save your negative nancy attitude until then!

typical UGA fan

October 16th, 2011
6:08 pm

Its all Nick Fairley’s fault the Falcons are terrible. He is a mean and dirty player. He called Cam before the game and told him to dive at Curtis Lofton’s knees. Fairley is a dirty player and he is the reason Vanderbilt almost beat us yesterday…

Dozer

October 16th, 2011
6:11 pm

I guess it’s a good situation when we can complain about a 14-point win. Nice try, agent provocateur……

Robert08

October 16th, 2011
6:11 pm

You have to start somewhere and maybe this win will get the Falcons back on track. They finally put together four good quarters and won by two touchdowns. You take the wins when you can get them in the NFL.

Keeping it Real

October 16th, 2011
6:12 pm

Agree with Benjamin. Why so negative. Great 4th quarter. Great win against a tough team. Matty threw a beautiful ball to Roddy in the end zone that should have been a TD except for the interference. Bosher punted better. Defense put pressure on in the 2nd half. Very happy with the game/result.

balismith

October 16th, 2011
6:12 pm

at least the falcons were able to run the ball for 4 quarters today.the offensive line seemed more aggressive and seemed to control the line of scrimage.when the defense rushed more than 4 linemen they were able to pressure newton. cannot understand why they waited so long to get started.agree carolina is not the toast of the nfl but it was nice to see the falcons play better.

THE BIG R

October 16th, 2011
6:12 pm

GO BACK TO RUNNING THE BALL, TAKE TIME OFF THE CLOCK, SET UP PLAY ACTION PASS AND ALL THAT KEEPS DEFENSE OFF FIELD. THAT HAS BEEN THE BLUEPRINT PAST THREE YEARS AND NEEDS TO STAY THAT WAY. IF THIS TEAM RELIES ON PASSING 40 PLUS TIMES A GAME TEAM WILL FINISH UNDER 500

McNasty

October 16th, 2011
6:12 pm

Ben, winning like that only gives you false hope against real competition. We have enough talent to win big on both sides of the ball but we can only slide by rookie quaterbacks. The defensive scheme continues to do the same thing and make the same mistakes weekly.
I have lost my enthusiasm.

randawg6

October 16th, 2011
6:13 pm

VanGorder looks overmatched. How many weeks do we see glaring breakdowns in secondary? Aren’t coaches supposed to correct that?

MV8

October 16th, 2011
6:13 pm

Short lived happiness in the ATL, Birds go down in Motown next week to the Bulldog QB Stafford & his new bff, Calvin from Tech, 31-17

CT Falcon Fan

October 16th, 2011
6:14 pm

The 13-3 season was an abberation–last year’s team was legitmately more of a 10 win team (San Fran, both Tampa games, the Packer game all could’ve/should’ve been losses). I’d rather be a gritty, grind it out and win when nobody counts on it team (like last year’s Packer’s or the 07 Giants) and that’s what this year’s Falcons are turning into.

By the way, gotta love the talking heads on ESPN and NFL Network reminding us about how ATL has lost as many games as they did all of last year–heck, I’ve heard more about the 2010 Falcons this year than I did during 2010.

chem

October 16th, 2011
6:14 pm

julio is almost certainly the #1 WR on this team now

teloga

October 16th, 2011
6:16 pm

Oddly enough it still seems the NFL rule change to move up the kick off’s hasn’t had an effect on the Falcons. It was nice to see Turner hit the line of scrimmage and not fall down this game though.

katherine

October 16th, 2011
6:17 pm

congrats falcons! don’t listen to these debbie downers….a win is a win is a win :)

kevkat

October 16th, 2011
6:18 pm

I agree with Benjamin 100 % !!!!

kevkat

October 16th, 2011
6:20 pm

Damn..could only imagine what we’d be hearing had they lost…

Benjamin

October 16th, 2011
6:27 pm

We won the game. By two touchdowns, even.

Had we lost it, I’d understand the criticism, and I like MB’s work – I comment on his articles in a positive light often, and follow him on Facebook, among other things – but I just can’t see being down on a team for winning by two touchdowns with our rookie sensation not even able to play in the game and our star wide receiver having a subpar day.

Ryan had a good game, Turner had a great game, and our defense played pretty well. I don’t have a problem with that at all.

Benjamin

October 16th, 2011
6:28 pm

Previous message was meant for McNasty. And Bradley, I suppose. lol

Oh well. Go Falcons! And rest in peace, Dan Wheldon…

Dawgdad (The Original)

October 16th, 2011
6:29 pm

Amazing the simularities between the Falcons and Dawgs.

Nothing I saw today indicated that they are likely to beat a good team. Too many holes in their pass defense. They allowed too many yards rushing. Ryan under threw Roddy in the end zone and continued not to be able to generate a deep threat. Hope they get better.

katherine

October 16th, 2011
6:34 pm

what a downer you are dawgdad

Antique Roadshow

October 16th, 2011
6:42 pm

I still don’t know why Matty ICE can’t throw a long ball.

dean

October 16th, 2011
6:48 pm

Newton only trails Brady, Brees, and Rodgers in passing yards so I’ll give ATL D an attaboy today. They held the kid to under 300 yards.

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
6:48 pm

Atlanta clearly played a good football game over a very dangerous team in Carolina and they won easily.
I thought Carolina would come in and beat them like a drum so that tells me something ………..the Falcons played today like they did last year………….Can they keep it up ?
Yes if they continue to run the ball like they did today. Anyone that says something Bad about the Falcons is nothing but a fool after the way they played today .
Mark, after your blog post above, I guess that makes you the first one ! Cheers !

Mitch (the one in Rome)

October 16th, 2011
6:49 pm

Was very critical of the D in the first half. Maybe Smitty’s waving at BVG got him to dial up the blitz. It worked. We got pressure and our corners looked good. Pressure always makes corners look good. Just ask Chris Houston up in Detroit. Suh is making Houston look like a pro-bowler.

dean

October 16th, 2011
6:54 pm

I disagree Michael that it was an “easy” win. The score is not indicative as how close it really was.

Wonder why ?

October 16th, 2011
6:57 pm

@ Antique Roadshow

I feel the same way. However I must admit, I felt much better about his long ball today than I have in the past

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
6:59 pm

Game was never close except when it was tied…………other than that Atlanta D picked off interceptions as a defense is suppose to do ! Carolina actually has a pretty good team but has come up short in wins .

welikebaseball2

October 16th, 2011
7:00 pm

A “win is a win” against a superior opponent. However, against an inferior opponent, a win is not just a win. There is indeed something telling about alleged playoff-contending teams that barely skate by sub-500 teams. Legit teams don’t just win against inferior opponents, they blow them out…at least more often than not. Mark’s not being negative. He’s calling it for what it is.

Wonder why ?

October 16th, 2011
7:02 pm

@ Mitch( the one in rome)

WHEW! Thought I was the only one who notice what Chris Houston was doing in Detroit.

This guy was garbage when he played in Atlanta

Arno

October 16th, 2011
7:06 pm

A win without Julio and with Roddy’s personal foul. Give Douglas the game ball.

Heath

October 16th, 2011
7:08 pm

When Atlanta lost by a field goal in Tampa Bay, it showed that they were, perhaps, the worst team in the history of the NFL and everyone from Blank on down should be fired according to the numbnuts on here. Since New Orleans is going to lose by even more in Tampa Bay, is Atlanta still the worst team to ever set foot in a stadium?

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
7:11 pm

I saw the Team of last year playing today maybe the rest of you was too busy turning up beer cans to see it but however you view it you have to say it was a Team Win altogether and not just one player !
I think if it carries over to next week Atlanta has a good shot of winning that one too, look at the 49ers they beat em even if it was into last minutes it was a win for a hot 49er team that clearly exposed the Bucs last week in a behind the woodshed walloping !

Macon Falcons fan

October 16th, 2011
7:22 pm

Great point, Heath!!!

Local Yokel

October 16th, 2011
7:27 pm

Mark, I totally agree, I would only give the Falcons a “7″ on style points. Oh wait, I forget this isn’t Gymnastics – style points don’t count!

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
7:27 pm

The Trolls will nut up if their beloved Saints get the Slap down by the Bucs in two more minutes ……………..got to root for the Bucs right now !

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
7:32 pm

Too Funnyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

Antique Roadshow

October 16th, 2011
7:32 pm

Fat Face Steak Shapiro said Tampa is one of the worst teams in the league…and the Falcons had no business losing to them….one of the worst takes in the history of sport

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
7:35 pm

laughin so hard at the Trolls right now my side is hurting, but will get up to pass out hankys to the Trolls !

Big O

October 16th, 2011
7:35 pm

I thought Bosher looked much better. He must be getting over the rookie jitters.

Not a Falcon fan

October 16th, 2011
7:36 pm

Falcons are 3 and 3 and in 3rd place. I think it should be” Sit Down” instead of” Rise Up” !!!!!

Snake Doc

October 16th, 2011
7:38 pm

Snake Doc

October 16th, 2011
7:41 pm

And why would anyone listen to a fatman who makes a living running his fat mouth on the radio. Shapiro is a hack and should be run out of Atlanta, along with Chuck fat arse Oliver, Matt Chernpuff and Crystal Delmonico. And yes, I did misspell their names. Sports talk radio in the lta is the pitts!

Michael M.

October 16th, 2011
7:42 pm

Atlanta is still in the NFC South race so look out !

Rise Up!

October 16th, 2011
7:43 pm

I don’t get it either. They win. 2 take aways … no turnovers. Turner rushes for 125+. No 3rd qtr. collapse/malaise. We’re 1 game back in the division. Seemed to have settled down.

Come on, man!

BT

October 16th, 2011
7:45 pm

A bad as the team has played, 3-3 is good. Hopefully this will be the start of some improvement each week and more wins. After the first possession of 3rd, defense made good adjustments and won the game.