The Falcons stay undefeated, but there’s cause for concern

Matt Bryant boots the winner from 55 yards out. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Matt Bryant boots the winner from 55 yards out. This team never loses! (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

It’s better to be 6-0 and picking nits than to be 0-6 and searching for bright spots. We’re agreed on that. But even the unbeaten Falcons conceded that Victory No. 6 was lovely only in its final score.

“We can’t make it hard on ourselves,” said defensive end John Abraham, whose irresistible presence kept this one close enough to win. “Take the stuff we did to ourselves out of the game and we win easy.”

Said Thomas DeCoud, the free safety: “We know the longer we stay undefeated, the better teams are going to be playing against us.”

For 3 4/5 quarters Sunday, the Falcons appeared to know no such thing. They’d been roundly outplayed by the 1-3 Raiders, and the only reason Oakland didn’t build an unassailable lead was that it couldn’t stop performing illegal acts. The visitors were flagged 12 times, many of the penalties holds on Abraham. The Raiders outgained the Falcons 474 yards to 286, but 110 penalty yards had a leveling effect.

Matt Ryan, who’d thrown three interceptions in five games, delivered three in the first two quarters. Matt Bryant, who hadn’t missed a field goal this season, pulled a 42-yard try. The Matts with the soundalike surnames essentially killed four of the Falcons’ first five possessions, which ended as follows: Ryan INT, Bryant missed FG, Ryan INT, Ryan TD pass, Ryan INT.

Against a better team on another day, that lousy start would have been enough to get the Falcons beat. That said, it’s unlikely the Falcons would have played so poorly against a better team. Players are human: When you’re 5-0 and the opponent is 1-3, it’s not the same as when Belichick and Brady occupy the other sideline.

The trouble with this performance is that it followed two others cut from similar checkered cloth. The Falcons needed a frantic last-minute drive to overhaul Carolina here and a fourth-quarter rally to subdue Washington there. And this given Sunday brought another halting start.

We move to the third quarter. The Falcons got a hilarious break when a Ryan pass thunked cornerback Joselio Hudson in the back of the helmet and was gathered in by a grateful Harry Douglas. That 20-yard gain could only spark a field goal, and Abraham’s sack/strip of Carson Palmer that yielded, after a Ray Edwards recovery/return, first-and-goal at the Oakland 2 didn’t generate a touchdown, either. The Falcons tied the game but could do no more, and suddenly it was inside the final three minutes and the Raiders were driving to take the lead.

Whereupon cornerback Asante Samuel, imported for  such a moment, drew up a play (figuratively speaking) in the dirt. Strong safety William Moore had conveyed a coverage to defend against a three-step drop. When Samuel saw Palmer retreat deeper, he said to himself, “Forget it” — actually, he used a different word — and decided to “do my little thing.” Samuel sliced in front of Denarius Moore and took the interception 79 yards to score. Not that those 79 yards were without peril.

At the Falcons’ 30, Samuel pointed in celebration. Next thing he knew, Palmer was bearing down on him. “I’ve got to get a little shine,” Samuel said, speaking of the gesticulation. “But I got a little scared. I thought he was going to catch me.”

Staving off major embarrassment, Samuel dodged Palmer and scored. Ballgame, right? Not quite. The Raiders moved to the Atlanta 5 inside the final minute, and here Samuel made another huge, albeit inadvertent, play. He got hurt.

Because it was inside the final two minutes, the Falcons were docked a timeout as Samuel was helped to the bench. (”I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “My ankle hurt and I was tired.”) But the clock stopped at moment Oakland wanted it to keep running, and the result was that the two Matts were left with 40 seconds after the Raiders’ tying touchdown. Piece of cake.

If there’s such a thing as a run-of-the-mill drive that leads to a 55-yard game-winning field goal at 0:01, this was it. Ryan completed five passes and Bryant swung his foot and the Falcons won 23-20 and all was right in Birdland. Except that it kind of wasn’t.

Said Ryan: “I’m always of the opinion we need to strive to play our best. I don’t think we’ve done that the past couple of weeks.”

Said Mike Smith, the coach: “We can play better. Everyone in this (locker) room knows it.”

Yes, it sounds a bit cruel, carping about the first 6-0 start this franchise has ever known. But that’s the trouble with rising so far: If you fall from such a great height, you make a bigger splat. In the season’s first three weeks, the Falcons played very well. In Weeks 4-6,  they played well enough to win. Yes, there’s a difference.

For further reading: Here are three other observations regarding the Falcons’ 23-20 victory over Oakland.

By Mark Bradley

110 comments Add your comment

Kane337

October 14th, 2012
6:19 pm

Go Falcons! 6-0

Kane337

October 14th, 2012
6:19 pm

TheOnlyBravesFan

October 14th, 2012
6:20 pm

Kudos.

We’ll come out of the bye playing better, I hope.

Kane337

October 14th, 2012
6:20 pm

Yes there is a growing concern, but I’ll take an ugly win any day over a pretty loss.

misterwax

October 14th, 2012
6:23 pm

they play better on the road….First!

MTSeats

October 14th, 2012
6:27 pm

@Shultz, how is this different that years past? WHEN will you challenge (sp) MSmith? Close does not win SB.

Chris

October 14th, 2012
6:28 pm

6-0 6-0 6-0 6-0 6-0 6-0 6-0!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

MTSeats

October 14th, 2012
6:30 pm

My Bradley, just frustration. This starts with MSmith, and I think he’s a good co-ordinator, just don’t think he can take the team to SB.

MTSeats

October 14th, 2012
6:31 pm

edit, MY BAD, sorry

keith

October 14th, 2012
6:31 pm

Offensively the Falcons will be fine..they need to commit to the run game a little more. I know the Offensive Coordinator loves the pass, but the falcons need to be more balance….60% pass 40% run Today it was like 98^ of the time they were passing. Defensively, they need to get more production from the DTs. The Ends are fine, but Babineaux & Walker & Jerry need to pick up their play against the run & push the pocket whenever the opposing team drop back to pass. Otherwisw they are fine…the bye week cam at the right time for them

steve

October 14th, 2012
6:32 pm

It is hard to win in the nfl and the falcons find a way to win awesome .

PMC

October 14th, 2012
6:32 pm

Thankfully the bye comes now and we can pause rest and figure some stuff out after 6 hard fought wins

secrules

October 14th, 2012
6:33 pm

Atlanta has come a longgggg way! Now we complain about how we win. Still 6-0 and nothing is better!

oldbird

October 14th, 2012
6:35 pm

Well put. No sense of urgency the last few weeks/

Falcons4Eva

October 14th, 2012
6:40 pm

Better to be concerned at 6-0 than be desperate at 1-4 (like the Saints) ……Go Falcons….Geaux 2 hell Saints and Eagles….

Mark Bradley

October 14th, 2012
6:41 pm

Kudos, Kane337.

MTSeats

October 14th, 2012
6:43 pm

@secrules how we (they) win, wow, 2pts vs giants. escape one of the worst teams in the league. wanna buy a bridge?

Ted M

October 14th, 2012
6:48 pm

The Falcons can’t run the ball to save their lives. Because of that they will lose in the playoffs.

clem

October 14th, 2012
6:49 pm

better to be lucky than good…….matty ice should be ashamed of that performance….he is getting worse as the season progresses

pth

October 14th, 2012
6:53 pm

I see where many of the teams are winning at the last many and by three points. The really good teams find a way to win even when they do struggle for most of the game. this bye week is just on time, i think the teams can use a breaK LETs just hope green bay takes care of houston tonight and the falcons will be the only UNDEFEATED TEAM IN THE LEAGUE! GO FALCONS

epic quibble

October 14th, 2012
6:55 pm

they flat-out stunk up the joint today.
but it *is* better to be lucky than good.

john jenniges

October 14th, 2012
6:57 pm

Hey I’m a Falcons fan but lets face it if they play like they have the past 3 games they lose
in round one of rhe playoffs again. The offensive line sucks and the defense gives up BIG
plays…cant do that to playoff teams….you lose.

BravesfaninAugusta

October 14th, 2012
6:59 pm

Just would’ve like three rushes there at the 2….need to trust Turner but wow what a great win

RobbE33

October 14th, 2012
7:04 pm

New techniques and schemes may have patched our O’ & D’ lines but that won’t cut it against the big boys. I’m still holding out hope that they’ll magically correct our deficiencies by December when it matters most.

jlew

October 14th, 2012
7:11 pm

Didn’t we fire an offensive line coach because we couldn’t protect Ryan and failed in short yardage situations. Now we can’t run period short yardage or not. And still can’t protect Ryan. I hope we have some major upgrade in the offensive line in the bye week. Maybe personnel. Clabo really struggling. He is getting pushed back into Ryan on almost every pass.

Red-N-Black

October 14th, 2012
7:13 pm

Didn’t read the article – but listen to this- ALL games aren’t going to be perfect! A win is a win and you are what your record says you are!

Oh and you know what good teams do? THEY WIN

Big Dude

October 14th, 2012
7:14 pm

Perfect timing for a by week. They’ll come back fresh and show the world that they are for real when they beat the Eagles.

jlew

October 14th, 2012
7:15 pm

Did I see someone say the defensive ends are fine. I would make that singular, Abraham, but Bierman and Edwards are not even sniffing the qb. This will mean that will get stuffed with single blocker and Abe will start getting doubled more. We have to have someone else get some pressure.

GTJeff

October 14th, 2012
7:17 pm

Bradyley you are nothing but an a #1 as.shole. You carp about anything. We won. Nuff said. Noone, repeat NOONE goes through an entire season playing perfect.

Ed

October 14th, 2012
7:39 pm

I think there is a lot we can improve on but being 6-0 gives us a cushion to work with we really want to be playing our best football in January not October.

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Big Enos Burdette

October 14th, 2012
7:44 pm

Watching the Falcons right now feels like it did with the Bulldogs before the South Carolina game

RA

October 14th, 2012
7:48 pm

I hate to admit it but Bradley’s right. Of course, I think they Falcons went into this game thinking more about the bye week than the opponet. Still, if you have to learn a lesson, it’s best to do it while winning. And as far as the Falcons playing their best ball, they’re not, and they’re not supposed to be playing their best ball yet. You want your team playing their best in December and January. There’s time for them to get it together.

Sick & Tired Of Being Sick & Tired

October 14th, 2012
7:54 pm

It was an u-g-l-y win, but a WIN.

On the positive side…..Congrats to Coach Smith for tying Dan Reeves win record in shorter period of time too. Soon he will surpass it and the team will break another record this year. :-)

Stepchild

October 14th, 2012
8:01 pm

Luck runs out….but good play is lasting. It is not better to be lucky, morons.

gulfwavesgary

October 14th, 2012
8:05 pm

Is it not great to gripe about some poor plays liked missed tackles, 3 interceptions, a PIC 6 that almost was not and having to get a win with a last second FG two out of the last 3 weeks can end with THE FALCONS ARE 6 AND 0. Never thought I’d see this kind of start. GO FALCONS. Been at games since Tommy Nobis. I think this may be the year to win a playoff game. Predict no worse than 13-3 and home field advantage. I trust Mike Smith to get this team over the hump to the next level.

colelinski

October 14th, 2012
8:05 pm

The Falcons can’t run the ball. Did anyone see how the Giants o-line preformed against the Niners.
That was a real licking they put on them It seems that with each game the birds keep falling off both
offfnsively and defensively. When they get to the real big boys on their schedule it could be hard to
watch if improvements are’nt made. I don’t mean to be to negative, but I’ve watched these birds since
1966 and I’ve seen a lot of grieve down thru the years. Let’s hope things get rectified during the
bye week.

gulfwavesgary

October 14th, 2012
8:06 pm

Abraham had a all pro day and was awesome the whole game.

gulfwavesgary

October 14th, 2012
8:13 pm

Amen to the comment of Falcons4Eva. By the way Washington trounced the 4-1 Vikings. See what happens when you knock RG3 out of the game. I love the way that Witherspoon hits. Saw him play in college and just plays real hard. GO FALCONS

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North ave. faithful

October 14th, 2012
8:22 pm

they are some nerve racking bastards, but god i love them. 6-0!!!!!!!!!!!!

Beau

October 14th, 2012
8:28 pm

Leave it to Bradley to find a negative in a win. They should team him up with Kincade on 680.

OldTimer

October 14th, 2012
8:43 pm

Two out of the last three weekends the opposing team’s quarterback has apologized because they felt their play cost their team a win. I disagree.
The Atlanta Falcon’s defense deserves some serious credit.
This team can and will beat you.

Michael

October 14th, 2012
8:43 pm

It look like the Giants will be our toughest game. Boy they ran over the 49ers today.

Greg

October 14th, 2012
8:57 pm

I knew this game was trouble when I saw that the Raiders had a bye last Sunday. They looked like a desperate team that had two weeks to prepare for the Falcons.

Now the Falcons have two weeks before their game at Philly…but Philly has next Sunday off too. Falcons will get the Eagles best shot after they coughed up the game today vs the Lions.

fan

October 14th, 2012
9:02 pm

How many of the falcon thugs will be arrested tonight for dui?

CC

October 14th, 2012
9:03 pm

Never seen a pro team tackle so much like Georgia Tech… But the Birds did today. That stuff has to stop.

dobearsbare

October 14th, 2012
9:15 pm

I hate quibbling over a 6-0 start, but frankly we’ve seen this before. Two years ago the Falcons went 13-3 and had a handful of squeakers in that 13 wins. Then the Packers came to town.

BobDawg

October 14th, 2012
9:36 pm

Any team coming off a Bye week is going to be tough as nails with fresh legs as the Ray-Dahs were today… No Worries and should be a wail of a game in Philly in 2 weeks… Even if we go 6-4 the 2nd half we would be 12-4 which is darn good.

MTSeats

October 14th, 2012
9:48 pm

this team is a tease, until td/ms goes and get a real coach, nothing will change. luck won’t win a SB.
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been here since van brocklin