The Falcons win the kind of game they’ll play in January

Jacquizz Rodgers shows that the Falcons can so run the football. (AP photo)

Jacquizz Rodgers, shown gaining actual rushing yards. (AP photo)

Tampa – The 8-0 start was nice, but we all know the Atlanta Falcons won’t be judged on what they did in September, or November. Heck, even Mike Smith, the buttoned-up coach, spoke these words in August: “When we get there (meaning the playoffs), we’ve got to play better football.”

We can’t know how these Falcons — or those Packers or Patriots or any team — will fare in the playoffs until 2013 arrives, but we have a bit better feel about the local franchise today. The Falcons just left here having won a game that wouldn’t have seemed out of place if you stuck it in January. They played a hot team. They fell behind three times. They won 24-23.

They won with a sprinkling of flash — the 80-yard pass to Julio Jones that overrode a Tampa Bay lead in 11 seconds — but mostly they won with force, and that was a heartening sign. This team had risen to 8-0 and then 9-1 without doing much in the way of running the ball or stopping the run. On Sunday they did both. They nudged the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense for 79 vital ground yards, and they limited the splendid Doug Martin to 50 yards on 21 carries.

Afterward linebacker Sean Weatherspoon would dismiss Martin as just “a rookie running back,” but Weatherspoon was laughing and playing to a gaggle of fellow linebackers in the corner of a festive locker room.

“He said it!” Stephen Nicholas said. “You write it!” (Done, sir.)

Said Weatherspoon: “Mike Peterson got the stop!”

Said Nicholas: “Yeah, Mike Pete!”

In a game that featured a dozen massive plays, the aging Mike Peterson’s second-quarter takedown of the rookie running back ranked near the top. The Falcons had just been smacked on consecutive downs: The similarly aging Ronde Barber had intercepted yet another Matt Ryan pass, and Buc receiver Mike Williams had thrown a deep ball to Buc receiver Vincent Jackson, who was halted by Nicholas at the Falcons’ 3. On third-and-goal from the 1, Martin ran left and had only Peterson, who’s 36, to beat. Peterson grabbed him and hung on.

That was the game in miniature. One side would make a play, and the other would counter. The Falcons countered last and hardest. Said Weatherspoon: “We were able to show our DNA again … Whenever there was a sudden change (meaning a turnover), we showed our defensive resiliency.”

Twice the Bucs took the ball beyond midfield off Ryan turnovers. Twice the defense controlled the damage, yielding a field goal each time. And when the Falcons nosed ahead by a point with 7:55 remaining, the D — by then working with two banged-up cornerbacks, Dunta Robinson having suffered a head injury and Asante Samuel lugging a bum arm — forced Tampa Bay to try a 56-yard field goal that had no chance.

Then it was down to the offense to kill the final 3:55, and it burned off all but eight seconds. Three runs — the first a 14-yard burst by the backup Jacquizz Rodgers — took the game beyond the two-minute warning, and a nerveless Ryan completion to Roddy White on third-and-five all but sealed the deal. Said guard Justin Blalock: “When we needed to run and control the clock, we did a fair job of nearly running the clock out.”

The Falcons didn’t push Tampa Bay backwards, but they did run the ball when they needed to run it, which is what Smith has said was the idea all along. Why run so much against an opponent that was No. 1 against the run but dead last against the pass? Smith: “We felt like we needed to try it, and we felt like we could do it, too.”

This was far better than the 46 yards rushing this team managed in the loss to the defenseless Saints two weeks earlier. This was good enough to make Sunday one of the two or three victories this 10-win team has seen. “It felt like we played pretty decent,” center Todd McClure said. “Not great, but this is definitely a better feeling.”

And now the Falcons get the Saints again, this time in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night, and they welcome the opportunity. They won here on a day when the outcome was in doubt until the final whistle, and they’ll have to win more such games if they plan to play into February. “It was a playoff atmosphere,” said general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and for once the Falcons held steady in the rarefied air.

Said Peterson: “That was coach Smith’s message all week: ‘Don’t blink.’ He talked to us about not getting down and not pointing fingers when they made a big play. And when you go on the road and beat a hot team in its place, you can take that win and use it as momentum.”

It sounds a little odd, given that the Falcons have played 11 games and lost only once, but as December awaits they were in need of a kick-start. They might have gotten it here.

Further reading: On the shifty Jacquizz Rodgers and the shifting Mike Smith.

By Mark Bradley

166 comments Add your comment

Heath

November 25th, 2012
6:02 pm

Aren’t there any running backs on the FA market?

Heath

November 25th, 2012
6:09 pm

Or is Turner such a good passing down blocker that he’s worth it? Love Peterson’s stop. Good for him.

Hillbilly D

November 25th, 2012
6:12 pm

Sean Weatherspoon would dismiss Martin as just “a rookie running back,”

Never have understood giving bulletin board material to a team you’ve got to play again.

Buzziswiser

November 25th, 2012
6:13 pm

Time management at the end of both halves is a concern and if done correctly would have eliminated any chance of the Hail Mary having an effect on the outcome. That’s on CMS, as was the challenge flag last week, but then if were not for Smitty, the Birds would still be trying the have two winning seasons in a row.

misterwax

November 25th, 2012
6:13 pm

the Thursday night should be a wild event….maybe I can scrounge up some tickets….

Mike

November 25th, 2012
6:14 pm

Worry about who is a free agent or not after the season. We have who we have. They will get it done or not. Lets get behind them 100%. Not question their ability.

GoFalcons!

November 25th, 2012
6:20 pm

Sweet win! Exciting, hard fought game.

dean

November 25th, 2012
6:20 pm

That was a helluva game today.

misterwax

November 25th, 2012
6:20 pm

looking forward to the game on Thursday night…should be a wild one.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:21 pm

The Falcons have become a team that one just assumes will win a ballgame. By some miracle, the Falcons will win. Even today with Matt Bryant’s doldrums, they won.

2 > 7

November 25th, 2012
6:21 pm

Aints are losing by 14 pts.

playmeortrademe

November 25th, 2012
6:21 pm

49ers-Saints a combo of good 49ers and terrible mistakes by the Saints. Saints are going to be more beat up than Atlanta for the Thursday game with their season on the line against the Falcons.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:23 pm

If it weren’t for Mike Smith, the Falcons would most likely be stuck in the mediocrity they wollowed in for 38 or so of their 46 year existance.

Coach D

November 25th, 2012
6:24 pm

10-1!!! 10-1!!!!!! The Falcons are 10-1!!!!!!!!! Beat the Saints, get healthy & then get ready for the playoffs! Go Birds!

Jason

November 25th, 2012
6:25 pm

So if no one says first….

Samuel

November 25th, 2012
6:25 pm

I think collectively the Falcons did a good job on both sides of the ball. Game ball should go to Julio Jones and Jaquizz Rodgers. If this team can get it’s running game going consistently going forward,I think they’ll be hard to beat down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Dirtybird

November 25th, 2012
6:26 pm

Absolutely agree….clock management at the end of the game was SO bad. What was Coach Smith thinking? A pass and then a field goal attempt instead of a punt? Lucky man…. Thankfully we didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way. Hopefully we will learn that lesson….

Mongo

November 25th, 2012
6:26 pm

I have to say, I like seeing “little” Quiz Rodgers putting his head down and trying to run over people. He is kind of fun to watch. Need to get him more involved and have “big” Mikey Turner fresh to pound it near the end. Go Quiz!

Growler

November 25th, 2012
6:27 pm

“a nerveless Ryan completion to Roddy White on third-and-five all but sealed the deal.”

Mark, that was nice of you to call it that.. but passing the ball there with 1:02 to go and the other team out of timeouts was beyond stupid. Attempting a long FG (with a kicker who earlier shanked a 22 yarder) instead of punting only compounded the error. Did anyone on the Falcons’ coaching staff bother to watch how the Bucs won their game last week? I said it on the game blog and I’ll say it again: this head coach makes FAR too many questionable, or flat-out wrong game management decisions at the end of halves and games. Mark my words: it is going to come back and bite them in January, in a big way.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:28 pm

Isnt it so nice that we are no longer hearing “(insert coach and team names here) even lost to Georgia” in critcizing (insert coach and team names here) program.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:36 pm

So sweet to see Chizik get his just reward. No ability, bought players (i.e. Cam Newton), encouraged dirty playing (i.e. Nick Fairley)and was probably the guy that poisoned the oak trees.

Answer This

November 25th, 2012
6:36 pm

First….does that count Jason? Hahahahaha.

Alpha9

November 25th, 2012
6:38 pm

Hey Growler with such astute opinions on coaching decisions why are you blogging today and not coaching????.or did you coach on Fri or Sat…Didn’t see anybody on Espn named Growler or local or national sports talk radio…do you have a podcast..or sirius show we don’t know about…you are a hater and a douche

kingdaddy

November 25th, 2012
6:40 pm

Not too cool with getting taken out of fieldgoal range in the end and then trying to kick a fieldgoal anyway and giving them the ball at the 38-39. Why not punt it out of bounds? I know they didn’t have much time left but one defensive pass interference penalty could have gotten them in range for a FG and we would have handed it to them. Bonehead call by Smith to go for FG. We were lucky to get the win. Defense looked great. Offense looked pretty good too. Bryant was a little off. He has spoiled us by being “money in the bank”. It was a really good win all the way around. One that we needed for confidence rolling into the end of the year. Coach Smith has these Dirty Birds in every game…

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:40 pm

Mark’s had a busy weekend and is probably at this very minute dashing to the airport to catch a flight back to ATL.

atlxman

November 25th, 2012
6:43 pm

growler..it wasnt stupid with the played they called, it was nice and safe and tampa wasnt expecting it. if they dont get it they just punt it away anyway. instead they get the first and take more time iff the clock. the field goal try wasnt stupid either ..it left 10 seconds left and it wasnt like bryant hasnt made 48 yarders before even after missing 30 yarders. just quit hating and 2nd guessing a head coach of a pro team.

Dave

November 25th, 2012
6:43 pm

I’m not yet a believer; but, while we don’t win big or pretty, we are beating good teams. Keep it up.

hatetheaints

November 25th, 2012
6:43 pm

Where are all the trolls 10-1 baby…….seenthisb4

2 > 7

November 25th, 2012
6:44 pm

One SF lineman is offside every snap…

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:44 pm

After careful consideration and a thorough evaluation of our football program, I have recommended that Coach Chizik not be retained,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a statement. ”

Did the guy not have enough guts to say “I recommend we fire Gene Chizik”? I guess he was trying to spare the coach’s feelings.

Growler

November 25th, 2012
6:45 pm

“Alpha9″ I really don’t ever get personal with anyone here, but you could not be more wrong about how I feel about the Falcons. And, when someone gets THAT defensive about a criticism without even trying to refute its logic, it says everything about them — and nothing about the poster.

Mora less Petrino

November 25th, 2012
6:47 pm

Good road win! At Tampa is always a tough a game for the Birds.

atlxman

November 25th, 2012
6:48 pm

kingdaddy, they could have gotten that pass interference call from anywhere on the field so doesnt really matter where they had the ball as long as it was not on the 50 yard line. they only had 10 seconds left after the kick and the falcons played it perfect… i would have done the exact same thing.

AtlantaDude

November 25th, 2012
6:49 pm

I hope Bryant gets it together. Since he’s been here, we have never had to worry about field goals, until the past few weeks.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:50 pm

Growler, I agree with you. There’s no room on this blog for personal insults. Not whether or not I necessarily agree with what you’ve written, but Alpha’s stuff is uncalled for.

Roy

November 25th, 2012
6:50 pm

Falcons are a good team. The Bucs were hot, trying to make a statement in their home stadium…gave the Falcons their best shot yet the Falcons still found a way to get it done. It’s not pretty, and I hate these close wins but we got it done. As far as respect from the media? F em!

Growler

November 25th, 2012
6:51 pm

atlxman: Okay since you actually provided a scenario (unlike the troll above) I’ll explain why it was such a bad play call:
With a run up the middle at 1:02 to go, it guarantees the clock will run down to under 20 seconds. So what if it’s just a yard gain? Or even a loss? If you punt with 18 seconds to go.. then…at worst, Tampa has the ball at the 20 yard line. No way to even get in position for a Hail Mary. What if the pass was dropped? Then there is an extra 40 seconds to go and no choice but to punt! It’s all about risk vs. reward. If Tampa had even ONE timeout, then the risk was worth the reward. But with no timeouts?! No ohter coach in the NFL would have allowed a pass attempt in that situation.

Mark Bradley

November 25th, 2012
6:51 pm

Tampa Bay wasn’t out of timeouts when Ryan hit White. In fact, it had two left.

CC

November 25th, 2012
6:51 pm

And what is it with the Falcons, with 3 top receivers, still having to resort to field goals for scores when in the red zone? Trouble scoring inside the 15 could mean an early exit, again, from the playoffs.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:52 pm

Yep, Matt Bryant’s theme song could have been the Pointer Sisters’ Automatic until lately.

Growler

November 25th, 2012
6:53 pm

Sorry we’re talking about different plays Mark. I meant the 3rd down completion to Gonzalez on 3rd and 18. My bad there. But my point on that one, I am not backing down,

atlxman

November 25th, 2012
6:54 pm

growler…tampa had 2 timeouts left.

Todd Grantham

November 25th, 2012
6:54 pm

like i said Mark, I didnt necessarily agree with what Growler wrote.

Falcon James

November 25th, 2012
6:54 pm

Great win today. We have got to find a running game. Turner is not cutting the mustard. Save the 3 yard dash to the end zone that anyone could have ran in, he is practically useless.. I would love to see him on the bench Thursday night and not costing us yards and plays. I am over him.

Pigskin

November 25th, 2012
6:55 pm

Still looked bad doing it (winning.)

lees

November 25th, 2012
6:56 pm

Hey Tech…….There’s this guy named Gene Chizik who’s lookin’ for a job. He doesn’t live too far from here. He’s been accused of maybe poisoning an oak tree, but I’ve never heard a bad thing he’s ever done with insecticides.

John

November 25th, 2012
6:56 pm

I think Mike Smith should have punted there at the end.
I’m worried about Matt Bryant, he’s been missing a lot of kicks lately. He has a bad back, hope it isn’t chronic.

atlxman

November 25th, 2012
6:57 pm

growler..im talking about the pas to white on the 3rd and 5 where matt stepped up and made a nice easy pass to roady for a first down. tampa then had to burn the rest of their time outs. think there was like a little over min and 20 seconds left.

Alex Hawkins

November 25th, 2012
6:57 pm

Growler Babe, you stick to it.

Growler

November 25th, 2012
6:57 pm

Talking about the 3rd down pass with 1:02 to go. At THAT point, the Bucs had no timeouts. Okay so that isn’t mentioned in the above write.. so now that I’ve clarified and admitted my mixing up the plays I am more than curious to hear Mark B’s opinion on that play call. That is the one I’m talking about….. (and I was clear about the time left in the game)