If you didn't believe in the 2010 incarnation of the Atlanta Falcons, I'm willing to bet you do now.
The Falcons declared their intent to storm the playoffs against one of the AFC's finest teams last night, in front of a national audience. While Ravens fans and the national media will debate some of the calls in this one—and I can certainly see why—I'm confident the Falcons would have pulled out the win regardless of what the zebras did late in the game. They were tough for four quarters, Matt Ryan had the game of his career and it was perhaps the most cohesive overall effort I've seen this season. Except for Michael Turner, of course.
At 7-2, the Falcons are in the driver's seat in the NFC South. They're within striking distance of the post-season only nine weeks into the season. They appear to be hitting their stride at exactly the right time, with a slate of divisional games and the fearsome Green Bay Packers fast approaching. It's hard not to be optimistic about their chances in every single game from here on out, and damnit, I'm not going to try to be anything else. I like believing in the Falcons.
Tip your cap to the Ravens and join me after the jump. I think you're going to like this one.
- In a torrent of wrong names, bad information and putrid analysis, the NFL Network guys got one thing right last night: This was Matt Ryan's best game as a pro. There might have been more exciting heroics in a handful of games, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better overall effort.
In a game where Roddy had three drops, Harry Douglas had one and Ryan was forced to throw it away a handful of times to escape a blistering Ravens pass rush, he still completed 64 percent of his passes. He piled up 316 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens knew what he was capable of, but Ryan still pulled it off, finding the open man again and again and making gutsy throws all day long. This was the first game all season where the pressure on Ryan was consistent and he still made things happen.
Mike Smith said after the game that Ryan spent the first half calling plays out of the no huddle himself, and added that it's a sign of Ice's maturation. If the Ravens game is any evidence at all, we have yet to see the best our franchise quarterback has to offer. That's the kind of thought that has me grinning like a fool at 2 a.m.
Roddy White, you're spoiling us.
Returning from an injury and spending the week on the sidelines, White came out and hauled in 12 catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Those drops were painful and the push-off was ill-advised, but you're not going to catch me hating on a guy who so thoroughly beat a quality secondary. At this point, I'm not sure any single cornerback can cover Roddy.
- Like Turner, Jason Snelling didn't get much done on the ground. But through the air? Totally different story.
His six catches were a season high and his touchdown run—where he looked at Dawan Landry with a mix of pity and disgust and gently shook him off his leg—was a thing of beauty. Never sleep on Snelling.
- Tony Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran all had clutch catches, but I want to highlight Jenkins on the sidelines. He kept control of the ball on his fingertips and got both feet down late in the fourth quarter to save the eventual game-winning drive. If he doesn't haul that one in, we're wondering what might have been this morning.
Oh, and special mention to Brian Finneran for punching out a fumble that Coy Wire then scooped up. He may be ancient, but he still STACKS FURNITURE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.
- John Abraham is filthy. Absolutely filthy. Two sacks in this one, including one on the last drive of the game, and he's now up to eight for the season. Find me a defensive end playing better football right now.
- Brent Grimes did some weird things out there today—I expected to hear a sleazy saxophone solo when he groped Anquan Boldin—but I'll be damned if he didn't make up for it every time. That interception felt inevitable, which is a testament to how awesome a ballhawk he really is.
- Some people knit. Some people take up writing. Curtis Lofton destroys the human soul.
- An honorable mention to the entire front line of the Falcons for generating consistent pressure on Joe Flacco, which forced him to make some horrendous throws. All that against a quality offensive line, too.
- I'm not a big fan of Eric Weems, but he hit David Reed so hard I thought he was going to spin out of existence. Nice.
- Look up clutch in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of Matt Bryan with a towel draped over his head. Dude is on fire.
- With the exception of some of Brian Van Gorder's trademark soft defense (not sponsored by Cialis), this was an extremely well-coached game. Round of applause.
- I recognize the Ravens planned for Michael Turner. I do. I also recognize that their run defense hadn't been stellar up to this point, and that Turner just kind bumped into the pile like the world's most listless perpetual motion machine. Mularkey should've been shoving him outside more often, but Turner showed a lack of vision today. Given his recent roll, let's assume this is a blip for now.
- Harry Douglas needs to get his head on straight. Dude just looks lost on the field.
- BVG needs to tighten up the coverage. As soon as the Falcons get a comfortable lead, he kicks back and opens things up, and it's gotten this team burned more times than I care to count. Stay aggressive all game long, without those crazy eight man blitzes. Just better calls in general would be nice.
- Am I supposed to have more bad things? Umm....sorry. I'm out.
Game MVP: Worthy choices abound, but this is Matt Ryan's day. Congratulations, Ice.
Game Theme Song: I have no idea why I'm choosing this, but it just feels right.
One Thing To Take Away: This team is coalescing in a most pleasing manner.
Next Week: Locked and loaded, the Falcons are heading to St. Louis to kick ass and chew bubblegum. Sorry, Turf Show Times, but Mike Smith is all out of Bubbleyum.
Final Word: Hellyeah.