We must face the fact that the Atlanta Falcons are a good football team.
They're 6-2. On Sunday, against a feisty Tampa Bay Buccaneers team with loads of young talent, they managed to hold on. We saw a quality offensive performance from the Falcons, a ballsy one from the defense and a special teams performance that made the game a lot closer than it needed to be. Are you concerned, gentle reader? Fear not.
Fact is, we've spent an inordinate amount of time this season worrying, fretting, kvetching and having Fred Sanfords at the first sign of trouble. I've been among you when the collective mood of our fanbase seems to go Dirty South when Michael Turner has one bad run. We're worrying ourselves to death over a team that leads the NFC South. Doesn't that seem a little crazy?
There's problems with this team still—we'll get to them in this very post, I promise—but it's time to enjoy this ride. I know we have a tough game coming up against the Baltimore Ravens, but I'm going to kick back and enjoy it for once. At least until Mike Mularkey calls three straight runs up the middle again.
While the Bucs and Saints are nipping at their heels still, the Falcons are now the team to beat in the NFC South and have to be in the conversation with the Giants as the conference's best. If they can put away a hungry rival like the Bucs, they can put away anybody.
Follow along after the jump and we'll hit the specifics.
- The Bucs must have spent all week preparing for Michael Turner. They had to know that with their well-publicized woes stopping the run that Turner was going to come at them at least 20 times. Despite all that, he still ran for over 100 yards.
It was a vintage Turner game, one where he kept his soul-crushing scampers in the backfield to a minimum. On 24 carries he managed 107 yards and two touchdowns, and ate a big bowl of clock all day while wearing out the Bucs defense. Game ball? Game ball.
And for all those complaining endlessly about Mularkey, realize he only had a couple of bad drives all day. For the most part, our offensive coordinator stuck with what worked and coaxed the game plan the Falcons needed out of a cursed treasure chest somewhere in the bowels of Flowery Branch.
- As mentioned earlier, Matt Ryan turned in an efficient performance. We saw what he can do when the Falcons give him the time to make throws, as he was largely on point and managing the game well. In this one, I pin most of the blame for his incompletions on receivers and (who else?) Mike Mularkey for his transparent play calling on a pair of drives where Ryan was forced to air it out.
- All season long, we've wondered why Tony Gonzalez was disappearing. He's still in possession mode—his 8 catches for 72 yards is under 10 yards a catch—but I think the simplest explanation is that Roddy White was doing so well that they hardly needed him. With White out, Gonzo was once again Ryan's favorite target and extremely difficult to cover.
- Speaking of White, he combined forces with Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran today for a nice performance from our wide receivers. Sure, White was hurt, but you didn't think a little thing like pain was going to stop Our Immortal Receiver, did you? Jenkins and Ryan misfired a couple of times, but it was still a nice game for him. Finn continues to be the most clutch 75-year-old in the league.
- Michael Palmer and his Palms of Fury grabbed his first career touchdown. Kudos to Palmer, and hopefully that's just the first of many.
- Mike Peterson was a beast today. Five tackles total, a couple of them for losses, and the Falcons' only sack ensures he gets his dap. Seems like he tapped into the fountain of youth in 2010.
- Jonathan Babineaux picking a pass? Now I've seen everything.
- This was not a great game for the secondary, but Brent Grimes at least atoned for his mistakes with a huge pick of Josh Freeman. Air Grimey lives!
- Everyone keeps talking about how much they miss Sean Weatherspoon, and I'd like to have the guy back as much as anybody. But is there something with Stephen Nicholas I'm missing? He's not a force in pass coverage, true, but he piles up tackles, is stout against the run and is still great at pursuing opposing offenses. Give the dude credit.
- Speaking of credit, Thomas DeCoud wins whatever's left on my Kohl's gift card for his critical stop at the end of the game. Chutzpah, that guy has.
- Matt Bryant is clutch. Yes, I said clutch. No, I'm not drunk.
- Something has to change on special teams. Michael Spurlock is a dynamic returner, but allowing one touchdown and one near touchdown to the guy is completely unacceptable. If not for a Buccaneer foolishly touching the ball before the Falcons could flop onto it during the horrible onside kick sequence, we'd be slamming them for that, too.
I don't know what it's going to take to solve the problem. I don't know if it's a matter of coaching or a lack of talent and intelligence by the guys who are out there on returns. All I know is that the Falcons can't afford to neglect the problem.
- He finished the game fine, but for the first half I wasn't convinced Dunta Robinson should've been out there. Hell, the whole secondary wasn't very sharp today, with Robinson and Grimes being burnt by Mike Williams and William Moore picking up a really stupid PI that could've cost the Falcons dearly. The Bucs' passing game is better than most realize, but I'm dreading what Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin are going to do Thursday.
- The third down defense has been the butt of jokes here for a while now. Imagine my surprise when they let up big play after big play on third down today, whether it was from LaGarette Blount, Josh Freeman or Mike Williams. We need better adjustments from Brian Van Gorder and the guys on the field in those situations.
- Harry Douglas doesn't even look like he belongs on the football field right now. His hands are an ongoing concern, but it's the lack of route running acumen that really concerns me. Hopefully the Falcons work with him in practice so he can be a valuable part of the offense before long.
- Michael Koenen was punting with a short field today, so you can excuse at least one of his punts. Still, I expect more out of a guy who has been one of the best punters in the NFL for a few years now than a measly 32 yards per punt.
- Stop giving me heart attacks, Falcons!
Game MVP: Gotta be Michael Turner. Without his stellar running and time traveling abilities, the Falcons don't win this one.
Game Theme Song: For the team that holds on and the fanbase that needs to relax.
One Thing To Take Away: 6-2, people. 6-2.
Next This Week: The terrifying Baltimore Ravens. Visit Baltimore Beatdown for more.
Final Word: Winning.