Life has a way of disappointing.
However modest your expectations are, they often go unmet. It's the curse of a world that is chaotic and sometimes willfully cruel, where the consequences of believing can bring a man to his knees. We learn that the hard way.
Football is every bit as a capricious as life, and if you've been a fan of a team like the Atlanta Falcons for decades, perhaps even more so. At every turn for the better part of forty years, the Falcons have fallen when they were supposed to rise, crashed through the rickety basement when you thought they couldn't go any lower and generally disappointed. It's a popular knock on Falcons' fans that they don't know how to deal with success, and it's not entirely inaccurate.
But as frequent as those disappointments are, they are not a permanent. The Falcons have staggered out of those doldrums and faced the light of day, and they reached new heights on Sunday. At 12-2, they've locked up a playoff spot, are well on their way to homefield advantage and have a truly unprecedented sense of future direction. Our expectations were pretty high for 2010--a playoff berth for some, and a divisional title for others--and the Falcons have exceeded them and then some. It is a rare joy to see a season go better than you ever dreamed possible.
With a convincing win over the Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons are soaring now. There's nothing to suggest that they're going to come crashing down to earth, as many of us have braced for. For once, having our expectations defied may be a cause for celebration. Let's make sure we seize it.
Please hit the jump with me, and I'll break down individual performances for you.
- Workmanlike and efficient in the red zone, Matt Ryan led the Falcons to victory once more. He tossed one particularly ugly interception and wasn't as accurate as I would've liked, but he made up for it by tossing three touchdowns and showing his trademark knack for finding the open receiver downfield. When Ryan is playing well, he's able to spread the ball around to all his options and overcome pressure, as was the case when he threw a touchdown strike to Michael Jenkins today milliseconds before ending up in the loving embrace of a Seattle defender.
The best news? Unless this team goes to the Super Bowl, Ryan may not play another road game this season. We all know he's an entirely different quarterback at home, and the Falcons' success is heavily dependent on his fortunes. Thank the Football Gods for the dome.
Roddy White isn't a true deep threat, as his seven catches and 65 yards today should tell you. But he's damned reliable and is still the team's best weapon in the passing game, and he's money in the red zone.
- Michael Jenkins quietly contributes, but occasionally he goes off for a huge line or at least a particularly beautiful play. On Sunday, it was his touchdown catch, where he ran a beautiful route and snatched an equally gorgeous pass from Ryan out of the air. He's not a spectacular wide receiver, but he's still helpful.
- It was good to see Jason Snelling back out there, even if his contributions were minimal beyond his touchdown catch. That added dimension to the passing game is extremely helpful. I really hope he doesn't fumble twice every game from here on out, though.
- I said John Abraham would have a big game, but Jamaal Anderson matched his sack total for the game. Figuring out the NFL? Impossible.
Nonetheless, Anderson picked up a sack and forced a fumble, an awfully impressive contribution from a guy who goes to great lengths to hide his identity from the fans. If he can string together a couple more solid performances, it'd go a long way toward securing some kind of future with the Falcons.
- Brent Grimes is fantastic. He deflected a pair of passes and picked another, keying on Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst all day long. This isn't yet the elite secondary the Falcons would like it to be, but in Grimes they have a huge piece of the puzzle. Dunta was also extremely solid in coverage.
William Moore would just as soon strangle you with a glare as do you a kindness, but behind that menacing stare lies a man who knows how to intercept a pass. C4 is a budding star, and what he lacks in discipline he makes up for in raw talent.
- Matt Money Bryant hasn't missed a field goal since World War I. The most reliable kicker in the history of the world is even more on fire recently than he was before, and he's an integral piece of the team's efforts.
Michael Turner has been a force for the Falcons recently, but the Seahawks keyed on him all day long. The result was an extremely lackluster effort from the big guy, but it shouldn't be more than a blip on the radar for him.
- The Seahawks have a poor secondary, but you wouldn't have known that based on the way Mike Mularkey schemed for them. Getting Tony Gonzalez more involved and opening up the playbook in the hopes of getting more than five yards per attempt out of Ryan should be priorities going forward.
- That first drive for the Seahawks was a classic example of the Falcons being completely unprepared defensively. Against the Seahawks that's not such a big deal, but this is a team that can't afford to spot quality teams points early.
Game MVP: I'm awarding this one to Ryan, Grimes and Jamaal Anderson. Congratulations, gentlemen! Good luck dividing that trophy up, gentlemen!
Game Theme Song: Stay the course.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are going to the playoffs. I can't drill this into your heads enough, really.
Final Word: Playoffs.