Minutes after Brent Grimes intercepted Josh Freeman, putting the last cannonball in the hull of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the derision started.
To some, the Falcons were the beneficiaries of bad refereeing. To others, they were simply lucky. Still others, when confronted with the team's 10-2 record and divisional lead, put Saints earmuffs on and said "la la la la, I can't hear you."
Guess what? None of that matters.
It doesn't matter if the Falcons got lucky. It doesn't matter that they barely won this game. What matters is that they won it, on the road, against an extremely tough divisional opponent. What matters is that despite a close Saints win--and, in the interest of not being a total hypocrite, the same rules mentioned earlier in this paragraph apply there--the Falcons are 10-2 and ahead of everyone else in the NFC South. Worried about the pundits, the armchair critics or other fans? Don't be.
And what a game they played to get there. The Bucs came out firing and played a great one, putting the sluggish Falcons back on their heels. It took a superlative effort in the fourth quarter by Eric Weems, the offense and Grimes to save the Falcons from a sour loss. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, though, it goes in the win column. The Falcons are certainly playoff bound, to boot.
So with that comforting thought in mind, I hope you'll resist the temptation to freak out and go for the throats of your fellow fans. With any luck, we'll also avoid the Bucs until next season, because that team is scary.
Hit the jump as I break down the best and worst in individual performances.
- This was not the finest game of Matt Ryan's career. He completed just half of his passes, tossed a pair of picks and just generally looked like a version of Ice that most of us hoped had been banished from the NFL forever.
Despite that, he still did a few nice things. He showcased his trademark accuracy on the game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins, for example, and got the ball to Roddy White despite sometimes stellar coverage from the Buccaneers.
Still, let's hope that the Ryan who makes big mistakes and looks skittish in the pocket is dragged kicking and screaming into the void.
- When I picked Michael Turner as my one Falcon to watch, I was anticipating a game in which he'd play Godzilla to Tampa Bay's Tokyo. It didn't quite work out that way, obviously, but Turner was still important.
After all, without his 24 carries and 88 yards, the Falcons aren't having any success through the air. And he did break a few early and late, setting up scoring drives. So we salute you, Michael Turner, for doing less than we expected but enough to help the Falcons win. Backhanded enough for you?
- If stopping Roddy White involves limiting him to seven catches and 74 yards, then the Bucs did their job. If it doesn't, then.....well, you can draw your own conclusions.
- Is anyone in the NFL more fun to watch than Ovie Mughelli? He puts the full in fullback, but he managed to haul in three passes and score a touchdown in this one, helping to replace an injured Jason Snelling. That touchdown catch and run was a thing of beauty, if you find giant men lumbering and flailing in the direction of the end zone beautiful.
I know I do.
- Michael Jenkins and Tony Gonzalez were the Supremes to White's Diana Ross today, both adding three catches and Gonzalez a touchdown. Hopefully Gonzo's healthy after getting shaken up during the game. The Falcons seem to have a nasty habit of injuries that don't appear severe at the time sneaking up on them later.
- Eric Weems is THE MAN, emphasis necessary. After nearly two full seasons of kvetching about how Weems has never taken one to the house, Weems took one to the house. As a matter of fact, he took it to the house so far that Dorothy is most certainly not in Kansas, because her little shack is spinning its way into the farzing Andromeda galaxy. Player of the game? I think so.
- In a game that featured little in the way of splashy defensive plays, Brent Grimes made one and almost made another. The mighty mite cornerback with the ten foot shadow didn't get a handle on his first pick, but came back and snatched a second one to ensure the Falcons would move to 10-2.
- Jonathan Babineaux sacked Josh Freeman. In other news, the world continues to spin, but only because Babineaux is running around it.
- The evil side of Matt Ryan. The dumb side of Mike Mularkey. The middling side of the entire defense. All the things that held the Falcons back from success in 2009 and early 2010 reared its head in this one, thanks to a fearsome mixture of Bucs defense and buckshot in Atlanta's collective feet. Given the team's remaining opposition, I think it's fair to guess they'll right the ship.
- I'm finding it hard to muster up more negatives. Michael Koenen wasn't great. The officiating was bizarre. I ran out of beer temporarily. Besides that, it's a win. What've we got to be unhappy about?
Game MVP: Eric Weems was the standout performer here, and that touchdown was an absolutely enormous shift in momentum. Give the man his due. I know I am.
Game Theme Song: In honor of the Falcons being 10-2 and an almost certain playoff team, I submit that we are indeed in the mystery zone.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons aren't exactly on fire, but they're smoldering!
Next Week: It's the Falcons' turn to take a hit on the Carolina Panthers pinata, which at this point has a lonely Snickers bar clinging stubbornly to its tattered remains. Check out Cat Scratch Reader for all things Panthers.
Final Word: Success.