These Atlanta Falcons have been a joy to watch.
There are times when Michael Turner is falling down behind the line of scrimmage that I don't feel quite so delighted, of course. Taken as a whole, this represents one of the pinnacles of my career as a fan, and regardless of how the post-season goes it will continue to be a favorite season.
Why? This is the first time in my two decades following the team that I really feel the success is sustainable. The Falcons are going hard for an extension for Mike Smith, already one of the best coaches in Falcon history, and Thomas Dimitroff continues to prove himself a savvy evaluator of talent for a man with hair as tall as he is. Then there's the players, a motley bunch of professionals who played their way to a 13-3 record. There's nothing to suggest this is a flash in the pan.
And the game against the Panthers gave me hope for the playoffs, in its own way. The Falcons were far from perfect on Sunday, but they smashed their rivals in the teeth and gave them no quarter, sending John Fox into forced retirement on a sour note. If teams needed evidence that the Falcons are going hard in the playoffs, they got it when the Falcons went for it on fourth down in situations where they already had the lead.
So we're here, with a week's wait until the Falcons make their splash. In the meantime, hearken back to the beginning of the season. You'll recall that Samuel L. Jackson once implored the Falcons to rise up.
I think we've just seen it happen.
- Faced with a solid Panthers pass defense, Matt Ryan sliced and diced like a human katana. He was beautifully accurate for much of the game, putting up 236 yards and two touchdowns on 32 passes before giving way to Christ Redman. For the season, Ice put up career bests in passer rating, yardage, and touchdowns. I don't know where he's headed, but the future is bright.
- Another workmanlike performance from Michael Turner, who put together a lunch pail season while wearing a hard hat filled with gumption. It wasn't his finest season since coming to the Falcons back in 2008, but I'll be damned if he doesn't keep the offense balanced.
- More on this later, but Roddy White capped his season with another solid game (6 receptions, 62 yards, 1 TD) and broke the franchise records for both receptions and yardage.
He's certainly the team's first half MVP, and probably the best choice for the entire season. Rarely do wide receivers put an offense on their back like White has done. I'm damn glad he's playing for the Falcons.
- Tony Gonzalez is less of a deep threat than he is a possession guy at this stage of his career, but he's still a reliable target, especially around the red zone. Michael Jenkins, Brian Finneran and Harry Douglas all look solid and healthy heading into the playoffs, too.
- Can't give enough credit to the defense, who took no chances despite a forecast that called for a 100% chance of the Panthers really sucking on offense. Dunta Robinson picked up his first interception, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters got sacks and Thomas DeCoud jarred loose a fumble from Mike Goodson, which the ever-lurking Mike Peterson picked up. All year long, this unit has quietly kicked ass, and they deserve to be recognized for it.
- Eric Weems returned a punt yard 55 yards. My brother-in-law commented that Weems only had to make one decisive cut to get to the end zone, which illustrates the raw liquid futility of the Panthers special teams unit. Still a great touchdown for Weems, who has really come into his own in 2010.
- Matt Bryant hit a 47 yard field goal. Were you even vaguely surprised by that? Are you surprised you're not surprised by that? What a trip.
- Turner, quit fumbling.
That concludes your lowlights.
Game MVP: I'll give this one to Matt Ryan for a very good performance. Really, the Falcons deserve a seasons' worth of them as a whole, but that's not what this is here for.
Game Theme Song: NSFW language, but the title alone captures the moment extremely well.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons have a bye week. This is because they're so great.
Next Week: We'll see who our opponent is.
Final Word: Playoffs.