DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 23: Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons throws a third quarter pass while playing the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on October 23, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. Atlanta won the game 23-16. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
I truly believe that being a Falcons fan is taking years off of my life, but when the outcome of a game is a 23-16 win like yesterday’s, I just embrace it. The Atlanta Falcons faced the Detroit Lions in formidable Ford Field yesterday and emerged victorious over a team that many analysts consider to be the real deal this season. For the second week in a row, we saw the Falcons playing four quarters of football, grinding out plays when they needed to despite any potential distractions.
After the defense forced a three-and-out on this potent Lions offense on their first possession, the Falcons’ first possession was pretty lackluster, featuring a false start penalty on Garrett Reynolds and ending on an interception thrown by Matt Ryan with a Harry Douglas unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play for good measure. Not exactly the start you want to see when you are taking on a 5-1 team with a good quarterback and possibly the best receiver in the league. I was nervous. This inauspicious start, however, was not characteristic of our play over the course of the rest of the game.
As is standard for this Falcons team, the game went pretty much right down to the wire and ran fans through the entire spectrum of emotion. At the end of the day, a generally competent offensive effort, stout defensive performance, and a little bit of Matt "Money" Bryant (making Falcons history) sealed the win. Join me after the jump for some highlights, a handful of lowlights, and some other musings about what was, all in all, a fantastic, and important, win for the Falcons.
The Good - Offense:
- Michael Turner - 27 rushing attempts for 122 yards. Everyone agreed that establishing the run would be a fundamental key to the Falcons’ ability to succeed against the Lions. The run worked well today.
- Roddy White - I am well aware of his struggles with dropped balls this year, but in this game, he definitely did not drop a clutch fingertip catch in the end zone. Roddy finished the day with 5 receptions for 52 yards--not spectactular, but the 18 yard touchdown catch, made with his fingertips and sheer will, was a thing of beauty.
- Matt Bryant may secretly be a robot designed solely to kick field goals and PATs. He was the same old, same old in this matchup, scoring three field goals (23 yards, a long 47 yards, and 40 yards) and two PATs against Detroit. Bryant also set a team record for the most consecutive field goals with 27. A reliable kicker is a huge asset in the NFL, and Bryant is certainly that.
- Tony Gonzalez: Speaking of setting records, guess who moved into the #2 spot on the all-time most receptions list during yesterday’s game? That would be our very own tight end, Tony Gonzalez, who continues to illustrate week after week why he will be a first-ballot hall of famer. Gonzalez finished the game with 5 receptions for 62 yards, including a couple of big first downs.
- Harry Douglas: four receptions on the day for a total of 62 yards, one of which was a 49 yard beauty from Matt Ryan on his first play after returning to the field following what appeared to be a catastrophic injury. More on that in a moment.
- Jacquizz Rodgers: Quizz fought for, and got, a huge first down at the end of the game that allowed the Falcons to assume the victory formation. He was determined to get the yards regardless of what it took, and I salute him for that effort.
- Matt Ryan: Matty Ice finished the day with 20 completions on 34 attempts for a total of 218 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak, and two interceptions. Matty also scared the daylights out of all of us when he went down in the 3rd quarter after his ankle was rolled under Will Svitek’s foot, twisting the ankle and knee in a frighteningly unnatural way. Ryan went into the locker room to be attended to by the training staff, and Chris Redman filled in for two snaps, and then lo and behold, Ryan returned to the game. His first play upon returning to the game made a statement--a 49 yard bomb to Harry Douglas. I was impressed with Ryan for returning to the game, energizing the team, acting like a leader, and pushing through an injury to get the win.
The Good - Defense:
- The defense as a whole stood firm against a respectable Lions offense. The Falcons’ defense, ranked dead last in the league in 3rd down defense, held the Lions to just one 3rd down conversion on twelve attempts.
- The defense also brought a lot of pressure on Matt Stafford. Considering that Stafford completed just 15 of 32 passes for 183 yards, I would say the defense did a good job of disrupting the passing game.
- Rookie LB Akeem Dent deserves recognition for a forced fumble, recovered by Jason Snelling, immediately following a Matt Bryant field goal and Matt Bosher kick, giving the Falcons back-to-back possessions (which resulted in a field goal and a touchdown, respectively) and a lot of momentum. This was a nice play by Dent.
- Sean Weatherspoon, who is becoming a defensive force to be reckoned with, and John Abraham both posted sacks on Matthew Stafford, as did Corey Peters.
- And, speaking of Corey Peters, he had a pivotal play late in the 4th quarter. A pass from Stafford to TE Tony Scheffler went incomplete, but Thomas DeCoud was flagged for defensive pass interference. The ball, however, was tipped by Peters, and thus the contact initiated by Decoud was legal. This occurred after the point where coaches can no longer challenge, and Smitty looked pretty agitated on the sidelines. An official review occurred, and it was clear that the ball had been tipped and the ruling on the field should be overturned. Had the ball not been tipped, the play would have resulted in a first down for the Lions, and who knows what would have happened from that point forward. It might have ended much less pleasantly.
The Not Good:
- The offensive line allowed 3 sacks, which isn’t as terrible as it could have been, considering the myriad injuries and backup players filling in, but it needs to improve.
- The penalties, for the love of all that is sacred and holy, must be minimized. The Falcons accrued far too many dumb penalties. The team had a total of 11 penalties for 80 yards on the day. Some of them were costly, too, such as a gem of a block to the back by Antone Smith, which caused a Special Weems kick return for a touchdown to be nullified.
- Matt Ryan was a little inaccurate, and that resulted in his two picks. But I am so impressed with his return after the injury, and it all worked out okay, so I am just going to let it go. There’s no reason to nitpick.
The Not Good at All:
- Injuries: Matt Ryan’s injury looked like it could put his season in jeopardy. Watching him writhe in pain on the ground was really unsettling. It is a relief that he seems to be okay. I fear that Ovie Mughelli will not be so lucky. Ovie suffered a knee injury early in the 4th quarter and did not return to the game. The injury occurred when he was tackled following a four yard reception. I want to point out how impressive it is that Ovie held onto that ball, despite being in what appeared to be a great deal of pain.
- Officiating: A false start on a quarterback, really? That was a very questionable call. I also find it interesting that Ndamukong Suh can literally throw Joe Hawley to the ground after the whistle without a flag. These are just two examples of the boneheaded officiating that seems to plague this season.
This was a tough, physical game, but our offense, defense and special teams fought hard for all four quarters to get the win. I see this as a pivotal victory--going into the bye week with a winning record and a two-game winning streak will bolster the Falcons’, and the fans’, confidence.
Because I’m filling in for Dave, who is hopefully enjoying Space Mountain as you read this, I am also going to steal his recap format.
Game MVP: This was truly a team effort all around, but I’m going to give this to Matt Ryan. He looked much more like the quarterback who led us to a 13-3 record last season. He made some mistakes, he took some sacks, he got injured, but he didn’t let any of that faze him. Also, returning to the game after that injury was impressive. The kid is a leader and has heart and toughness for days.
Theme Song: This, obviously.
One thing to take away: We have a winning streak!
Next Week: It’s our bye week. It seems like an ideal time for our guys to get some rest. We face the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium for week nine.
Final Word: Victory.