There are a million ways to look at your average football game. A close win can either be a discouragingly close one or a huge relief, depending on where your team is in the standings and what your expectations are. While I realize not everyone will share this opinion, here's what I thought about the Falcons' 23-17 win against the Titans yesterday.
It was awesome.
After all, the defense did hold Chris Johnson to 13 yards on 12 carries. They did hold the Titans to 266 passing yards overall and just 17 points. And hey, didn't Matt Ryan throw for 316 yards and display the kind of accuracy we've been pining after all season? Didn't Roddy White bounce back with one of his biggest games in months? Wasn't Michael Turner his usual effective self?
The problems here were mainly of execution and scheming. It's a major concern that Mike Mularkey still can't call his way out of a paper bag in the red zone, and at times Brian Van Gorder's soft zone can frustrate fans to no end. When the Falcons walk away with a win and those are the two complaints I can reasonably lob, though, things turned out well.
Most importantly, the Falcons showed some resilience. After letting Jake Locker do unspeakable things to the defense for a couple of drives, they came through on the game-deciding offensive drive and ran down the clock. They fought through their mistakes this week and were able to pull it out, something we've not seen all season.
So rejoice in this one. It gives the Falcons some momentum heading into another must-win against the Minnesota Vikings next weekend.
After the jump, my usual breakdown of performances. Hit it with me.
- This was arguably one of Matt Ryan's finest games as a pro. He showed plus accuracy and touch, found the open man consistently and managed the game exceptionally well. It was not Ryan at his most elite, perhaps, but I'd be hard-pressed to complain if he played this well every week. Particularly if he finds Roddy White as well as he did this time around.
The Vikings do have a fairly weak secondary, so he'll have the chance to run his string of 300 yard games to three in a row.
- Michael Turner continued to run well. He was stuffed and rebuffed on a handful of carries, as is his custom, but he also broke several long runs and flashed unstoppable power at times. Turner finished up the game with 21 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown, bringing him to a 222/984/8 slash line for the season.
- Roddy White returned to form. Aside from a missed opportunity in the red zone, he was able to get open more or less at will, hauling in seven catches for 147 yards. With Julio Jones out, it was good to see Roddy stepping back up and asserting himself in the passing game.
- Tony Gonzalez continues to give teams fit near the goal line. He caught his eighth touchdown of the season Sunday and had five catches for 74 yards overall. While he's no one's idea of a fast receiver at this point in his career, the NFL's greatest tight end is tough to beat for reliability.
- Harry Douglas wasn't targeted much but made the most of what he got. Ryan looked his way four times and HD brought in all four for a total of 51 yards.
- The offensive line blocked well. It's worth noting that Ryan had plenty of time and wasn't sacked once, which ain't half bad. Will Svitek might hold off Sam Baker after all.
- John Abraham came through with his first sack in quite some time. Hopefully it's the first of many more.
- The defensive line deserves considerable props for holding Chris Johnson to so few yards. The Falcons have a truly dominant run defense that's getting better by the week, driven largely by speedy linebackers, stout defensive tackles and surprisingly effective ends.
The Vikings may or may not have Adrian Peterson healthy and ready to go next week. If anyone can slow him down, it's the Falcons.
- Dunta Robinson played effectively in the secondary today and made a beautiful diving interception after the Falcons put a ton of pressure on Matt Hasselbeck. After a rough start to the reason that mirrored his teammates' similarly rocky beginnings, Robinson's coming into his own.
- By and large, the pass defense did well. The Titans do have weapons and Jake Locker looked pretty dynamic, yet they held him to under a 50 percent completion ratio. Kudos.
- Matt Bryant is automatic. Obligatory mention.
- Matt Bosher hit touchbacks today and landed both his punts inside the 20. His 33 yard per punt average doesn't tell the story today, as he showed excellent control of his leg.
- Eric Weems blew up returner Marc Mariani on one play and averaged nearly 14 yards on two punt returns. It was a nice game after a particularly rough one for Weems.
- Red zone execution is still a major problem for the Falcons. A team with the Falcons' weaponry should be able to get it down once they get inside the 20, but instead the Falcons repeatedly fizzled out and were forced to go for field goals. Michael Turner even fumbled at the goal line, which he rarely does.
The bottom line is that it's due to scheming. The Falcons played a good game of football today and walked away with only 23 points, and it's on Mike Mularkey to figure out why that is.
- The Falcons are also still susceptible to the big play. You should never be in a position where you're giving up a 4th and 16 against any team in the NFL, but the Falcons did just that courtesy of Locker. Again, the Titans have some weapons, but the Falcons' zone and intermittent pressure really hurt them when the Titans looked downfield.
- I don't really have much else. Yes, there's deeper issues here that need addressing, but I just want to celebrate this one.
Game MVP: I'm going with Ryan. He didn't really make any glaring mistakes and piloted the Falcons to the win. You could also go with the defense, but that's a lot of dudes for one trophy.
Game Theme Song: Because it's what the Falcons did.
One Thing To Take Away: These Falcons are still a work in progress, but they're good enough to win football games.
Next Week: The Minnesota Vikings, who are struggling but have some of the most potent weapons in the NFL. Check out Daily Norseman for more.
Final Word: Winner!