Standing at 4-3 coming into Lucas Oil Stadium, the Atlanta Falcons needed to keep up their winning ways. The Saints are just ahead of them, after all, and the Colts were a team that they needed to beat.
After Sunday, there can be no doubt that the Falcons are headed in the right direction. They've had poor games against inferior opponents before--the Seahawks leap to mind--but there was no sign of that in this one. Aside from a lackluster first half from Matt Ryan and a few hiccups in the run game, the Atlanta Falcons absolutely dominated yesterday.
This game gave us a glimpse of what the Falcons could do against the New Orleans Saints next week. They had big passing plays, ran the ball well and forced mistakes on defense. In fact, they were dominant in almost every phase of the game, coaxing a good performance out of Matt Bosher. Sure, the Colts are bad, but they're not so bad that this still didn't impress the hell out of me.
At 5-3, the Falcons are in excellent position in the NFC playoff race. A win next week would make it even better, as would a continued emphasis on a handful of explosive plays a game. It made a big difference in this one.
After the jump, I'll break down some individual performances. You know the drill.
- Matt Ryan had an inconsistent game, which we'll discuss in more detail later. But when he was on, he was throwing quality deep passes to Roddy White, finding Jacquizz Rodgers short and connecting with Julio Jones on an 80 yard touchdown pass for the ages.
One of these weeks, you gotta hope that Ryan will look like that for all four quarters. But against a team like the Colts, I'll take flashes of dominance.
- Michael Turner didn't have a great game--he averaged less than four yards a carry--but he continued to be the bell cow and plowed a touchdown into the end zone in the first half. He remains the focal point of the offense, and he wore the Colts down quickly today.
- Jacquizz Rodgers made his case for more carries. He ran the ball 10 times, a season high, and accounted for 44 yards and a 16 yard catch. As the season goes on, he should continue to gain a bigger role, with his combination of shiftiness and surprising power.
- The offensive line did well in protection. I was particularly impressed with Will Svitek, who held up outside despite one stupid, Sam Bakeresque penalty.
- Julio Jones had his coming out party today, and it was practically a musical. He made a eye-popping diving catch in triple coverage for a 50 yard touchdown, following it up on the next drive with an 80 yarder. Pair that with a couple of nice end-around runs and you have easily his best game of the season.
Jones should be a bigger factor in the weeks ahead, as the Falcons square off against some middling pass defenses and Jones goes from being healthy to lord of all destruction.
- Roddy White had a mostly sharp game, aside from one route-running gaffe, and ended up with four receptions for 76 yards.
- Tony Gonzalez is money in the end zone. No one denies that.
- Matt Bosher turned a corner today, in my humble opinion. He booted more than one huge punt, showing an improved leg and good touch on kicks within the 20 yard line. After a much-maligned start to the season, Bosher appears to be growing into his role.
- The defensive line was dominant. Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters each produced a sack and a ton of pressure from the middle, and Ray Edwards was good for a fumble recovery. I'm sure we would all like to see a few more sacks, but they were lockdown.
- The linebackers were quality, too. Curtis Lofton got a forced fumble, which was awesome, but Sean Weatherspoon was nothing short of fantastic. It's hard to believe that the tentative, oft-injured rookie from last year is the same guy who is flying all over the field and making plays this season, but it is.
- Kelvin Hayden played well against his former team. His pick of Curtis Painter saved the defense from allowing an offensive touchdown.
- I mean, holy crap, the Falcons didn't allow an offensive touchdown. Even against an inept offensive team, that qualifies as a pleasant surprise.
- This was really a whole team effort. Aside from some hiccups, the Falcons played four quality quarters of football. The level of competition wasn't fierce, but the team showed they're capable of putting forth a superb effort. That matters.
- Matt Ryan is beginning to concern me. Through eight games, he now has matched his 2010 interception numbers. His pick yesterday was ill-advised and returned for a touchdown.
There's not any one thing I can point to with Ryan. I don't know if he's just rattled in the pocket, if his arm isn't doing what he wants it to or if he's making poor decisions. What I do know is that his accuracy has slipped and he's on pace to throw a career high number of interceptions.
I'm not hitting any panic buttons, but this bears watching closely. With healthy options galore in the passing game, it's time for him to hit his stride.
- Against a better defense, the Falcons' predictability on offense might cost them. Turner still had way too many familiar carries, and while the coaching staff is to be lauded for taking some deep strikes, there are long stretches of vanilla that would make a Charleston Chew jealous.
- You could only score 31 points? Fie!
Game MVP: Gotta go with Julio here. Two touchdowns and dominant play edges out Sean Weatherspoon's amazing defensive performance.
Game Theme Song: If you don't enjoy hip hop or swearing, you'll want to avoid this. But it gets me jazzed, and so did the Falcons on Sunday.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons can handle their business.
Next Week: The hated New Orleans Saints. Be sure to visit Canal Street Chronicles—and don't be a jerk.
Final Word: Kaboom!