When Carolina lined up for their 4th and 1 attempt to draw us offsides, I knew that we had a chance. An unthinkably slim one, in my mind, but a chance.
My memory flashed back to the Tampa game of last year when rookie Corey Peters jumped offsides on an obvious offsides attempt. Needless to say, as any traumatized youth of Atlanta sports, I began yelling uncontrollably at my TV. "WATCH THE BALL! WATCH THE BALL! WATCH THE BALL!"
Cam yells "Hut" (Or whatever he yelled) for attempt number one.
Cam yells out to his left, quickly comes under center and yells "Hut" for attempt number two.
Our left defensive end starts twitching, looking like he's ready to fire off the ball so hard he'll plow over any poor TealCat in his wake, but he doesn't move.
Suddenly, a small ray of hope appeared.
The Panthers elected to punt rather than go for it. It was a wise decision, in hindsight. While you can't accurately predict how a punt will go, it's much easier than risking it when failing would undoubtedly lose the game.
The Panthers questionably "downed" the punt inside the 1 yard line. I say questionably because it appeared that Pilares's knee touched the end zone line as he was coming down, which would result in a potentially disastrous touchback.
No review was made of the play, and the Falcons came out to do what hadn't been done in 20 years. Looking at that, Rivera's decision seemed like a thing of brilliance.
But one refusal to lose stood in the way. Matt Ryan had been hit and hurried an absurd number of times. The offensive line, for all its problems, just needed to hold up one more time. Roddy White said Matt Ryan told him he was going to launch the ball as far as he could, and he needed him to go get it.
Boy, did he ever. In a pass that went nearly 70 yards in the air, Roddy White's catch was a testament to the kind of player that he still is. In a year where Julio Jones received a ton of hype in the preseason, Roddy White continued to be the top 10 (5, even) that he's been for the past few seasons.
It's been a while since the Falcons were asked to lead a 4th quarter game-winning drive. I couldn't tell you the last time it happened, and staring down the entirety of the field is a task taller than you might think. But Matt Ryan was as poised as ever, calmly throwing passes and leading the team down the field to victory.
I said as the Panthers were running the clock down that great teams don't lose these games; that playoff teams - successful ones - don't lose these games.
As time expired Sunday afternoon, one thing was made certain:
This team is great.
In a game full of utter suckitude, there were several bright spots.
- Matt Ryan is playing out of his mind. He had a pretty ugly pick, but Lynch said that in film study, Nakamura had never dropped back like that before. Chalk that up to good defense. Still, Matt had 62.5% completion percentage, 3 TDs, and 369 yards. Another QB rating of more than 100 (but his QBR was 47? ....okay, ESPN) just another good performance from Matty Ice.
- Michael Turner had a good game for the first time since the last game of last year. It's nice to see him run hard, all jokes aside, because a good running game is only going to make us more scary.
- What else can be said about Roddy White? On a day when Julio Jones was a complete non-factor (that one deep ball that Julio failed to catch inbounds was a good throw), Roddy White took the game over. Great catch after great catch, he could very well be the best WR this franchise has ever had.
- I thought the D played well at times, but mobile QBs are a bane of our defense, as they are for most defenses.
- I thought Dunta Robinson had a good game. He forced a fumble on a serious slap of Steve Smith's arm.
- Matt Bryant could very well be a deity among mere mortals. Ice cold on both attempts of the game winning field goal. he's really something special to this team.
- Bosher boshed the tar out of the football. He had some good punts on the day.
- The offensive line as a whole had some real issues. Seven sacks? That was horrid. Ryan was under duress most of the game, and it even lead to one of the worst plays I've ever seen Matt make where he took a sack 10 yards behind the LoS because he was pushed out of bounds. If that's the worst play Matt makes all season, we'll be just fine.
- The pass rush continues to have problems getting pressure. Abe can't do it all by himself. There were times when Cam was within reach, but we have to finish those plays or we'll have trouble getting off the field.
- The tackling was bad at times, too. Gotta form tackle, fellas.
- I don't know whether Julio Jones was injured, or whether the Panthers devoted 4 or 5 guys just to covering him, but he was invisible. I noticed in part of the game that our wide formations (One WR wide on each side) featured Roddy and HD. That's not normal, because HD almost never plays outside unless he's forced to. HD isn't as good a run blocker, and he's not as good in press man coverage on the outside. I know Julio was on the field some, but I think he was being limited for some reason.
- Matt Ryan had a couple of really derpy plays that were not characteristic of him. The fact that his stat line was still excellent is a testament to just how good he's become.
- Our punt returning decisions have to be among the worst in the NFL. I know Franks is probably told not to catch those punts, but dang if we aren't trying to hurt ourselves by thinking that punts are just going to roll into the endzone every. single. time.
- SEVEN sacks? Geez laweez.
- Stephen A. just said on First Take that Matt Ryan is nothing to him since he's done nothing in the postseason. I like Stephen A. but he's been watching too many NBA games, since playoff teams get at least 4 chances minimum to "do something in the postseason" every year. Come on, man.