It might not have been a pretty game, but the Atlanta Falcons were able to continue their winnings ways under the national spotlight this week, defeating the Cowboys by the score of 19-13.
The good news is the Falcons are 8-0 and are halfway to a perfect regular season record. The bad news is they looked far from a Super Bowl-calibre team on Sunday, and proved once again that a lot of improvements must be made before the playoffs begin.
Let's take a look at some headlines following last night's prime time matchup.
Michael Turner Still Has Plenty Left
If there's one reassuring point to take from Sunday's game, it's that Michael Turner still has some gas left in the tank. After a underwhelming start to the season and unproductive first half against Dallas, Turner broke out with a 43 yard run in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons a much needed swing in momentum. Several plays later he was able to punch the ball in for a touchdown—a score that would prove to be the difference in the end.
If—and this is a big if—Turner can build on his strong fourth quarter and continue play well, Atlanta's offense will have the chance to rise to a level previously unseen this season. Teams haven't exactly had to respect the run very often against the Falcons, and forcing opponents to do just that would give Atlanta as lethal of an attack as any in the league.
Roddy White Becomes All-Time Receptions Leader
Roddy White has caught quite a few footballs as a member of the Falcons, and after his first reception on Sunday, he overtook Terrence Mathis as the franchise's all-time leader in that category. White finished the day with seven receptions for 118 yards.
Falcons Find Answers With Run Defense
The Falcons were able to stymie their opponent's rushing game for the second straight week—holding the Cowboys to just 65 yards on the ground. While Dallas was missing starter DeMarco Murray, Atlanta effectively kept Felix Jones and rookie Lance Dunbar under wraps, which forced the Cowboys to operate with an unbalanced offense. Jonathan Babineaux was a big reason the Falcons were so successful in this area, and led the team with five tackles and two assists.
“Every week, we want to improve in everything that we do — run, pass game, tackling, getting to the ball,” said defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. “Every week we step out there, we want to improve and I think guys are starting to come along and are starting to gel together in the run game.”
Bryant's Fourth Field Goal Covers Spread
Despite being a 7-0 team facing off against a 3-4 opponent, the Falcons were just a 4-point favorite on Sunday Night. Matt Bryant's final field goal—which would prove to be nothing more than insurance points—allowed Atlanta to cover the spread. The Birds are now 6-2 against the spread in 2012. ESPN's Pickcenter had 53.9 percent of betters going with the Falcons, so that final field goal likely made quite a few more people happy than upset.
“I understand why it hasn’t been there,” Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “We haven’t had success in the playoffs. Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, they’ve been good in the regular season, so let’s not hype them because they’re gonna lose in the playoffs.’ So I understand why. It’s up to us to keep doing what we’ve been doing, put all that noise out of our minds and just keep taking it one game at a time.”