When Atlanta's second offensive drive fizzled, and Matt Bryant took the field to try for a 37 yard field goal and missed, it was clear that this was going to be a long night for the Falcons. However, despite mental mistakes, missed tackles and difficulty sustaining momentum throughout the game, the Falcons pulled off a hard-earned win against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Falcons did many things well on Sunday night. Matt Ryan quietly threw for 334 yards, with no interceptions. The rushing game was better than usual, with Turner rushing for 102 yards, his second-best game of the season. The defense allowed only 65 rushing yards, about half as much as their average of 127.5 per game. Tony Romo took just one sack, courtesy of Jonathan Babineaux, and was hit once by Stephen Nicholas, but was hurried 11 times, with Babs and Kroy Biermann being particularly disruptive with three hurries each. Also, Atlanta's defense was stout in the red zone, which kept the Falcons in the game when things were not going their way.
The Falcons did some maddening things, too, like gently giving the Cowboys loose one-armed hugs instead of, you know, tackling. The offensive line held the Cowboys to just two sacks, but one of those was the result of an inexplicable play in which nobody seemed to be assigned to block the formidable DeMarcus Ware, for some reason. Ryan was also hurried 13 times.
A glaring problem for the Falcons on Sunday night was their red zone efficiency. In 2012, the Falcons have scored, on average, on 57.58% of trips to the red zone. Against the Cowboys, their red zone efficiency was 25%. Matt Bryant's two missed field goals--uncharacteristic for Bryant, and probably attributable to the back injury that plagued him all last week--definitely contributed to this issue.
Dallas has struggled this season, as their record reflects, but their defense is one of the best in the league. This was a quality conference win, and the Falcons had to stay focused to make it happen. The Falcons know at this point that they can find ways to win even when they aren't playing their best football.
The Falcons are now one win away from their fifth consecutive winning season. Let that sink in for a moment: a franchise that never posted back-to-back winning seasons in its first 43 years of existence is one win away from five consecutive winning seasons. Mike Smith and Matt Ryan are currently mentioned in every conversation about Coach of the Year and league MVP. The Falcons are the last undefeated team in the NFL, hold a four game lead in the NFC South, and are working toward establishing home field advantage for the playoffs. The Falcons continue to remind us that, whether it's decisive or ugly, a win is a win, and it feels great to have so many of them right now.