Take a good look at the 2012 Atlanta Falcons. At the risk of offering up hyperbole, they are like no Falcons team you have ever seen.
The team's 40-24 dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead was not necessarily the triumphant roar of a team on the verge of a Super Bowl berth. It does not mean the Falcons are pre-destined to achieve playoff success, or any particular kind of success in the regular season. I know all that, and yet I also know that what I saw was one of the best team efforts of the modern Falcons era.
The offense, first. Matt Ryan was money throughout, his receivers were just fantastic and Dirk Koetter called a nice game. There were a handful of bad throws and missed opportunities and the ground game was pretty meh, but the passing game was everything we so fervently wished for this off-season. Defenses across the NFL are going to have a nightmarish time trying to contain Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Then the defense. The first half was an abomination, allowing Matt Cassel to pick apart the vaunted new-look secondary, and we all hit the panic button a bit. What was so different in the second half was the adjustments, which took the Falcons D from putrid to impregnable in the span of just a few minutes. They forced three Cassel turnovers and set up the offense to take a huge lead, which they gladly did.
What we saw, in short, was a smart football team brimming with talent and making use of most of its many tools. The Falcons won't win every football game this season, and they won't get lucky enough to play normally quality defenses missing two of their best players ever week, either. For the first time I can remember, it doesn't feel like that matters. These Falcons are so good in so many ways—and can actually get much better, obviously—that I think they can hang in any game they play this season. That's a feeling I could learn to embrace.
So buckle up, Falcons fans. It could well be one hell of a rocket ride.
Follow me down past the jump and we'll break down some of the performances.
- Somebody's been eating his Wheaties.
Matt Ryan came into this game with Dirk Koetter's blessing to go no-huddle, and he ran the offense effectively all day long. He didn't turn the ball over, tossed three touchdowns, ran in another and just generally dominated the Chiefs. This is what Ryan's capable of when his blocking holds up—more on that in a moment—and he showed poise, a great arm and even better decision-making. With the new-look offense and the weapons he has at hand, Ryan should smash his career bests with a sledgehammer this season.
- On a day when nobody outside of Matt Ryan (!) actually ran that well, Jacquizz Rodgers showed off his versatility. Seven carries for 22 yards, two catches for 13 and a crazy 77 yard kick return that put the Falcons firmly in scoring position made for a nice day. He'll probably have a bigger role going forward, too.
- What can you say about Julio Jones? He reeled in six catches for 108 yards (18 yard average) and two touchdowns, showing truly game-changing speed, agility, hands and situational awareness. I said during the open game thread yesterday that he might reel in 20 touchdowns this season, and as crazy as that sounds, would you bet against him?
I sure as hell wouldn't.
- A great game for Roddy White, too, who made tough catches in traffic and came away with six grabs for 87 yards. If Jones commands double teams this season—and he should—White's going to have another monster season.
- Tony Gonzalez's homecoming was no doubt poignant for the living legend, who spent most of his career playing great football in front of some of the best fans in the sport. But he set that nostalgia down and went about destroying his former team, punctuating a five catch, 53 yard, one touchdown performance with a dunk over the crossbar. He's the best.
- The offensive line impressed the hell out of me today. Admittedly the Chiefs were missing their best pass rusher, but they kept Justin Houston and Dontari Poe at bay, allowing only one sack when Houston manhandled Tyson Clabo. Sam Baker and Garrett Reynolds, who were whipping boys a year ago, deserve an enormous amount of credit for helping to keep Ryan's jersey clean.
- Matt Bryant is still automatic. This has been your weekly reminder.
- What can you say about Matt Bosher, besides "Wow, Matt Bosher?" The dude had a 52 yard punt and consistently pinned the Chiefs deep in their own territory.
- Stephen Nicholas heads our defensive list because he was just plain ol' beastly out there. A combined 12 tackles and an interception? Yes please.
- John Abraham was quiet throughout the first half, but had a nice sack on Cassel in the second.
- Ditto Jonathan Babineaux. After all the talk of mixing up looks, it's still the two veterans who came through biggest along the defensive line.
- Willy Mo always ready...for an interception. He was all over the field making tackles, and the pick was a nice, added bonus. I'm not backing off my prediction that he'll have a huge year.
- Thomas DeCoud may not have filled the stat sheet, but he was around the play and made a few key stops in the ground game. The Falcons are going to need DeCoud and Moore to be excellent, since they'll be counted on to do so many things in Mike Nolan's defense.
- Huge ups to Mike Nolan for making adjustments after the half. He saw that Cassel was killing the defense and tightened things up a little bit, and the Falcons were able to harass and stonewall him from there on out. We won't want to see any more first halfs like that, but the adjustments are mighty encouraging.
- Matt Cassel for loving gift-wrapping three turnovers. Swell guy.
- Let's face it: Against a team like the Packers, Saints, Patriots or perhaps even the 2012 Denver Broncos, you aren't going to be able to play that poorly on defense for an entire half and walk away smelling like roses.
I'm willing to chalk this performance up to first-time issues with a new coordinator, but it's obvious that the Falcons will have to come up with solutions a little faster against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. That's an offense that knows how to adjust.
- Brent Grimes getting hurt won't help with that. I'm hoping he's back and healthy come Week 2.
- I don't buy that Michael Turner is a drain on this offense's productivity, because you need to run the ball and defenses are still going to have to account for him. Unfortunately, though, he looked out of sorts in the new attack, running 11 times for just 32 yards, which is less than three yards a carry. You can only push the run-blocking narrative so far and the line looked decent today, and clearly Turner's not going to get too many 20 carry days any more. He'll have to do better in the future or teams are going to start keying on the pass all game long.
- Peyton Hillis. Have you seen that guy? He looks like the grown-up version of the most disgusting slob on your high school football team.
Game MVP: You could say Nicholas, Jones or Gonzo and wouldn't get much of an argument, but I have to go with Ryan. He was truly excellent all day and led the offense to a pretty jaw-dropping game.
Game Theme Song: Just substitute "eagle" with "falcon."
One Thing To Take Away: This offense has a chance to be downright terrifying.
Next Week: The potentially mighty Denver Broncos come to town. Visit Mile High Report for more.
Final Word: Nasty.