The stage was set for a 49ers blowout. It was the last game at Candlestick Park, San Francisco was fighting for its playoff position and the Falcons haven't been great at home, much less the road.
Instead, the Falcons took part in a wild one, with a stifling defense that held the 49ers to three first half points and an offense that hung in late. The result wasn't a win, but I saw Falcons fans getting angry at calls and pushing hard for a victory, draft position forgotten for a night. It was awfully refreshing to see, and at the end of the day, Atlanta moved up in the draft order and didn't roll over. I wanted a win—revenge is best when cold and all that—but this was not completely awful.
At the end of the day, the Falcons are going to be picking somewhere in the top ten, and they just played a wildly entertaining game against a team that should have beaten the stuffing out of them. As I've said several times in recent weeks, you take minor victories in a year like this and look to build on them. You don't have to squint too hard to see the talent on this roster, even if there's not enough right now.
I'm proud of the effort from this team.
Individual breakdowns below.
- Matt Ryan didn't have much in the way of pass protection, especially early, but he was dealing. Tons of accurate passes from #2 last night in spite of pressure, and he found Roddy White throughout the game for some big results. It was a vintage Ryan game in many ways, particularly impressive considering the deck stacked against him.
Ryan had the worst month of his career earlier this year, and that glimpse of his mortality will color the way we think about this year. The pick near the end of the game was hardly on him, but again, that's what will stick with many. That and a few plays where Ryan couldn't quite get it done. All Ryan can do is build on a quietly quality year and deliver better results in a (hopefully) winning season in 2014.
And no, I don't even count that last Hail Mary pick.
- Roddy White is back in action, alright. He reeled in 12 catches for 141 yards and a beautiful touchdown where he split two 49er defenders and reeled in the catch. If you want him gone, you're crazy. I mean that fondly.
- I called him Harry Douglas in the heat of the moment, but Drew Davis is the man with a knack for big plays. He grabbed a Ryan pass over the middle, spun through a defender and took it 59 yards. It was about the prettiest play you're going to see this year.
- Tony Gonzalez was quiet throughout the game, but he had two big catches in the fourth quarter, including a magical touchdown where he somehow got open despite a number of 49ers whirling around him. He's just the greatest tight end ever.
- Peter Konz rode the pine in favor of Harland Gunn partway through the game. Since the Falcons are supposedly in full-blown evaluation mode, it was nice to see Gunn get in there for a while, even if it was ultimately fleeting.
- The offensive line clamped down a bit. Even that backbreaking interception wasn't much to hang on the line, considering that the Niners sent the house.
- Jonathan Massaquoi was getting close throughout the night, and that sack in the third quarter was a simple case of sticking with the play and keeping track of the quarterback. He'll be a useful rotational end, at minimum, in 2014.
- Corey Peters with another sack. And a narrowly missed sack. But hey, the guy was pushing hard. Let's hope that injury was very minor.
- Stephen Nicholas barely got a hand on Colin Kaepernick, but it was enough to come up with a sack. After losing his starting job this year, it was very nice to see Nicholas have a great moment like that.
- The Falcons kept Colin Kaepernick off-balance. Sure, he ran like crazy, but as a passer he was far from anything special outside of a few beautiful throws. I thought the pass rush looked about as good as it has all year.
- Finally we come to Jason Snelling. The one-handed grab of the onside kick and the sideline awareness he displayed were nothing short of magnificent, and it gave the Falcons a chance to win this game. It didn't happen, but he gave them a shot.
- Lamar Holmes had some issues. He settled down, but two penalties and getting tossed around a bit early on will color the rest of the game for you. Long-term, he may be best-suited for right tackle.
- Everything went wrong on the play where the 49ers blitzed and Ryan threw the pick six. Ryan was forced to get the throw out early, Douglas didn't make a great play on the ball and nobody got a good angle on Navarro Bowman. You have to chalk that up to the 49ers' playing some excellent defense, but it was ugly alright.
- Hey, did the refs call another phantom pass interference on a Falcons defensive back? Gosh. The call on Thomas DeCoud bought the 49ers another chance at a score and possibly their third quarter three points.
- The 49ers simply have a much more talented team, top to bottom. Fortunes change quickly in the NFL, but what we saw last night was a case of an overmatched team playing some admirably tough, strong football on the road against a superior team. This is what the Falcons need to address heading into 2014, or they risk repeating this lousy year.
- There's plenty we could pore through, but like I said, this was a gutsy effort in a game the Falcons had no business hanging in. I'm gonna walk away not feeling terrible about it.
Game MVP: Considering the season he's had and how well he did last night, I gotta give it to Roddy White. Your mileage may vary.
Game Theme Song: I dunno.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are figuring some things out, but the roster as currently constructed isn't good enough to beat the San Francisco 49ers. Yet there's enough here to believe in the future.
Final Word: Oneweekleft.