You may not consider a 21-14 victory "winning big," but then again, you may not have seen last night's game.
The Atlanta Falcons matured before our eyes on Sunday. Up against a defense that succeeded in stymieing our vaunted offense for much of the day, the defense needed to come up with several big stops in order to preserve the win. As usual, this team managed to bend but not break on D, but they took it a step further this time around by capitalizing on the Bears' mistakes and making a few huge plays. If last year's defense was in its embryonic stages, this season's just went through puberty and applied to college in one game. Great stuff.
Obviously we didn't make up any ground on the New Orleans Saints, our exceedingly difficult to crack division rival, but we're sitting at 4-1 with a great chance of reaching that winning season or even grabbing a playoff berth. It was also further proof that this team just knows how to win a football game, even one where half of the team looks a little shaky. You really couldn't ask for a better effort level, and you won't catch me doing it. Some will say this was an ugly win, but I'm still calling it a big one. Bring on the Dallas Cowboys!
At this point, I think I'm just talking in circles. Let's head over the jump and break this down.
- I think everyone would agree that Thomas DeCoud deserves a mention after getting more picks than an OCD man with a stuffy nose. What makes it especially remarkable, if you watch the tape, is how zeroed in DeCoud is on both of those passes. He's watching the quarterback like a hawk, making an athletic move and holding on to the ball. If he had held on to those two potential picks against the Patriots, the guy would be getting a ton of national attention right now. As it is, those five tackles and two interceptions are a great sign for the future, and he's one of our best coverage guys as a safety right now.
- Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez put up nearly identical lines, and both were huge parts of the team's success Sunday. Fighting for yardage and touchdowns, they managed to each grab a score, over 50 yards and four catches. While the offense struggled a little in general, neither of these guys showed any signs of slowing down.
- To continue highlighting more than one player under one bullet point—times are tough, dangit!—we'll move toward Jonathan Babineaux and Curtis Lofton. Babineaux forced a fumble, had half a sack and was a huge part of a pass rush which kept Jay Cutler off balance for much of the night. Lofton continued to add to his formidable legend, piling up ten tackles, forcing a fumble and absolutely crushing Matt Forte on a run which otherwise might have gone for a touchdown. These guys are as hard-nosed at they come, and both are criminally underrated outside of Atlanta. That may start to change.
- Eric Weems is an explosive returner, in the same way that a bomb sort of blows up. If not for a slight misstep that carried him out of bounds, Weems would have run one back, and his 62-yard return on the Falcons' last successful drive was one of the most critical plays of the game. I'm going to keep calling for his involvement in the offense because I'm intrigued by his potential, but if nothing else he's a great asset on special teams.
- Jason Snelling doesn't have any numbers which jump out at you, but he filled in admirably for Ovie Mughelli. Catching passes, grabbing a few carries and throwing a couple of excellent blocks, he showed once more why he's such a good fit for this team. For the sake of the ground game, though, I wouldn't mind Mughelli hurrying back.
Michael Turner saved a lackluster day by punching in the touchdown that gave us the lead. Even when his numbers don't look that great, Turner seems to make a real impact.
- He'll get mentioned in both places, but when Matt Ryan was on today, he was on like Donkey Kong. With less time than he's had all season to make his throws, he managed to scramble, roll out and otherwise evade a quality pass rush time and time again. Gotta give him credit for that.
- Finally, let's wrap the entire defense up like a delicious cinnamon roll. With countless big stops and a coronary-inducing clamping down at the end of the game, they earned their stripes today. Big ups to everyone on the D.
- Pressure aside, Ryan still needs to work on his finesse and timing a bit, as this game made evident. He overthrew a few receivers and underthrew a couple of others. Obviously having a defender's hand in your face makes that a little tougher, but it's something to improve in the weeks ahead.
- Through no fault of his own, Jerious Norwood goes here. He was running really well until he got hurt, and now he could be out for a while once more. Since he's such a valuable part of our offense and yet so chronically hurt, this serves as a lowlight for the game. I hate losing guys to injury.
- Ditto for Brian Williams, who has been an important piece of our defense and suffered a nasty-looking leg injury while defending against a strike to the end zone. William Moore, who hasn't managed to crack the lineup yet, also left with an injury. Here's hoping all these guys get better soon.
- Michael Jenkins looked out of his element on Sunday, with at least one drop and a tipped pass that went for one of Ryan's two interceptions. I'm sure that's a one week blip more than anything else, but it wasn't fun to watch.
Game MVP: The entire defense, headlined by Thomas DeCoud and Curtis Lofton. You'll have to split the honor several ways, guys. Sorry.
Game Theme Song: I can't stop now, not after we've done so well with it!
One Thing To Take Away: The defense isn't just better than expected. It isn't just good enough. It's actually starting to look just plain good.
Next Week: The Dallas Cowboys, represented by Blogging The Boys. With their high-flying offense and passable defense, it ought to be an interesting game.
Final Word: Whew.