With the way the Falcons have played this seaosn, it's easy to forget the old "any given Sunday" adage.
The Falcons have won ugly. The Falcons have had questionable play-calling. The Falcons have had injuries. The Falcons have lost to clearly superior opponents. They've beaten clearly inferior opponents. It's become so rote that I found myself hard-pressed to expect much more than a win today, with no bells or whistles attached. Instead I was treated to a game that was by turns crushing, thrilling and just plain bizarre.
And in turn, that reminded me of why I love watching and following football. The game can take you places you never expected to go, good or bad. It can tear your heart out and then put it back in your chest, whistling nonchalantly. It can put you on the verge of a 9-7 season with a division rival that just triumphed over arguably the best team in the NFC, one that almost beat you earlier in the season. It can feature a 260 pound lineman kicking off to the Buffalo Bills. You have to love it.
Follow me after the jump and we'll sift through the awesome.
- It wasn't a dominant performance. Lately, Matt Ryan hasn't been able to muster up too many of those. But it was a mostly efficient one against a decent secondary, and even down Tony Gonzalez Ryan managed to find the end zone three times. It's good to see him out there and playing, building on a mostly lost season and continuing to develop his rapport with Roddy White. What matters at this point is growth....although it would be awfully nice if he didn't fumble so much.
- Speaking of White, he turned in one of the best performances of his career Sunday. Although he was clearly the best (and arguably the only competent) target, he repeatedly got open and burned the Bills secondary on his way to eight catches, 139 yards and two touchdowns. I've always qualified it before now, but I'm going to say it: Roddy White is the best Falcons wide receiver of my lifetime. If only he had gotten started a season or two earlier, there wouldn't be any debate.
- Wow, Marty Booker! Four catches, 57 yards, one touchdown and the most impressive resurrection since Lazarus. If Tony Gonzalez is out against the Bucs and Michael Jenkins continues to disappear, he might actually make some noise in the last game of the season. It will be through the use of a CB radio, of course, but still!
- I liked that Mike Mularkey generally didn't get too cute this game. Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling both did reasonably well and split carries evenly, and trick plays and stupid runs up the gut were a little more scarce than in weeks past. Learning is fun.
- Brent Grimes and Chris Owens are a pretty good tandem, if I do say so myself. Yes, their best performances have come against woeful Bills and New York Jets offenses, but they're fairly capable tacklers, they have good instincts and Grimes in particular has a knack for getting in the way of a pass. It'll help to have Chris Houston back, but I think the coaching staff sees enough in both that he may not play again in 2009.
- Credit to our defensive linemen. The USS Babineaux and John Abraham each grabbed a sack, and Lawrence Sidbury made a really heads-up play when he scooped up the fumble and ran it back for a touchdown. Abraham and Babs are already very good, but Sidbury looks like he might be something special down the line.
- Special Weems continues to live up to his name, doing excellent work on returns. Slow clap for him.
- Am I forgetting anything? No, I guess not. I mean, it's not as though anyone else had a standout performance. Unless you mean....
Ohhhh.....right. Kroy Biermann! I forgot about him.
Duffman was the absolute highlight of this game for me. Not only did he play fairly well on the defensive side of the ball, he also absolutely drilled two kickoffs and got distance if not height on another. You really can't ask much more from a guy than to play his assigned position well and then take over kickoffs in the middle of a game because both your kicker and punter are hurt. I was really hoping he'd get a chance to boot a field goal, but oh well. It was still a virtuoso performance by Biermann, who has turned from a situational afterthought to a starting fan favorite. Bravo, sir!
- The injury bug now resembles something from Starship Troopers. In one game, we lost Sam Baker (again), Tony Gonzalez, Michael Koenen and Matt Bryant, who was only able to handle extra points. That's on top of injuries to what seems like half the team, and it's a testament to the depth and heart of this Falcons squad that they've been able to hang in at all considering what they're missing. Let's hope everyone can come back healthy next time around.
- There's not a lot of bad things to say, but I will say that if Michael Jenkins can't get open and contribute more on a day like today, I'm not sure how many snaps he's going to take in 2010. He's just not consistent enough to start full-time, awesome blocking skills notwithstanding.
Game MVP: I want to say Biermann very badly, but when you have a day like Roddy White had Sunday, you deserve it. Congratulations, Roddy! Share some of the love with Duffman.
Game Theme Song: Let's go with a classic.
One Thing To Take Away: Against all odds, it's really fun to be a Falcons fan right about now.
Final Word: Superawesome.