We all went to heaven in a little rowboat
There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.
—Pyramid Song, Radiohead
The Falcons have put together their third straight winning season. In case you haven't been paying attention over the last four decades, that's the first time that's ever happened.
I lead with that and the cheery lyrics from Radiohead (surprising, I know) because I feel unable to muster up the grand words to do this true justice. The Falcons just dispatched a very good Packers team, ran their NFC-leading record up to 9-2 and got dominant performances from several players.
This just doesn't happen to the Atlanta Falcons we all know and love, but then again, these aren't the Falcons we used to know and love. They're a great football team. They're well-coached and talented and when the chips are down, gosh darn it, they pick those chips back up and beat other teams senseless with them. Analysts and reporters who aren't impressed with us—and they will continue to exist—don't have the advantage of seeing this team through the lens of past teams. They've just ignored the Falcons so long that they can't believe this is for real.
Guess what? It is real.
So here's my solemn pledge. While I may cringe and stutter my way through individual games, I hereby declare my total faith in the Falcons' season. They are going to make the playoffs, I believe wholeheartedly that they can win the division and I'm certainly not doubting anything beyond that. Given that success in the NFL is ephemeral, I think we should all enjoy this ride.
After the jump, I'll hook you up with a less flowery breakdown.
- Matt Ryan didn't just manage a game well. The Packers have a terrific secondary and largely took Roddy White and the deep ball away from him. Instead of messing around, Ryan did what great quarterbacks do. He adjusted.
The end result was a breezy effort where he completed 86% of his passes and found the open man again and again underneath. Without a quality supporting cast that might not work, but Ryan knows who he's working with and found the right guy all day long. Aside from a couple of sacks, he made no mistakes and didn't turn the ball over at all.
I don't know about you, but I'd characterize that as a great game.
- Speaking of great games, Michael Turner definitely had one. Given a little time behind the line to get his massive legs moving, Burner broke a ton of huge runs and finished the day with 110 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
I think I've been guilty of getting hung up on the carries where Turner doesn't look so good, but those are almost universally the ones where he doesn't have time to build momentum. When the line is blocking well, he's an absolute beast.
Honorable mention to Jason Snelling, who is like weaponized plutonium out of the backfield. Love that guy.
- On a day where Roddy White had a pedestrian effort (5 for 49 yards), Tony Gonzalez stepped up. It was fair to wonder if Gonzo's timeless body might be letting him down at last in 2010, but he got open against a quality secondary and linebacking corps frequently today. His numbers aren't much better than Roddy's, but make no mistake, the Falcons wouldn't have won this one if the big guy hadn't been firing on all cylinders.
Also, I can't be the only one relieved to see the entire passing game didn't collapse when White was stifled. Right?
- Eric Weems was huge. He had quality returns throughout the day, none finer than the one that might have gone for a touchdown if a desperate Packer hadn't grabbed his facemask. Watching him annihilate Sam Shields on the final Packers return was a thing of beauty.
- Matt Bryant saw a timeout called just before he boomed his first game-winning 47 yard field goal. Totally unperturbed by Mike McCarthy's antics, he proceed to nail another 47 yarder and bring the game home. I'm so, so sorry I ever doubted him.
John Abraham, Curtis Lofton and Thomas DeCoud all had forced fumbles. Abraham also picked up a sack. But I was extremely impressed with Lofton, who ended up covering living, breathing Packers wide receivers at various points and nearly came away with an interception. On a day where the defense epitomized bend but don't break, Abe and Lofton were huge.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Biermann. He was hugely effective at pushing toward the quarterback all day long, even if the stat sheet won't bring him glory.
- The run defense was incredibly stout. There was a failure here, which we'll get to in a minute, but Brandon Jackson looked more like Brandon CRAPson against the Falcons. Ha!
- Brian Van Gorder's zone defense has a glaring weakness, revealed for all to see on Fox yesterday. A quarterback capable of running can destroy it.
There's no excuse for allowing Aaron Rodgers to rack up 51 yards on 12 carries. He's a capable runner and an intelligent quarterback, but the fact that BVG never saw fit to have someone spying on him was incredible considering he ran the ball a dozen times and picked up at least three first downs. Pray Josh Freeman doesn't figure this out next Sunday.
- The penalties were flying fast and hard for the Falcons today, and the refs actually missed a couple of calls. William Moore is an eye-googling hitter, but he lets his emotions get the best of him and that led to a costly penalty. Falcons have to return to their disciplined days of...well, like a week ago.
- Speaking of the refs, they really can't let the game clock run down to zero, let Rodgers order dinner through his headset and then watch the snap and not call a delay of game. I know, the Falcons got their share this game, but that really ticked me off.
Game MVP: I'm giving this one to the whole team, because this was a true team effort. Matt Ryan, Eric Weems and Michael Turner all deserve mention here, but in the end the Falcons won this game.
Game Theme Song: Just because I love the song, listen to the track I referenced above.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons are a truly good football team. They may even be great. Okay, they are great.
Next Week: Back to the Bucs! This time the Falcons travel to Tampa Bay. Get your fill at Bucs Nation.
Final Word: Believe.