The Atlanta Falcons beat the Philadelphia Eagles 35-31. If that's all you've heard about the game and you want to save yourself a face-melting ride through the details of the game, I suggest you steer clear of The Falcoholic for the rest of the day.
The referees were bad, fumbling with calls that hurt both teams but seemed especially geared toward making me tear my hair out. The Eagles were good for most of the game before falling apart. But ultimately, the Falcons pissed away an 11 point lead, showed no offensive urgency, couldn't or wouldn't protect Matt Ryan and once again failed at tackling. They did all those things and still won, thanks to a little luck, a lot of hanging in there and some brilliant fourth quarter play.
The Falcons desperately needed to walk out of the Georgia Dome with a victory, and they got one. Now the key will be to build on a haphazard game that was won by the skin of the god of grace's teeth and start kicking some serious ass. Obviously, I think the Falcons can do just that.
After the jump, you'll find my full breakdown. Join me.
- Tony Gonzalez was brilliant. He made a pair of touchdown catches against the Eagles, including a one-handed grab that he just barely managed to stay inside the end zone with. He came up with five other clutch grabs, as well, and looked like he had drained a goblet from the Fountain of Youth before the game. Absolutely the MVP for the Falcons, and Mike Mularkey was wise to use him to pick on the Eagles' lackluster linebackers.
Let's just induct him to the Hall of Fame now and save everyone some time later.
- Matt Ryan had his moments. For drives--especially in the fourth quarter--Ryan was calm, made the most of his opportunities and delivered on some tough throws. On the last drive, his bullet to Gonzo looked like it was fired from an angel's gun. There's a flip side to this, but he deserves to be recognized for what he brought to the table.
Oh, and he threw for a career high four touchdown passes. You don't make that happen by accident.
- Michael Turner was his usual self. He started off strong, faded through the middle of the game and came up with one huge run to save his stat line and put the Falcons in position to score. Up until his huge 61 yard run, he had 19 carries for 50 yards, less than three yards a carry. I'd like to see more consistency out of him going forward, but my God is he a holy terror when he gets a little room.
- Julio Jones and Harry Douglas each had a couple of nice catches. Props to them.
- Peria Jerry applied pressure and came up with a huge hit on Michael Vick and forced a fumble. You have to love the effort.
- Speaking of effort, Ray Edwards had a sweet return on that fumble. Sure, he got caught from behind, but we're not talking about a high school track star. It was good to see him generating pressure.
- Stephen Nicholas forced a fumble, stayed active all game long and came up with one of the game's biggest hits when he stopped DeSean Jackson on the Eagles' last punt return.
- Heck, Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton deserve props, too. Both were flying all over the field, and each one had a nice play or two in coverage. I say that knowing full well that neither are exactly elite against the pass yet, but points for getting there.
- Kudos to Abe for the forced fumble.
- Matt Bryant remains clutch, even when he's just kicking extra points. Hardly news, I know.
- Did Kelvin Hayden get a pick that probably wasn't a pick? Yes. Did he sell it? Sure did. Did he also play pretty well in coverage at the nickel and acquit himself despite being on the team for less than a month? Hell yeah.
- Brent Grimes was pretty stellar in coverage. Stopping DeSean Jackson is no easy feat.
- The tackling in general improved over the Bears game. It's not anywhere near where it needs to be, but I saw guys wrapping up better against the Eagles. Again, the Falcons are a work in progress, so I'll take my encouragement where I can.
- Ryan made some terrible decisions in this game, too. Under pressure all night long, he threw two excruciatingly bad picks and showed a little happy feet in the pocket. Once the line steps up and starts protecting him, we should see those things vanish.
- Oh, the line. The line. For the second straight game, nobody showed much interest in keeping Ryan from getting crushed into a cube by Trent Cole. Especially not Sam Baker, who looked like a Pop Warner tackle trying to block an M1 Abrams tank off the edge. This unit simply has to get better at pass protection before Ryan gets hurt. He was sacked four times tonight and hit at least a half dozen other times.
- The wide receivers struggled to get open. Roddy White disappeared off the field for long stretches, Julio Jones just didn't run crisp routes on a couple more and the Falcons struggled to get separation in general. Thank Vishnu for Tony Gonzalez.
Hard not to give them a bit of a pass considering the strength of the Eagles' secondary, but I'll hope to see a lot better against the Buccaneers.
- The tackling was still pretty bad. Which leads us to...
- If you're Dunta Robinson, you cannot launch yourself at an Eagles wide receiver like a missile. Not after last year. Yet that's exactly what Dunta did against Jeremy Maclin.
Look, not everyone's going to agree whether he led with his shoulder or his helmet. Not everyone's going to agree on whether there was intent. For the record, I'm inclined to think he wasn't trying to injure anyone, and I don't believe he was intentionally leading with his helmet. But the Falcons need to wrap up and bring guys down, and Robinson put himself in a very bad position by reacting to the play the way he did.
- Matt Bosher started to boom it a little bit late in the game, but he's shown me nothing. The 18 yard shank punt he put up there was one of the ugliest things I saw last night, and that is really saying something.
- The officiating was horrendous all game long. The missed interception calls, the lack of a call when Matt Ryan received helmet-to-helmet contact, lot of missed calls on Jason Babin and some blown calls for both teams in general were not fun to watch. Frankly, both teams have legitimate grievances, but the Falcons certainly got more than their fair share of mistakes.
- I could spend paragraphs on paragraphs on the coaching, but suffice to say the Falcons just aren't to where they need to be yet.
- The Eagles are scary. Matt Ryan's not going to be the only one having nightmares about Nnamdi Asomugha and Trent Cole, I'll say that.
Game MVP: Tony Gonzalez. The "M" in MVP stands for "Monster."
Game Theme Song: I'm too tired to even think of one, frankly. Make your suggestions in the comments.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons can hang in there with the best teams in the NFL. They just can't convincingly thrash them yet.
Final Word: Phew.