Ideally, the Falcons would have walked out of Tampa Bay with a blowout win, proving they were one of the NFL's elite teams.We do not live in a world where the ideal happens often.
Against a superior offensive team like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though, I will take a one point win. More than that: I'm thrilled with a one point win, and I think it tells you a lot about this Falcons football team. They make things closer than they need to be, yes, but they also win. Even if it's so close it makes you cower in fear.
Against one of the best running offenses in the league, they held Doug Martin to 50 yards on 12 carries. They kept Josh Freeman from throwing a single touchdown pass. They managed over 350 yards in the air and about 80 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against the league's best run defense. You cannot possibly sneeze at that.
You want something to worry about? Worry about the offense's inability or unwillingness to take bold strikes beyond the crazy 80 yard touchdown to Julio Jones. Worry about the fact that Mike Smith and his coaches won't abandon the run, even when it's proven over and over again to be useless. Worry about the blocking, the tackling and the team's inability to use its superior talent to absolutely smoke another NFL team. Worry about all of that, but still recognize the team's stellar record and the fact that they'll get a chance to fix all these things in the playoffs.
And that's what they'll have to do to take the next step. These Falcons have survived the fire (narrowly) over and over again while
At the end of the day, you have to look at the result and recognize that the Falcons have not gotten here by accident. These games may be too close for comfort, but they're winning them again and again. At this point they're in the driver's seat for the NFC South and they clearly recognize what they need to fix, even if the execution hasn't necessarily been there. That's encouraging, and the 10-1 record ensures they have some breathing room.
Close is always better than a loss. Let's look at the individual performances.
- Matt Ryan threw an ugly pick again, but he otherwise controlled the tempo of the game and completed over 80% of his passes and found Julio Jones for a beautiful 80 yard strike in the third quarter. The Falcons need to loosen the reins and let Ryan take over the offense, because he keeps proving himself capable of running it. Just let him do it.
- Jacquizz Rodgers. Period. He ran well, he caught the ball well and he showed game-changing agility every time he touched the ball. He may never be a full-time running back, but he's a perfect fit for this offense and the team needs to ensure that he's involved.
- Julio Jones had arguably his best game of the season. He caught six passes for 147 yards and a touchdown and routinely abused his coverage, push penalty notwithstanding. When even 80% healthy, he's one of the best wide receivers in the game, and he was a couple of poor passes and a penalty away from nabbing at least one other touchdown.
- Tony Gonzalez continued to be a reliable third down weapon. He caught five passes for 62 yards yesterday and helped keep the team moving.
- Give props to Roddy White and Jason Snelling. Neither had huge games, but they were reliable options when Matt Ryan needed a checkdown throughout the contest. A team with this many weapons needs to use all of them.
- The run blocking wasn't stellar today or anything, but Tyson Clabo sprang Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers all day long. Combine that with solid pass-blocking and the offensive line actually had a nice day overall against a capable defense.
- On an inconsistent day from the pass rush, Kroy Biermann and Dunta Robinson each came up with a sack. Mike Nolan's D did a much better job getting pressure in the second half, but the consistency is still lacking. Something to work on.
Asante Samuel was in position to make plays all day. The fact that he didn't make a couple of sure picks has to be balanced against the fact that his knockdowns prevented long passes all day, including the very last play of the game.
- Robert McClain had a sure-tackling, quality-covering day. He's nowhere near an elite cornerback, but I continue to be encouraged by his growth as a cornerback.
- With guys banged up and the Falcons playing a tough division opponent, you have to give the coaching staff credit for navigating a tough game and coming away with a victory. Shutting down Doug Martin (mostly) was a particularly brilliant stroke.
- The coaching staff has got to abandon Michael Turner. The run-blocking has been far from ideal, but when you reel off a three game stretch where you manage 41 carries for 78 yards for less than two yards per tote, you are killing the offense every time you're out there. With Rodgers picking up 49 yards on 10 rushes against the best rush defense in the league, I think it's time to stop making excuses for Turner. Stop giving him the rock.
- On a couple of plays, Ryan didn't have time and he wasn't able to do anything good with the ball. The pick was one, the fumble after he got blindsided was the other. Not much you can do about that, per se, but it was ugly.
- Consistency has been a real problem for the pass rush all season long, and it didn't get better here. The Falcons have to figure out a way to have someone in the backfield on most plays, regardless of who it is. They need to treat this with some urgency, given what the 49ers did to Drew Brees with their pass rush. He certainly doesn't play as well under pressure, and a Falcons win submarines the Saints' playoff hopes and puts the Falcons in prime position to seize the division.
- Our defensive backs have got to learn to catch the football. The Falcons could have had three picks off Josh Freeman if they hadn't dropped them all, and that certainly would have given the team more breathing room.
- The conservatism is not helpful. The coaches need to understand that they have a plethora of weapons and giving 13 carries to Turner is not a winning strategy, particularly against a great run defense. It's just not.
- Matt Bryant missed two field goals. Not going to beat the guy up, given his consistency, but it's worrying that he shanked a 22 yard chip shot.
- Nothing else. I don't care. They won!
Game MVP: Julio Jones. His insane route-running enabled Matt Ryan's best passes today, and he definitely was a prime reason the Falcons won. You could also go with the run D for their stellar performance against Doug Martin.
Game Theme Song: Choose any song with "Close" or "Closer" in the title will suffice.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons can beat NFC contenders. Even if it is narrow.
Next Week: Actually, it's four days. The Falcons take on the Saints on Thursday Night Football. Be sure to visit Canal Street Chronicles!
Final Word: Tenandone.