You can keep saying the Falcons don't look like title contenders, but you would just be lying to yourself at this point. After the best game we've seen from Atlanta in quite some time, it's safe to say Mike Smith has his squad on the right track.
Defeating the reigning Super Bowl champs is always nice, but crushing them 34-0 late in the season is about as good as it gets. The Giants simply found no answer for the Falcons on Sunday. None.
We've watched this team progress throughout 2012. Sure, there are always a few aspects of each game to criticize. However, we learned a great deal about the Falcons in Week 15, all of which bodes well for their chances going forward.
1) The Falcons can hang with anyone
To say their victory over New York was impressive would be quite the understatement. Most Falcons fans felt confident this team could walk away with vengeance stemming from last year's playoff defeat, but I doubt anyone seriously expected a complete walkover against a team that just throttled the Saints.
They controlled the clock, limited penalties (again), outgained the Giants by 138 yards and found time to give some starters a rest at the end of the game. Yeah, that's not bad I guess. Atlanta is actually receiving praise now, credit from the big-name analysts. It is well-deserved.
2) Matt Ryan and Sean Weatherspoon are the MVPs for Atlanta
Could you have asked for a better game from these two? Ryan completed 82.1 percent of his passes, threw three touchdowns and finished with a passer rating of 142.6. He manages the game and knows exactly where to put the ball for his targets (see: Tony G touchdown above). We've seen ups and downs from Ryan in 2012, but he is stepping up when it matters most.
Weatherspoon was rated as the Falcons top player for Week 15 by Pro Football Focus with a 3.2 overall. He is all over the field, flying at running backs and proving to be a solid defender against the pass as well. This is the speed he always seems stuck in:
3) The O-line is not a liability
The front five has been criticized for several poor performances throughout the first 14 weeks, but everyone came to play against the Giants ferocious pass rush. Sam Baker allowed just one hurry, and Tyson Clabo didn't give up a single recorded pressure. The Giants came into Week 15 with 32 sacks. They left Atlanta with 32 sacks. Run blocking can still be improved. I'm not complaining, though. Ryan was only pressured on four of his 29 dropbacks. These guys each deserve a high-five.
4) Mike Nolan is getting the most out of his depth
Peria Jerry pressured Eli Manning twice and came up with a stop in run support. Vance Walker finished with two hurries and batted down a pass. Chris Hope, aside from a penalty, looked solid while replacing William Moore. Spoon, Asante and the other big-names are always making plays left and right, but we're seeing good production all around this group. Oh, and they held the Giants to zero points. Worth mentioning.
5) Running outside continues to work
The Falcons gained 36 yards on six towards the left end of the line. They rushing for 18 yards on three carries at left tackle, and picked up another nine yards on one carry at right end. That's a 6.3 YPC running outside. Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers didn't find a ton of room to run, but it's obvious where the ground game finds success this year. Stick with the plan.
Honorable mention: Tony Gonzalez should never retire ever. That is all.
What was your biggest takeaway from Week 15?