Rhetoric ceased to be enough at least a year ago. The Falcons were 1-4 coming into the Buccaneers game, fans were in a full-fledged mutiny and a win was sorely needed. They got one, at last, by a score of 31-23.
Bottom line: A win matters. A win is a great thing. A win here keeps the season alive and shows that the Falcons can win football teams against competent defenses in the NFL, particularly noteworthy given the abundance of quality defenses left on the schedule and the tiny number of weapons left for Matt Ryan to work with. It keeps hope alive, and hope is all you have when your favorite football team has a losing record.
The problem was that the Falcons still couldn't put away a clearly troubled Buccaneers team. If you score 31 points, against an offense that's shaky at best thanks to play calling, injury and talent, you should be winning handily. The defense remains a major problem. Once again, too, the Falcons came out in the second half and simply were not able to replicate their first half success. The Bucs outscored them 16-7 in the second half, which is pretty appalling.
However, the Falcons did some things that were very encouraging, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. If they're going to continue to win games going forward, it's going to take some sweeping changes, and we saw a few changes here.
One game can't tell us enough to draw any sweeping conclusions, but here's what I saw: A team with its back against the wall, finally changing things up. They played Darius Johnson outside to handle Darrelle Revis because the Buccaneers are stupid, an inspired mismatch. They blitzed Mike Glennon. They called creative plays on offense and got all their remaining weapons involved to some extent. They even brought Mike Nolan down to the field, and while it was far from a satisfying defensive effort, it was good enough to win and seemed to kindle a little fire with these Falcons. It was the kind of effort we've been begging for, but it took a boatload of injuries for the Falcons to finally do it. The question is whether the Falcons can keep improving and actually solve their second half woes against superior opponents.
A breakdown of noteworthy individual performances below, though somewhat abbreviated because it was kind of an exhausting game.
- Go ahead and take away Matt Ryan's record. Level inaccurate accusations of being a choker at him. He'll still keep finding the open receiver and moving the offense.
It's crystal clear that Ryan is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, someone who deserves to be placed just outside the elite Brady-Manning-Brees-Rodgers quartet, and he put up a typically efficient performance against a very solid defense. The Falcons may find wins hard to come by the rest of the way, but Ryan is going to make great things happen no matter what the opponent is. His final line was 20/26 for 273 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
- Jacquizz Rodgers isn't the best back in the world. He doesn't run well enough to overcome a mediocre run blocking line, and he'll probably never be a featured back. That doesn't mean he isn't a useful weapon for this team. On Sunday, he reeled in 7 passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns, showing the kind of agility and pass catching ability most backs can only dream of. The Falcons need to keep him involved whether Steven Jackson returns soon or not.
- After watching Harry Douglas today, it's impossible not to have a bone to pick with the coaching staff. HD is prone to the occasional unforced error and falling down, which given his limited chances made him look like a lackluster option.
He reeled in 7 catches for 149 yards Sunday. You don't do that by accident, and it's clear that the Falcons should be getting HD more involved going forward no matter how healthy Roddy White is. It's a little late in his career for a coming out party, but damn. The problem? He was once again quiet at best in the second half, something the Falcons will have to work around.
- The Falcons' offensive line had perhaps their finest performance of the year. They kept Ryan's pocket reasonably clean all day long and gave him a little more time to connect on his passes, which was enough to allow the passing game to have a big day. The run blocking needs work and the front five were far from dominant, but they're trending up.
- Malliciah Goodman had one costly roughing the passer penalty, but he graded out as the Falcons' best defender by Pro Football Focus's metrics. Why? Because he was dominant in run defense, coming up with two big stops and constantly pushing into the backfield on run downs. He needs to develop significantly as a pass rusher, but he's already one of the team's best run stoppers up front.
- Peria Jerry quietly has two sacks this year and has been an above average pass rushing defensive tackle. He drilled Mike Glennon on a crucial third down deep in Falcons territory.
- Joplo Bartu settled down after a slow start to the game to do pretty good work in coverage and pick up a sack of Mike Glennon. Nice work, rook.
- The safety tandem worked exactly the way it was supposed to yesterday on the first Bucs' drive. William Moore forced a Mike Glennon fumble and Thomas DeCoud took it to the house for a touchdown. Moore continues to absolutely run people over.
- They won! I can't stress how big this is, given how the season has gone. It keeps the team alive.
- Dirk Koetter is a great first half coordinator. He's capable of getting this team a significant lead before halftime, but things go wrong in the second half. The Falcons only scored one touchdown in the second half, and it's clear that the right kind of adjustments are not being made.
- This game didn't do much to disabuse anyone of the notion that the Falcons have a lousy defense. Two forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown? That's always welcome. Missing tackles, blown coverage and no pass rush? Less awesome. This is going to be the biggest limiting factor for the Falcons if they can't/won't address it going forward, particularly the MIA pass rush. That said, I did think there was some general improvement this week.
Obviously, the D being unable to stop a falling feather with an industrial fan is going to be a limiting factor this season.— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) October 20, 2013
- Asante Samuel was not sharp in this one. He had a PI called against him in the first quarter and then was burned for a 59 touchdown by Vincent Jackson in the second quarter. Some of this might just be lingering effects from the injury, but he looked a little lost at times out there. It might be the Desmond Trufant/Robert Alford show before long, and even Trufant was having some trouble out there.
Alford also struggled with a PI penalty of his own. Trufant is far and away the team's best cornerback this year.
- Alford is going to be an excellent punt returner someday, but he's off to a poor start. His third quarter fumble led to a Bucs score, which brought the Buccaneers back into striking distance.
- Penalties are crippling this team at times. The Falcons had multiple PIs, roughing the passer calls and holding calls yesterday, costing them yards and extending drives for an otherwise middling Buccaneers defense. It's frustrating to see a team that has trumpeted its discipline in the past making so many costly mistakes, and it's increasingly clear that they simply can't beat quality football teams if they have 5+ penalties per game. The coaching staff needs to address this before Arizona.
Game MVP: Matt Ryan. He made it happen despite having a limited arsenal, and he picked on a very good defense throughout the first half and into the second. Good work, Ice.
Game Theme Song: Hum a winning song. Mine goes hmmm hmmm hmmm winning.
One Thing To Take Away: Hey, the Falcons can win football games! Even with injuries!
Next Week: The Arizona Cardinals, who bring a similar style of play to the Buccaneers minus much of the dysfunction. Check out Revenge of the Birds for more!
Final Word: Awinisawin.
More from The Falcoholic:
- Stephen Nicholas Injury: Falcons Linebacker Leaves Game, Status Unknown
- Falcons vs. Buccaneers: Matt Ryan Is Your Falcon To Watch
- Falcons vs. Buccaneers: 4 Critical Matchups For Week 7
- Falcons to Promote WR Darius Johnson from Practice Squad
- Football Gods, Save Matt Ryan: How Will They Keep Their QB Upright?