The Falcons won on Sunday! It's been a long time since we've been able to say that, as the win against the Bills snapped a five-game losing streak for Atlanta. It was a hard-fought win, and it mostly wasn't pretty. There were, however, a few pivotal plays that directly contributed to the win.
The Falcons were trailing the Bills by a 14-point deficit early in the game, but the Falcons closed that gap with not one, but two rushing touchdowns--a 27-yard run from Steven Jackson, and a 38-yard run from Antone Smith. A field goal from Matt Bryant tied it up for the Falcons heading into halftime.
An excellent defensive effort on the Bills' first series forced a Buffalo three-and-out, and a six-yard Robert McClain punt return allowed the Falcons to take over with great field position on their own 45. Matt Ryan led an efficient drive, aided by a Buffalo penalty, and the Falcons found themselves in the red zone.
Ryan threw what looked like a touchdown pass to Harry Douglas, but upon review, Douglas was ruled down by contact on the Buffalo one yard line. The first down play call was a Steven Jackson rush, which went for no gain. Falcons fans everywhere groaned.
On second down, Matt Ryan took a sack for a six-yard loss. Things were not looking good. Things were, in fact, looking pretty typical for the 2013 Falcons. The third down play was negated by a false start called on Lamar Holmes. This gave the Falcons a third and goal from the 11 yard line. It was looking like another red zone failure.
The third down play call after the penalty looked very similar to the one at the end of week one in New Orleans. It was a pass over the middle to Tony Gonzalez.
Ryan is in the shotgun, with Jason Snelling in the backfield. Gonzalez is spread wide to the left, Roddy White is in the slot, and Drew Davis and Darius Johnson are on the right. At the snap, Gonzalez has single coverage, and is making his way to the middle of the end zone. Davis and White are also headed for the end zone.
Many times we've seen this Falcons team throw short of a touchdown or a first down on a third down play. Ryan has Snelling and Johnson wide open on intermediate routes, and to his great credit, he doesn't focus on them.
Pass protection isn't great, either. Ryan makes this throw under pressure. It's pretty good coverage on Gonzalez, but you can't beat Tony Gonzalez with single coverage. Gonzalez pulls in the catch, and the Falcons had a 24-17 lead.
The second pivotal play came near the end of regulation. It's a tie game, and if Atlanta's defense can hold, the game is headed to overtime. The Falcons, of course, have not given fans much hope for the defense in this kind of situation this season.
E.J. Manuel takes the snap in the shotgun, and it's a 14-yard pass over the middle to Stevie Johnson, who has position on Robert McClain. It's an easy completion, and the yards after the catch put the Bills within field goal range. It's looking bad for the Falcons.
But then McClain saves the day. It's a textbook strip, with the fumble recovered by William Moore. The play literally saved the game for the Falcons.
The 2013 Falcons have really struggled with turnovers this season. They've had no shortage of turnovers on the offensive side, unfortunately, but defensively, the team hasn't been able to force many turnovers. That wasn't the case against the Bills, and our third pivotal play is another forced fumble and recovery in overtime.
It's just 26 seconds into overtime. The Bills won the toss and elected to receive. After a first down that resulted in a three-yard gain from Fred Jackson, E.J. Manuel throws a pass over the middle to tight end Scott Chandler.
William Moore, who is ready most of the time, forces a fumble, and several Falcons scramble after it. Rookie cornerback Robert Alford isn't even close to the ball when it comes loose, but he manages to recover.
Alford starts to return the fumble, but Jonathan Massaquoi whiffs on a block of Bills receiver Robert Woods, so Alford tosses a short lateral to Desmond Trufant.
This was risky--Woods is in a position to make a play on the ball--but it works.
Trufant is so fast. He runs it to the Buffalo 47 yard line, giving the Falcons great field position to work with, and the offense was able to move the ball into field goal range and finish the game with a victory.
It was a pleasant surprise to see the offense run the ball effectively and make decent red zone decisions, and also to see some opportunistic plays from the Falcons defense. Those turnovers in particular made the difference in this game.
Which plays from Sunday's game were the most pivotal in your opinion?