What can be said that hasn't been said already? The Falcons - largely expected to lay down and take on the role of sacrificial lambs to the Cardinals - took down the top team in the NFC. While some will rightly point out that Drew Stanton is not a quality starting QB, and the Cardinals have quite a few injuries on their defense, they are a well-coached team that was 9-2 entering this game. Say what you will, but this was a quality win for a team in desperate need of one.
With that said, here are my key takeaways from the game:
1. Ryan to Julio worked on a scary level
Going against one of the better corners in the game, Julio Jones reminded the NFL why he's considered one of the top receivers in the game. Patrick Peterson is a quality starting corner in this league, but he was completely ineffective against an unstoppable Julio who rattled off 10 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown.
But it wasn't just Julio, either. Ryan was placing the ball where only Jones could get it. The touchdown pass was a back-shoulder throw that was perfectly placed and timed. Ryan also let Julio high-point the ball on several other occasions. With the exception of the lone INT for Ryan (which looked like a communication issue), the two were on the same page all afternoon. And one of the top defenses in the NFL couldn't stop them, even with Roddy White inactive and on the sidelines.
Julio said after the game that they reintegrated some plays that they hadn't used since the preseason. If the Falcons can continue to tweak the offense to feature JJ, the offense could finally live up to the potential we all thought it had at the beginning of the season. And that should be scary to the remaining teams that have to play the Falcons.
2. The defense has begun putting together some quality performances
Yes, it was Drew Stanton. Yes, Larry Fitzgerald did not play. Yes, the offensive line for the Cardinals is not good. And all of that is definitely a factor. But the Falcons defense looks like it has steadily improved the last few weeks.
The defense blitzed frequently and consistently pressured Stanton, though they didn't finish with any sacks. The team also finished with 2 more INTs after snagging 3 last week versus the Browns. William Moore made his return, and had an impact as well forcing a key fumble.
In fact, the defense didn't allow an offensive touchdown until late in the game when the game was already out of reach. Now, let me be clear: I realize that the defensive showing have come against the Browns and the Cardinals, but there is clear improvement happening. The mental gaffes that have defined this defense have been reduced and the overall performance of many of the young guys has improved. While no one will mistake this defense for a quality one, they may not be the dumpster fire they appeared to be at the beginning of the season.
3. The overall coaching tomfoolery did not show up on Sunday
No clock management issues. Playing guys in their best positions. Blitzing consistently to pressure the QB. Letting the offense operate in the up-tempo offense most of the day. Passing downfield to stretch the defense.
These are all things we've clamored for but have rarely seen this season. However, all of these things were in play on Sunday. And imagine this: it worked wonderfully. In fact, it does make you wonder why the coaches didn't do these things sooner (I know, I know). Better late than never, right?
What we saw Sunday is what can happen when our coaches don't overthink the game or try to get too creative. Sometimes, you just need to execute on the fundamentals and get the ball into the hands of your best players. It was nice to see it executed on Sunday, and ultimately lead to the kind of result many of us believed would be possible.
So what about you - what are your thoughts on the big win on Sunday?