This Falcons team is a joy to watch. Let's get that out of the way immediately, because I don't want to make you think that all I care about is that final score that was way closer than it should have been. There is happiness to be found in the performance, because in reality, the Falcons blew the Texans out. Because this is a celebratory day, this will be designated an open thread for mild cussin'.
Playing at home in a game against a tough defense, the Falcons scuffled on the first drive, and then set about systemically dismantling the Texans D. By the time the dust settled, the Falcons had utterly dominated their opponent, opening up a 42-0 lead in the third quarter before the Texans yanked Ryan Mallett from the game. This was the kind of effort we saw when the Falcons blew up the Buccaneers a year ago, but the context of the performance is very different, because this is simply a more balanced, more talented team.
The performance of the defense was encouraging, as well.The Texans are not world beaters on offense, but they had Arian Foster available and were absolutely shut down in the first half, compelte with a bunch of sloppy plays the Falcons turned into offensive possessions. I wouldn't say Atlanta's had a stellar test of their defense just yet, but you have to show you belong against decent-to-terrible teams, and the Falcons managed to stamp out any signs of life in this mediocre Houston offense.
At times like these, words genuinely fail me. I thought the Falcons might be 2-2 at this point of the year, but instead they're 4-0, they look absolutely terrific, and hope seems suddenly both required and justified. I didn't dare dream that the Falcons could turn around so fast, and the fact that they have is both a pleasant surprise and a deeply encouraging sign for the future, because we know these Falcons are not a finished product. They are good enough to win a lot of games in the NFL and certainly the NFC South right now, though, and I'm reluctant to put a ceiling on them any longer. I came into this year determined not to make grand proclamations like this after just a few games, but how can you not?
Now these Falcons are 4-0, improving by the week, and lining up against the Redskins at home on Sunday and the thus-far putrid Saints on Thursday night. This has been a fun start to the season, and there's reason to believe it'll continue on this wonderful, impossible pace.
On to our full recap.
- Devonta Freeman looks incredible, and any doubts I had about his ability to carry the load have been entirely erased. Whether it was snatching a pass out of the air to Hankerson to ensure a first down or busting through a huge hole to run for a long touchdown, he was great for the second week in a row. Tevin Coleman is probably returning to a complementary role, at least for now, and Freeman's going to continue to rip things up as long as he's healthy and the line blocks effectively for him. He's simply a better back than any of us would have dared dream, and it's going to be fun to watch him for a very long time.
- Hell, Terron Ward looked good, too. It's a testament to this offensive line, but Ward does have real power. He just needs to improve in pass protection.
- Leonard Hankerson is clearly comfortable in this offense. He wound up with six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, his best output of the season and a possible sign of things to come when defenses sell out to slow down Julio Jones. I'm very bullish on Hank this year.
- A few small accuracy and timing issues aside, Matt Ryan looks so, so comfortable in Kyle Shanahan's offense. He consistently finds the open man, he hangs in when the pressure starts coming, and he trusts that his receivers are going to give him an option. The result was another quality football game, one of what I hope is many more.
- The offensive line was great. J.J. Watt and company are a tough matchup for any line, but the Falcons largely gave Matt Ryan a clean pocket, and they opened up a ton of holes in the ground game. My doubts have officially been dispelled.
- Considering the competition, the defense still managed to exceed my expectations. Three turnovers and several stops in the first half despite Justin Durant missing time, and this defense looks light years better than it did in 2014. It's a combination of the attacking style, a little bit of turnover-related luck, and players genuinely playing a hell of a lot better.
- Jonathan Babineaux continues to impress. Ryan Mallett has his third down pass tipped on the first series, and Babineaux made a hustle play to come up with the pick.
- Desmond Trufant is an unreal football player, but he gets thrown at so infrequently that he doesn't get a chance to show it often. A killer second quarter pass breakup followed by a scooped up fumble for a touchdown will fix that wagon. Big props to O'Brien Schofield for being in Foster's face on the weird fumble, where an offensive lineman effectively punched it out of Arian Foster's hands.
Worth noting that Robert Alford also did very well, minus the flashy plays.
- Robenson Therezie was perfectly decent, if not great against the run. With Ricardo Allen missing a game or two more, we need to know he can hold up, and it looks good for his chances thus far.
- The Falcons gave themselves a six score lead and then pulled the starters, which was an extremely smart move for a team with that kind of cushion. No sense in getting any starters hurt, even if fantasy owners were undoubtedly disappointed. Sure, it meant the end of a shutout, but the overall impressive nature of the W is much more important.
- The backups got their revenge after allowing 21 consecutive Texans points. On the last play of the game, Allen Bradford punched out the ball and Nate Stupar returned it all the way for a touchdown, turning a 42-21 win into a 48-21 win. God, this team! I love 'em.
- Hell, let's just recognize the players who played well. William Moore nearly had a pick, had a couple of classic Willy Mo tackles where he absolutely destroyed a Texan, and forced a fumble. Nate Stupar played well again. Brooks Reed returned and helped out a ton against the run. Paul Worrilow returned to form fully healthy after a rough week in Week 3. Ra'Shede Hageman had a great garbage time sack. It was just a damn good game all around on defense.
- The backups are not ready for primetime, which is not a surprise. The offense struggled a bit once Sean Renfree came in (minus Ward), and the defense let the Texans score a few garbage touchdowns. That's the way things go, sometimes, but certainly I'm hoping to see more from guys like Jalen Collins in the weeks ahead.
- If you were a fantasy owner, Julio Jones' relatively quiet day probably upset you. In reality, though, it was nice to give him a little break, and very encouraging that the Falcons didn't need a big game from him to win it.
- Uh...the Falcons didn't score 80? There were little mistakes along the way, but in a game like this where the Falcons thoroughly dominate an opponent they should beat, I just don't have many complaints to make. Let's enjoy this day.
Game MVP: Devonta Freeman, again. He's simply been unreal these last two weeks, and you can't possibly lob enough praise his way.
Theme Song: Victory.
One Takeaway: The Falcons can beat bad teams! Handily, even. This may be a 2014 Tampa Bay-style fluke, sure, but let's hope it's a sign of things to come.
Next Week: The roller coaster ride that is the Washington football team, featuring the comedic stylings of Kirk Cousins. Check out Hogs Haven for much more.
Final Word: Whatagreatgame.