I'm gonna be honest: I was pretty tied up yesterday, so I probably only saw about half of this game. That disclosed, I'm going to give you about half of my usual recap, and hope you'll agree that it jibes with the fact that only about half of this game was watchable, anyways.
Atlanta did some things better than it has in months, from taking a handful of shots downfield to rushing the passer, and it made an often-frustrating game where the offensive line and offense failed to get going a lot more palatable. What really makes this one sweet, though, is that the Falcons took a high-powered Jaguars offense and limited it to just 17 points, earning their first win in what seems like an eternity. It's probably not going to lead to a playoff berth and this team certainly didn't look resurgent, but they improved a little in some key areas and got the monkey off their back. I'll take that, especially against a Jaguars team that should be pretty good in the near future.
When you're building for the future and possibly cleaning our your front office in the offseason, you need to know that you have a solid enough set of players to form a decent enough foundation. Atlanta hasn't exactly answered that question just yet, but performances like these may steer the conversation from "blow it all up and start over" to "we need a lot of help."
On to our briefer-than-usual recap.
- It wasn't all pretty, but despite being under duress fairly often, Matt Ryan made a lot of crisp throws to guys like Justin Hardy and Roddy White, and took a couple of productive deep shots to Julio Jones. For a veteran quarterback mired in the worst season of his career, it was a nice reminder that Ryan probably isn't washed up just yet.
- It was, from what I saw, a vintage Julio Jones effort, minus one of those random, crushing drops he likes to spring on us from time to time. His final stat line was impressive, as you'd expect against a team without Josh Norman.
- We've seen tremendous growth from Justin Hardy. Matt Ryan constantly looks for him on third downs, and Hardy came up with a handful of key receptions on Sunday, including 20 yard and 9 yard grabs that kept a fourth quarter drive alive. I don't think he has the highest ceiling, but he can be a valuable, steady piece of this offense for a long time if he keeps it up.
- The defense was aggressive yesterday and didn't appear to be missing Paul Worrilow all that much, with Philip Wheeler getting a sack, Nate Stupar playing pretty well, and a ton of forced fumbles (though no recoveries). Adrian Clayborn's return to Sackville on the Jaguars' last drive of the game effectively sealed the victory for Atlanta, and for that, we will offer to bronze his magnificent hair.
- Kudos to Kemal Ishmael, who stepped in for William Moore and wound up with an 84 yard interception return, which is both the fifth-longest in franchise history and a mighty fine play for a Falcons team that once again struggled to put a ton of points on the board.
- Shayne Graham was once a pretty good kicker, and there's apparently some magic elixir that comes with kicker contracts in Atlanta that brings that back. Graham has been stellar for the Falcons this year, and he was once again a huge factor in this game.
- This team's ground game has gone entirely in the tank. Devonta Freeman couldn't find room to run at all and made a couple of bad decisions with his cuts, leading to one of the most anemic days we've seen from him. The good news is that the Falcons kept running it anyways, helping to keep the defense honest and the passing game alive.
- Oh yeah, the offensive line. I'm not going to hang all the offense's woes on them, but we're at the point where the interior probably needs to be torn down and rebuilt, and the Falcons need just a bit more growth from Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, as well. With Matt Ryan under pressure and the run fizzling out, tough to argue the unit is doing a great job. I will give them kudos for holding up late in the game when it mattered most.
- This defense is comically bad at keeping contain on quarterbacks. Blake Bortles repeatedly and effectively took the ball down and ran with it, and he also managed a touchdown.
- The Jaguars have gifted receivers, but Desmond Trufant has definitely scuffled a bit over the last month, especially when you compare his play to his usual gold standard. It's nothing I'm overly concerned about just yet, but worth keeping an eye on.
Game MVP: Cliche and all that, but this was a team win. Give 'em all a ball.
Theme Song: Something jaunty.
One Takeaway: The Falcons are not dead yet! Only sort of dead, these guys!
Final Word: Better.