The Falcons wanted to start the Dan Quinn era off with a bang, and they did. The team may not have kept that momentum going, but they won this game with a bang, too.
I don't think any of us expected the Falcons to come out of the gate like they did on defense, when held the Eagles to just three points through most of the first two quarters. That defensive effort helped make up for early struggles on offense, enabling an early lead for Atlanta that they carried all the way into halftime. When the team was sitting at 20-3, it was tough not to be deliriously happy.
Then the third quarter started off in frightening, 2014 Falcons fashion, with Matt Ryan throwing an ugly pick over the center of the field and the Eagles quickly scoring. Ryan had a bit of a shaky night throwing the football, and it wound up hurting the team badly as the game ground on. When the defense started to break down due to tiredness, an improved Eagles attack, and/or some sloppy play, things very quickly went sour.
A little luck and some late, strong play from the defense ultimately sealed the win for Atlanta, but let's not ignore the fact that it wouldn't have been possible without Matt Bryant's automatic leg. The team did enough to stay in the game against the Eagles, and as I predicted (not like this, though), keeping it close allowed the Falcons to stay in long enough to get the win. They needed to start the season strong, and that win is huge.
For all that, though, this team has to clean up its effort, Matt Ryan needs to make fewer mistakes, and the Falcons' defense has to be able to bring the same kind of heat in the second half as they do in the first, or they may not be in that fortunate position a week every week. Again, I can't stress how great the win is, regardless of how the Falcons got it.
On to our full recap.
- Sure, Ricardo Allen had a horse collar and a few coverage hiccups along the way, but who really gives a damn? His interception off the tipped pass won the game for Atlanta, without question, and it was a heads up, athletic play that deserves all the praise it'll get this week. Allen has arrived, and I couldn't be happier to have him at free safety.
- Tevin Coleman's stat line was quite good, and I was very impressed with how he ran. He looked fast and physical as Dan Quinn requires, and had he gotten a little more blocking up front, I think he could've had a big night. His patience was really excellent, and that's something he had been knocked for coming in to the year. His third quarter, long third down catch was an absolutely gigantic play.
I'll echo that praise for Devonta Freeman, who had middling overall numbers, but lowered his shoulder and fought for extra yards throughout the game. Given that he's not yet 100%, I'm bullish on this ground game overall, even if short yardage remains a concern.
- Julio Jones is a ridiculous beast. Crossing over the middle on short routes, going long on the sidelines...it hardly matters, because he is so damn quick and powerful. The Eagles struggled with him all day, particularly when the Falcons got close to the end zone, where Julio looks like he'll eat in 2015.
The second half was a bit of a different story, however. The Eagles were all over him, and Jones was essentially taken out of the game for long stretches before coming on strong late in the game again.
- Roddy White was sharp, pulling down a lot of catches in traffic and bailing out the offense time and time again. He looked like vintage #84, and the offense will need that this year.
- Matt Bryant is the closest thing to an automatic three points you'll find in today's NFL, and his four field goals kept the Falcons in the game. When the offense falters, it's nice to know you have one of the best kickers in the NFL available to kick for you.
- Matt Bosher is one of the NFL's best punters, and he made sure the Falcons won the field position battle all night. What more can I say?
- The defense started off the game with some phenomenal play, forcing a pair of quick three and outs and driving DeMarco Murray back 12 yards at one point despite a holding call. It turned out to be an unsustainable pace, but man if it wasn't pretty while it lasted.
- Vic Beasley was called out early by Jon Gruden for not contributing, but he swatted a pass, nailed Bradford more than once, and generally looked like the most explosive athlete on the defense. It was impressive.
- O'Brien Schofield hit Sam Bradford all game, to the point where the Eagles started setting up quick hitters to give Bradford more time. Unfortunately, that's when the offense took off.
- William Moore's pick was assisted by Grady Jarrett's pressure, and it was one of those terrific tandem plays the Falcons need a hell of a lot more of going forward.
- Matt Ryan went a little too low on his throw to the end zone in the first quarter, and Kik Alonso made a great play on the ball to come up with the interception. Tough to blame Ryan too much for a play where a linebacker makes a leaping one-handed catch, but that made our collective stomach drop. He then followed that up with a truly terrible pick in the third quarter on the team's opening drive, plus some missed throws and a couple of near picks. I think Ryan tends to draw more criticism than he earns, but despite a fairly productive game overall, he was a big part of the problem last night. Gonna chalk that up to a fluke for now, and watch the next game with a wary eye.
- Mike Person will need to improve his snapping for this center experiment to work. His blocking was at least decent throughout the night, but he had more than one low snap that forced Matt Ryan to run through his reads faster than any of us would like.
- In the second half of the game, the Falcons looked gassed and unable to deal with the Eagles' attack, which essentially switched over to short passes over the middle after halftime. When your team is tired, you're dealing with an excellent passing attack, and you're trying to keep the Eagles from climbing back into the game, it's tough to contain the likes of Darren Sproles.
- There were a ton of coverage struggles in the second half, but no one looked worse than Kroy Biermann, who just kept losing Darren Sproles and DeMarco Murray when push came to shove. He has to play better for this team to thrive
- The Falcons were a little sloppy, and it wasn't so much the offensive line. Leonard Hankerson and Roddy White both got nailed with offensive pass interference penalties, and those penalties wound up being costly.
- Finally, Eric Weems is no Devin Hester at returner. He's a damn fine special teamer and the blocking wasn't fantastic, but he couldn't get anything going, either.
- Look, it's easy to second guess the play calling, but I did not understand the third and 1 run call in the fourth quarter. The Falcons had gotten absolutely blown up on a similar play earlier in the game, they lack power blocking up front at this point, and the passing attack is still the best part of the offense, hiccups throughout the game aside. I honestly believe it was a mistake not to try a short crossing route there. The fact that it was ultimately moot does not exonerate the team from doing it.
Game MVP: Split this one a few ways. Julio Jones carried the offense, Matt Bryant's leg kept them in it, Matt Bosher's leg put the team in the right field position to win, and Ricardo Allen sealed the win. Split it up, gentlemen.
Theme Song: Language warning.
One Takeaway: The Falcons have a very long way to go before we can consider them the kind of complete, great football team, but they took away the win and so will we.
Final Word: Lastsecondtriumphsarestilltriumphs.