I was afraid, after that impressive Week 1 win, that the Falcons might come out flat in their road game against New York. They did, but somehow, those fears were unfounded.
Because it's a new era in Falcons football, I think we all hoped and/or assumed that Atlanta wouldn't fall into some of its bad habits, despite the fact that you cannot remake a football team entirely in one offseason. Instead, these Falcons stumbled and bumbled amid four drops, poor second and third quarter performances, and based on the last couple of years I began to feel quite dour. Then came the reminder that this is a different Falcons team.
There's no point in denying the Falcons were a little lucky to keep it close, but it hardly matters in the NFL, where so many outcomes are determined by luck or at least well-timed excellence. This team faltered in close games the last couple of seasons, but this year they're 2-0 and pouring it on when the odds are against them, and that's so encouraging my inner cynic is taking a small vacation. I like this Falcons team, and even though they spent two entire quarters playing like a junior high production of The Football Team, they pulled this one off against a Giants team that fought like hell. That's what matters, ultimately.
What's truly important here is that the Falcons are not 0-2 and trying to figure things out, but 2-0 and trying to figure things out. That means they're in the NFC playoff hunt and NFC South title picture early, and they certainly haven't played as well as they can, to borrow an answer from Dan Quinn. If this team can erase the lulls and cut down on their mistakes, there's not a team in the NFL that is going to relish playing them, and that is a cheery thought indeed.
On to the full recap.
- Matt Ryan fought through pressure and drops today to put together a fine game. You can blame him for a great deal, if you like, but aside from one blatantly bad throw he had a hell of a game. His final line was 30 of 46 for 363 yards and a touchdown, and frankly had Roddy White had a more productive game, it might have been even higher.
- Julio Jones is an absolute monster. The Falcons kept getting him the ball all over the field, set him up with some simple bubble screens, and got him in position to get his legs churning. There is no ceiling for Julio this season, because Kyle Shanahan is determined to feature him. His fourth quarter long catch just short of a touchdown brought tears to these jaded eyes. He finished with 13 catches on 15 targets for 135 yards, and what's frightening is that this is what it looks like when teams kind of hold him in check.
- Leonard Hankerson had two drops early, but he righted the ship in a big way. There wasn't a more heads-up play in this game than Hank Time picking up the first down, getting up untouched and rolling for another five yards or so after the Giants defender forgot to touch him. He's going to have his biggest year yet, not that that's saying much.
- Perennial scapegoat Kroy Biermann had at least two huge plays in the second half, forcing a fumble and coming up with a sack that proved to be invaluable. He's not a great player by any stretch, but he can play at a high level when given the opportunity, and he and Beasley were difference-makers yesterday.
- Vic Beasley has done a great job of getting opposing tackles to jump and hold, a clear sign that they fear his speed. It's not an exaggeration to say the holding call he forced at the end of the second quarter may have held the Giants to three points there. Pair that with a sack and a forced fumble, and you can see why Beasley is currently good and will be great.
- Ten tackles for Justin Durant. I don't care what his Pro Football Focus grade looks like, Durant is a difference maker as a smart, sound-tackling linebacker who is around most plays.
- Matt Bosher remains a willing tackler. He flew down the field on a late first quarter Giants return to force the returner to slip, which turned what might have been a score into a good-sized return. Oh, and he's also one of the NFL's best punters. I guess.
- The drops were frustrating. Leonard Hankerson and Devonta Freeman both had good games, overall, but they each had two drops, and that's the kind of thing that causes the offense to grind to a halt. I imagine Kyle Shanahan will have some words with each.
- Eric Weems is a phenomenal special teamer, but he's not much of a returner. He lacks the kind of elite vision Devin Hester brings to the table, and they need Hester back to put the offense in better field position going forward.
- I got a lot of questions about Roddy White's status. I'm looking forward to seeing the full snap counts, but White was on the field and made just one catch for zero yards. After a terrific first week, that's a disappointing line, but you'll see some up and down performances from White this year. He's still capable of delivering terrific performances for Atlanta.
- The offensive line struggled with pass protection early, and Matt Ryan was forced to throw off his back foot to his checkdown option multiple times, with predictable results. That continued throughout the game, resulting in a couple of Ryan sacks where he got the snap and got destroyed, with no chance to do anything with the football. That has to change for the offense to function at full capacity.
I'm particularly concerned with Mike Person's snapping. He's been good for a couple of botched snaps per game, and you can't do that and remain the starting center for very long.
- It was a little odd that the Falcons didn't have Desmond Trufant shadowing Odell Beckham Jr., considering he was easily the biggest threat on the field. Beckham found success against the likes of Robert Alford and Phillip Adams, who are a little shorter and certainly less impressive in coverage. I think the inflexibility works against your team when you can't effectively cover a team's top wideout with what you've got on the other side of the field.
We saw the results of that throughout the game. Alford is a good enough cornerback, but he's overmatched against an elite receiver like ODB, and Quinn needs to think about switching things up when it becomes clear that the status quo isn't working.
- The Falcons had some hugely costly mistakes in this one. A William Moore missed tackle on Shane Vereen led to a new set of downs, which turned into a 67 yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. Worth noting, I guess, that Desmond Trufant was not there for that one. Considering the Falcons essentially had to stop Vereen and Beckham to win the game, that was a grim sequence. I don't know that Moore could have fallen cleanly on Eli Manning's fourth quarter fumble, but if you add that to the missed tackle, you can understand the enmity toward him yesterday.
It didn't matter, ultimately, but the Falcons need to clean that up to be successful in the future.
- Losing Tevin Coleman and Paul Worrilow was crushing. Losing Coleman put Freeman in charge of handling the backfield, and while he runs hard, he had two key drops and simply doesn't have the same explosive running style as Coleman. We'll hope both of them aren't out long.
MVP: Give it to Julio, again, who accounted for over a quarter of the Falcons' offensive yardage, set up the decisive score, and generally made his presence known. He's good.
Theme Song: A man whistling merrily on his way to the liquor store.
One Takeaway: This is a team that will probably have to keep games close to win against good teams...but they can keep those games close. That's nice.
Final Word: Workinprogress.