When the Falcons were down by two scores with under a minute to go before halftime, I was in a dour mood. After all, we have seen the Falcons fall behind, rally and fall short, if they rally at all. It felt familiar in a terrible way.
If you weren't convinced this team is different--and I should note I wasn't, based on that first half--then this should do it. The Falcons rallied from an 11 point deficit at halftime to beat the Cowboys by 11 points. It was an insane, unreal comeback, and now our favorite football team remains undefeated at 3-0. This team somehow found a way to put up 22 points in the second half, clamp down hard on the Dallas offense, and just generally look like a phoenix reborn. It was wonderful.
I wrote last week that I felt this team was a legitimate contender, and after witnessing that display, I'm more convinced than ever that they'll be in the playoff mix all season. They've played a lot of sloppy football thus far, but there's ability, legitimate resilience and enough talent to make this thing work. I don't know where they're going to end up, and I really don't know what to make of this kind of crazy win over a banged up Dallas team, but winning your first three games gives you enough cushion to figure some of those items out.
And frankly, being 3-0 does wonders for the fanbase, as well. The next time Atlanta falls behind, I'd be willing to bet most of us won't panic, because there's suddenly reason to believe the Falcons will be able to pull out a win. The Panthers are also 3-0 and the NFC South is going to be a dogfight, and we have 13 more weeks to run through before we should make any irresponsible declarations about this team. But I know this: I love these Atlanta Falcons.
On to the roundup.
- Matt Ryan was shaky and frankly borderline ineffective in the first half, primarily because he couldn't locate Julio Jones. That all changed in the second half, when Ryan was a little sharper, Julio was a little more open, and the ground game got even better thanks to Freeman's burst and power. Ryan even managed an 18 yard scramble on third down, and while he's still had a couple of mediocre halves in 2015, this looks like it'll be one of Ryan's better years. He has the weapons and confidence he needs to make it so.
- Devonta Freeman didn't look great the first two weeks, but given the starting role with Tevin Coleman out, he rolled. Freeman was good for three scores and several highlight reel runs, and he ran with the kind of power and agility we just hadn't seen from him thus far in his young career. Everyone who knows and interacts with Freeman talks about what a great kid he is and how hard he works, and it's legitimately heart-warming to see him doing so well.
Now the Falcons have two starting-caliber backs on the roster for the first time in years, as well, which is absolutely amazing. I can't wait to see how Coleman and Freeman work together in the future.
- Patrick DiMarco has quietly turned himself into a very good fullback. He had a nice catch today and paired it with some terrific blocking throughout the day.
- The offensive line is light years ahead of where I suspected they'd be. There are minor quibbles to be had here, but the Falcons have to be happy with a line that run blocks and keeps Matt Ryan upright throughout most of the day.
- Julio Jones remains a force of nature. In the third quarter, he made a nice catch in stride on the sideline and then found himself wide open for a long touchdown a little later in the drive. Then he scored again in the fourth quarter. He finished his day with 12 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns, and if he's not the best receiver in football right now, he's 1-friggin'-A.
- Vic Beasley is already the best young pass rusher Atlanta has had in...well, a very long time, to be scientific. He really got going in the second half, bringing heat and coming up with a critical third down sack of Brandon Weeden. Adrian Clayborn also had a fine day after delivering two relatively quiet days in Weeks 1 and 2.
- Let me single out Justin Durant, who isn't filling up the stat sheet, but is delivering tremendous value for this football team on a weekly basis. He's around the ball, making solid tackles and diagnosing plays effectively, giving the Falcons a sorely-needed physical presence in the linebacking corps.
- He's had an up and down year, but William Moore has now picked two passes, and remains the master of the big flashy play.
- Look, I think we've established by now that the team doesn't spend enough time in the locker room for a half time adjustment to make a major difference, but man did this team come out firing in the third quarter. They looked like an entirely different team, and if nothing else, it tells you there's some resilience here that may have been lacking before.
- The first half version of the passing game is a concerning one, and one we need to keep an eye out for. Matt Ryan's timing was off, the Cowboys largely succeeded in taking Julio Jones away, and Roddy White disappeared again, leaving the passing attack looking anemic. That obviously changed in the second half, but the Falcons won't be able to dig that deep every week if they struggle out of the gate.
- It was not a great week for receiving options not named Julio Jones or Devonta Freeman. Leonard Hankerson had a couple of nice grabs but also a drop and a missed opportunity on a catchable ball, while Roddy White went a second straight week without a grab, albeit because a penalty erased his lone catch of the day. It worked here, but the Falcons can't be the Julio Jones show forever.
- Not to be a broken record, but Mike Person has to clean up his snapping issues. He's good for at least one poor snap per week, and he's not going to last at center if he keeps that up.
- The very first Cowboys possession was an abomination and an embarrassment. Robert Alford got nailed with a penalty and then there were three missed tackles on a 37 yard Joseph Randle touchdown run. The second drive was lengthier, but somehow even worse. And so on, and so forth, throughout a 28 point first half for Dallas.
If it hadn't been for that second half revival, this defensive performance would have gone down as impressively inept even for the Falcons, who we're used to seeing this from. Again, the Falcons fought so hard in the second half it wound up being moot, but that won't happen every week, so the team must start a little faster.
- The Falcons have a very real problem with stopping the kinds of short passes to running backs that the Eagles, Giants, and now Cowboys have used to drive their offenses forward. The team's inability to stop those passes for long stretches mean teams will feel free to dink and dunk versus them, so they'll need to get that cleaned up.
- There's always going to be whining about flags, but there was only one that really stood out as being lousy to me, and that was the roughing the passer call on third down in the third quarter. I felt like Adrian Clayborn sort of accidentally blundered into Brandon Weeden, and considering the refs followed that up by missing an obvious facemask on William Moore, I was pretty pissed.
Game MVP: As good as Julio Jones is, it's Devonta Freeman. He kept the offense purring in the first half and keyed it during a resurgent second half, and it was one of the best Falcons running back performances in years. A huge kudos and a game ball to the second-year pro.
Theme Song: Is there a song about being 3-0? I invite one of you to write one.
One Takeaway: This team isn't dead until the game is officially over. They may not be great yet, but they are great at hanging around.
Next Week: The defensively-minded Houston Texans. Check out Battle Red Blog to learn much more about the team.
Final Word: IdunnohowbutAtlanta'sstillundefeatedsopleasecelebratetoday.