If the Atlanta Falcons wanted to prove their hot start was not a fluke, beating the undefeated Denver Broncos was exactly the way to do it.
So let’s say it: This hot start is no fluke.
Atlanta legitimately took over this game early before going up by 17 in the third quarter, showing a quality defense against an inexperienced quarterback that featured a surprising amount of pressure, and an offensive performance that was incredibly impressive considering the opposition. I had thought this would Atlanta’s toughest challenge, and if that’s the case, they’re in great shape for the rest of the season, even if late game lapses still give us some slight pause.
Most impressive was the way the Falcons won. Vic Beasley played by far his best game thus far, getting involved in four different sacks and consistently putting pressure on Paxton Lynch. Tevin Coleman expressed doubt that he’d even play, given his sickle cell trait, and he dominated the Broncos through the air and on the ground, as did Devonta Freeman. Dominance might be the best word to describe the effort, honestly, because they essentially wrecked the Broncos in every phase of the game.
If you’re looking for proof that Atlanta has arrived, then, it’s here. The Falcons aren’t going to get an offense this middling again for a little bit, but they’re also not going to face a defense like this (aside from perhaps Seattle next week, another potentially tough matchup), and you have to consider them favorites in all but a handful of matchups if they keep playing like this. They’re the easy favorites to win the NFC South, and though I’ll remind you that we are still not quite 33% of the way through this schedule, I’m on the train now. They’re legitimate, and Dan Quinn and company have gotten this team to the level of a contender far earlier than I would’ve dared hope.
Here’s the full recap.
- The Falcons surprised me, at least, by getting going immediately against the Denver defense. There was a beautiful catch and run by Tevin Coleman that took the Falcons 48 yards downfield, and the drive was capped off by an adventurous fourth and goal run by Devonta Freeman that resulted in a touchdown. Atlanta was fearless and crisp on that drive.
- This wasn’t Matt Ryan’s flashiest game, and certainly his stat line doesn’t impress when you compare it to the last couple of weeks. Still, he hung in there against pressure, got the ball out pretty well, and avoided any costly turnovers, though he came close to throwing a couple of picks. It was, at minimum, a solid effort, and that’s all Atlanta needed to win this game thanks to what they managed on the ground.
- Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are just a devastating combination. Coleman used his speed both on the ground and through the air to reel off some very big gains, while Freeman used his physicality and vision to do exactly the same. They’re incredibly dangerous, and in this one they combined for a ridiculous 286 yards. If you had any doubts about whether they were the best tandem in football, this should just about do it.
- Patrick DiMarco showed his value in this one, routinely delivering key blocks at exactly the right moment, and reeling in a nice catch over the middle, too.
- On a night where the receivers didn’t have an outsized impact, Julio Jones still made his presence felt, drawing attention away from other options. Mohamed Sanu, despite an ugly fumble, chipped in three catches for 43 yards to lead all receivers, and he nearly reeled in an impressive, crucial goal line grab that he couldn’t quite corral.
- The defense impressed from the jump, forcing two straight three and outs, getting some pressure on Paxton Lynch, and even adding a Vic Beasley sack. That enabled the Falcons to grab an early lead that they sorely needed, and they never looked back.
- We may look back on this as the week where Vic Beasley arrived. He had two sacks in the first half, the second one a strip that the Falcons weren’t unable to recover, and just repeatedly whipped Ty Sambrailo (and then some guy named Schofield) to get pressure on Lynch. It was not his toughest matchup of the year, sure, but Beasley got 3.5 sacks honestly by simply be too fast and too savvy to contain, and I think he’s going to do nice things for Atlanta’s defense the rest of the way.
He’s not a bust, people. He already has as many sacks as he did a year ago.
- A few defensive players we need to call out for excellence here: Desmond Trufant, for his usual brand of shutdown coverage; Alford, for nice coverage in between the mistakes; C.J. Goodwin, for stepping onto the field in a larger role this week and looking like he belonged; Dwight Freeney, Grady Jarrett, Adrian Clayborn, and even Brooks Reed for their pressures; Ricardo Allen, for his heads up interception on Paxton Lynch’s pass out of his own end zone. It was an impressive defensive effort, even if the Broncos looked a little anemic with Lynch at the helm.
- Speaking of defense, Ben Garland is getting some run on that side of the ball, and he’s not embarrassing himself. No, I don’t entirely know what’s going on there, but I’m all for it.
- Matt Bryant is back to form in 2016. He effortlessly hit three field goals, providing the winning margin for Atlanta.
- Speaking of special teams, the Matt Bosher punt that got the Broncos on their one yard line (and then some, with the ensuing penalty) was an epic one, and it played a key role in Paxton Lynch’s interception.
- When the pressure started getting there, the Falcons’ passing game started to go south. That was most obvious on the first drive of the second quarter, when Matt Ryan overthrew Julio Jones a couple of times. Ryan definitely wasn’t as crisp yesterday, and the pressure is a big reason why.
- As you’d anticipate, the offensive line struggled to keep Matt Ryan clean after the first couple of drives, with a ton of pressure forcing him to throw the ball away, throw off balance, and occasionally take a sack. It was never going to be easy sledding against Von Miller and company, so I won’t beat the line up for this one too much, especially because they settled in later in the game.
- Mohamed Sanu’s third down fumble in the third quarter hurt, given that the Falcons were going to be able to punt it away again and force Denver’s slow offense to go all the way down the field. Not ideal.
- Robert Alford got hit with two penalties in the first half, which is deeply unfortunate, and he added a completely unnecessary one with less than a minute to go that allowed Denver to kick a field goal and bring the game closer than it ever needed to be. I’m still an Alford defender, thanks to his talent and production, but we’re far enough into his career to know that the penalties aren’t magically going to stop.
- This game had to end, as do all things which bring us such joy.
There are many worthy choices, but it’s Vic Beasley, even so. He had 3.5 sacks, got phenomenal pressure most of the game, and keyed a very strong defensive effort.
This Atlanta Falcons team is flawed, but it’s also greatly improved over a year ago, and can hang with even the league’s toughest teams on their best days. That could take them a long way in 2016.
Another crucial test, this time against the Seattle Seahawks. You can learn more about them at Field Gulls.