We knew that the Falcons weren’t going to win the rest of their football games in 2016, and if they had to lose one, a road battle against a rested Seahawks team was probably the one to let go. That they ultimately did is no surprise, then, but the fact that they played so well through parts of this game might be.
The Seahawks simply pummeled Atlanta into submission, with a relentless pass rush the Falcons couldn’t stop, plenty of passes to Jimmy Graham and Christine Michael, and just enough work on the ground to keep the offense humming. That’s why Atlanta went into the half down 17-3, and we were all bracing ourselves for the loss to come.
Then, in the second half, the Falcons came alive in a stunning way. They wound up scoring three unanswered touchdowns to take the lead away from Seattle, an incredible accomplishment fueled by Julio Jones and some terrific defense. For a time, at least, it seemed like Atlanta would win.
That they ultimately lost on a tipped interception, field goal, and a questionable non-call on Richard Sherman on the last Falcons play of the game is no great shame. They were facing a great Seattle team at home, as we’ve noted, and they came incredibly close to pulling it out, with no more than 2-3 plays determining the outcome. I’m disappointed that they lost—and it shows that Atlanta can still be significantly better than they are today—but the fact that they made it so close against a terrific team means we should continue to take the Falcons seriously as a contender. They’re just a good football team with room to improve, and I couldn’t be happier to type that.
The sour note here is that the Falcons may have lost this game due to an uncalled penalty, though it was no more a factor than Robert Alford’s pass interference, the first half struggles, or Matt Ryan and Mohamed Sanu’s failure to hook up three times in a row on the final Falcons drive. That non-call will haunt Atlanta for a while, but it’s worth remembering that these games are not won or lost on calls alone, and the Falcons being just a little bit better in this one probably would’ve earned them the win.
Ultimately, though, this loss isn’t going to keep me up at night. The Falcons hung tight in perhaps their biggest challenge of the regular season and did nothing to make us think that they aren’t a genuine contender, particularly in what looks like a terrible NFC South. There’s more to feel good about here than there has been since 2012, and while I reserve the right to dig this loss up later in the season if it proves important to Atlanta’s chances of landing a playoff spot, for now I’m content with the effort and will look for better in the coming weeks, particularly with a pair of very manageable games approaching.
On to the full recap.
- Defensively, the Falcons started off this game very sharp, with Desmond Trufant’s strip sack, a couple of key third down stops, and quite a bit of speed even with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell spending some time on the sidelines. Throughout this game, the Falcons had some shaky stretches but managed to come up with big stops when it mattered, holding the Seahawks to 26 points despite a pair of Atlanta turnovers. I’m more impressed with this defense every single week.
- Matt Ryan shook off an ugly, sack-marred first half that wasn’t really his fault in the first place and delivered one hell of a game. The strip sack and interception weren’t really his fault, and he wound up throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in a game where he was playing one of the best defenses in the NFL. If not for the unfortunate final drive, where the Falcons couldn’t connect on four straight passes, this would’ve been the best effort you could’ve hoped for from #2.
- This was one of the finest games of Levine Toilolo’s career, all told. He found himself wide open on that long touchdown, but he was active as a receiver and had a couple of nice blocks along the way to 4 catches and 69 (nice) yards. That was particularly key on a day where the Seahawks sold out to stop the run.
- Julio Jones is still a beast. Paired up against the likes of Richard Sherman and a tough Seattle defense, Julio still managed to get rolling and make an impact on this game, including a pretty 36 yard touchdown catch on the first drive of the third quarter. When teams sell out to stop him, he looks like he belongs in the mortal realm, but when they don’t he wreaks havoc on defenses. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t thing for most defenses who don’t have Seattle’s talent. The only black mark on his day was that very unfortunate interception that bounced off his hands in the fourth quarter, but it was a heavy black mark.
- Ra’Shede Hageman’s blocked extra point was ridiculous, and in different circumstances, it might have won the game for Atlanta. Shede’s career has not panned out the way many of us hoped, but he does have a knack for coming up with blocked extra points and field goals.
- The Falcons had no luck in recovering fumbles in this one—and that’s chiefly what it comes down to, luck—but they did force three of them. That speaks to the physicality of this defense, and if they can force one or two a week, they’ll eventually start picking them up.
- Keanu Neal already looks like a star in the making. He delivered some punishing hits, came up with multiple key stops, and forced a fumble en route to his third straight impressive game. It wasn’t all roses, but Neal is better than they we had any right to expect in year one, and it’s not a coincidence that the defense looks better with him in the game.
- The fumble on Atlanta’s second drive was extremely unfortunate, coming as it did on a Matt Ryan sack deep in the Falcons’ territory. That call was a little controversial, given the way the ball was moving, but the net effect was that the Seahawks scored easily on the very next play and the Falcons found themselves down after two nice defensive series preceding it.
- The Falcons’ offensive line got absolutely whipped in pass protection by Seattle, while quality coverage prevented Matt Ryan from getting rid of the ball as quickly as he would have liked. The net effect was that Ryan was sacked three (!) times on the Falcons’ first three drives, which is no way to get your offense moving.
Ryan Schraeder was the biggest culprit, allowing Cliff Avril’s first two sacks, picking up a false start penalty in the second half, and just generally looking overmatched for the first time in recent memory. Just one game for him, though, albeit a lousy one. He was much better in the second half.
- It was not the best day for Falcons receivers. Justin Hardy delivered and Julio Jones was a beast, as usual, but Mohamed Sanu had a key drop and couldn’t reel in any of those passes on the last drive, Aldrick Robinson didn’t really appear, Taylor Gabriel had a special teams penalty, and even Julio had a pass bounce off his hands for an interception. Just one of those days.
- I love Eric Weems, but he’s made a habit of fair catching kicks inside the 10 yard line, and that has to stop. It’s taking a high-powered Falcons offense and making the degree of difficulty that much higher.
- It’s frustrating to know how close Atlanta was to winning, and to know if that pass hadn’t gone off Julio’s hand, if the refs hadn’t made a mistake, etc., that the Falcons could be 5-1 right now.
It’s tough to give out an MVP for this game, so we’ll split it between Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Keanu Neal, who all contributed to the effort in major ways, and each made small but crucial mistakes along the way.
Atlanta’s for real. If you weren’t convinced before, I hope you are now.
The San Diego Chargers, who should be bad, probably are bad, but still have been in basically every single game they’ve played this year. Check out Bolts from the Blue for more.