Atlanta came into this game needing to reverse a two game slide, and playing a banged-up Packers team at home seemed like a decent recipe for success...until Atlanta got on the field.
To say the Falcons didn’t make this one easy would be to indulge in understatement. The offense and defense took turns committing boneheaded penalties, Atlanta struggled to stop Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack most of the day, and they lost Jacob Tamme early and saw Julio Jones have one of his least productive games of the season on a day where Tevin Coleman was also sidelined. This thing could easily have gone sideways.
It is a credit to the Falcons that it did not, even if our collective blood pressure rose considerably during the course of the game. The Falcons clamped down hard on a couple of drives in the second half, including the deciding one with time ticking down in the fourth quarter, and the offense was simply magnificent throughout most of the day, with Matt Ryan throwing darts to players who had not previously been counted upon for huge days, including Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Austin Hooper. You may look at this game in all its exhausting glory and think the Falcons were lucky to escape with a win, but the truth is, they played an extremely impressive game that was partially obscured by the dust of penalties and errors.
The win leaves the Falcons at 5-3, likely minus both Jacob Tamme and Coleman for a second week against the Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football, and with a chance to run their lead in the NFC South up to more than two games, which could wind up making all the difference going forward.
More than likely, we need to learn to live with this team’s warts the rest of the way, because a defense that struggles on a weekly basis isn’t suddenly going to become a world-beater, and an offense that still commits a couple of dumb penalties per week probably isn’t going to clean it up entirely. Against a notably tough slate, the Falcons still went 5-3 in the first half and are relatively healthy, which should be enough to give you optimism going forward. Even if it’s not pretty.
On to the full recap.
- If you think Matt Ryan can’t throw a deep ball, you weren’t watching this game. #2 hit Taylor Gabriel perfectly on a 47 yard touchdown pass (and Gabriel made a nice grab) to put the Falcons on the board and answer after the Packers scored on their very first drive. It was another terrific day for Ryan, as he threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns, and aside from a couple of throws that could have been picked, those throws were all incredibly sharp. With Julio Jones basically acting as a decoy for much of the second half, Tevin Coleman on ice and despite taking about ten big hits throughout the day, Ryan didn’t commit a turnover and spread the ball around effectively. This is definitely his best half season ever.
- What a game for Taylor Gabriel, who beat single coverage for the touchdown in the first quarter. For a guy who got picked up off of waivers from Cleveland, he has been excellent. Heck, he’s been excellent, regardless, and his role in this offense should grow as he shows he’s worthy of more responsibility, particularly if Julio is going to be in any way limited.
- Just a few days after one Falcoholic writer who will not be named suggested that Mohamed Sanu might be a bust, he did invaluable work throughout this game, reeling in short catches to chew up yardage and move the chains. The decisive touchdown catch required him to go up into the air, and he did so with aplomb, making up for a quiet day from Julio Jones. It hasn’t been a great season for Sanu, but he’s shown real ability to get open when the Falcons have to get a completion to keep things moving. Let’s hope he builds on this performance.
- The Falcons got a lot more out of the ground game than you would have expected, with Devonta Freeman showing his typical blend of power and speed, and Terron Ward looking like a completely different back in his second year in the league, albeit with the help of quality blocking up front. His third down catch that was nearly a touchdown in the third quarter was a great example of how physical he can be. Freeman did not have a great per carry average, but he made it happen when it counted, including at the goal line.
- Pressed into action (and a larger role) thanks to injuries to Jacob Tamme and Julio Jones, Austin Hooper looked very good, making a couple of challenging catches and finding open space to work with against a depleted Packers defense.
- Adrian Clayborn ate Aaron Rodgers alive yesterday. He was consistently getting close in the first half, and he wound up getting a couple of huge sacks on third down to close out Packers’ possessions.
- On a rough day for the defense in general, I do want to give Keanu Neal credit for a couple of big tackles, and I want to give Vic Beasley a shoutout for a big sack, albeit one helped by coverage. The biggest shoutout goes to C.J. Goodwin, who got his hand on the ball a couple of times and generally played an excellent football game against the Packers. The Falcons suddenly look like they have four quality cornerbacks, and if they get anything from Jalen Collins, so much the better.
- Matt Bryant is fantastic, and he got a richly-deserved honor Sunday when he became the Falcons’ all-time leading scorer. What a tremendous run with the Falcons over the last eight seasons.
- I respect the aggression from Atlanta, which went for a two point conversion down two in the first half. They need to work on the execution—nobody was open for the Falcons, which led to the failure—but it’s better than leaving too many points on the field on purpose. It wound up not costing them too badly.
- The Falcons knew the Packers were going to attack them over the middle of the field, trying to take advantage of the zone scheme and problems with guys transitioning between coverage responsibilities, and the Packers were able to do that easily on the first drive of the game. The Falcons surrendered a touchdown in no time at all, and things looked bad pretty much immediately.
Make no mistake: The greatest limiting factor, and easiest target for opposing defenses, is the middle of the field. The Packers wisely kept attacking there, and the Falcons very infrequently had answers for it.
- In many respects, this was probably Julio Jones’ worst game of the year. He got hurt early and wasn’t a huge factor the rest of the way, but he also had a couple of catchable balls he wasn’t able to reel in. Being Julio, he still had a solid day, but it was a rather human effort for a superhuman.
- While the Falcons had three sacks—which is great!—the pass rush struggled to get home on a regular basis, leaving the secondary out there on an island. That led to a handful of receptions that shouldn’t have happened and allowed Aaron Rodgers to take off on some leisurely runs along the way, taking what should have been a lesser Rodgers performance and elevating it to one that was nearly enough to beat Atlanta.
- Ricardo Allen looked like a very solid safety a year ago, and I had hopes he’d turn into a long-term solution at free safety for this football team. I still have those hopes, but he’s had a bit of an up-and-down season, and the Packers game was definitely a down performance, with Allen struggling even more in coverage than Keanu Neal in my eyes. The good news is that he’s young and has a couple of nice performances under his belt this season, so we certainly don’t need to start calling for his head.
- Aaron Rodgers is very mobile, as we’re all aware, but you defense really can’t let him average 10 yards per carry, as the Falcons did in this one. That was particularly critical in the fourth quarter, when Rodgers rolled for a couple of first downs on downs where the coverage was pretty excellent.
- Penalties continue to plague this football team, with several unnecessary flags backing up what could have been productive offensive drives and extending Packers drives that should have stalled out. It’s fair to say that 24 games into Dan Quinn’s tenure, his team’s discipline is one of the biggest obstacles to their continued success. Not every flag the referees throws is completely fair and just, sure, but it’s not even worth debating that the Falcons have been too sloppy.
- Brooks Reed, man, get off the field!
Give it to Matt Ryan. Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu deserve props, but Ryan was the author of all those excellent drives, and deserves the honor.
Atlanta can still put together one hell of a comeback...but hopefully they won’t need to every week.
The Falcons draw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Thursday Night Football, and those games on short rest are always interesting (and usually terrible). Check out Bucs Nation for more.