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One thing to celebrate, one thing to worry about after Falcons’ win over Panthers

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Ryan-Jones ‘16

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons overpowered the defending NFC champions for four quarters on Sunday, and it was truly a sight to behold.

More importantly, the Falcons now hold a two-game division lead through four weeks and already have more division wins than they did last season.

Atlanta will carry a three-game win streak out West for tough back-to-back outings against Denver and Seattle, which will provide a fantastic opportunity to see just how legit the team’s offense is.

Before we look ahead, however, it’s time to highlight one thing Falcons fans should celebrate/worry about after Sunday’s 48-33 win.

One thing to celebrate: The offense

What can I say, the offense has been nearly flawless dating back to the second half of the Oakland game. Kyle Shanahan’s play calling has been exemplary, and Matt Ryan looks like the 2012 version of himself, when he was basically the NFL MVP for much of the season.

I’m not sure what Julio Jones has to do at this point to reclaim his status as a god and join his father Zeus, but let’s hope he doesn’t meet those requirements for a good long while. Ryan and Jones combined for the first 500 passing yard, 300 receiving yard outing in NFL history, which should go down as one of the franchise’s proudest moments, full stop.

The craziest part about Atlanta’s 571-yard offensive outing is how effortless it seemed. At no point did it really look like they were racking up all of those yards because they came in chunk plays, not long, sustained drives.

The Falcons had scoring drives of 98 and 99 yards, and if 100-yard scoring drives were possible, I’m sure they would have done that as well. What’s most impressive, however, is that they never faced even a second down on their 98-yard scoring drive. This is not a drill, folks.

Atlanta’s offense leads the league in total yards, with over 300 yards separating the second-place team, and in points per game with 38. Most impressively, the Falcons are utilizing all of their weapons. Nine players caught a pass on Sunday, and eight players caught a pass against New Orleans. This is the type of distribution that made Green Bay and the Saints so lethal on offense over the years, except they never had a player of Julio’s ability.

It remains to be seen whether or not Atlanta can keep up this blistering pace, but that’s not really the point. Let’s all just take a minute to sit back and smile, because the Falcons have the best offense in the NFL, and it’s not even close.

One thing to worry about: Easing up on defense

Right now, it looks like the defense might be playing with a lead in most of the Falcons’ games. But that’s not necessarily something they’ve shown they know how to do.

Atlanta’s defense played aggressively in the first half and actually did a solid job pressuring Cam Newton and forcing him into early/inaccurate passes. Carolina’s first seven offensive drives resulted in only three points, and a pick-six gave the Panthers their only first-half touchdown.

While the Falcons’ offense built upon their halftime lead, the defense forced the Panthers into two three-and-outs. Then, something troubling happened. With a comfortable 34-10 lead, Atlanta took its foot off of the pedal and played not to lose.

Carolina responded by scoring touchdowns on three straight drives and converting both of its two-point attempts. A 24-point lead actually shrunk to an 8-point lead late in the fourth quarter. Yes, there likely wasn’t enough time for the Panthers to score again, but the Falcons’ defense did a poor job protecting the lead that the offense gave them.

It wasn’t as though Carolina suddenly flipped a switch because two of the touchdowns came with Derek Anderson at quarterback. The Falcons defense got soft. Fortunately, Robert Alford’s two interceptions helped seal the deal, but that should never have needed to happen.

This defense needs to do a better job protecting leads because it’s unfair to ask Atlanta’s offense to win a shootout every single week – no matter how fun that might be.