Tell me if this sounds familiar: Atlanta dominated this game, though it wasn’t without its ugly stretches, and they added another win to their impressive 2016 total. We’ve seen this a lot this year, thankfully.
This one was different because of the implications. The Falcons needed a win to get into the playoffs and were playing a tough division rival on the road, which in the past would have meant that they would be walking into an upset. While Atlanta had some bad, ugly drives in this one, they wound up effectively dominating Carolina, winning by three scores on a day where the offense stalled out a lot and circumstances seemed to be working against them. That’s about all you can ask for, and it put the Falcons in an excellent position to earn a playoff berth, which a subsequent Tampa Bay loss ensured. Your Falcons are now NFC South champions!
Matt Ryan had another solid, largely mistake-free day, the ground game got going, the team spread the ball around, and the defense did enough to win. That’s a recipe for success every single week when the offense is this good, and it’s a big reason why I’ve gone from expecting the Falcons to sneak into the playoffs and bow out quietly to thinking virtually anything is possible. This Atlanta team is playing ball at a level we haven’t seen in quite some time, and offensively, they’ve literally never been better. We’re just waiting to see how the team will be seeded now, and then we can start figuring out what lies ahead.
Either way, this has been a phenomenal season that destroyed expectations. We all thought Dan Quinn and company would need another year to turn this team into a genuine contender, but they’ve been stellar and have enough young talent to make you think this won’t be the last postseason berth for a while. Couple that with some very high-caliber play against the NFC South, which has always been a trouble spot for Atlanta, and the optimism is running sky high. I couldn’t possibly be happier, and for once, the Falcons have given me a decent Christmas gift.
One game at a time, though. Let’s hope the Falcons can beat the Saints a week from now to sew up eleven wins and make a strong push for a bye, which would allow the team to get healthy and rest up for a deep run.
On to the full recap. Merry Christmas, everyone.
- Tell me Matt Ryan doesn’t deserve the MVP. The Carolina pass defense isn’t great, but Ryan played another clean, excellent game, completing 27 of 33 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, setting a franchise single season record for touchdown passes and an NFL record for the number of players he’s thrown touchdown passes to in the effort. It has been, to put it simply, his best season ever.
- When the Falcons were backed against a wall, Tevin Coleman responded. On a fourth quarter drive where the Falcons nearly fizzled out after letting the Panthers get within 13, Coleman caught a 31 yard pass and then rumbled 55 yards for a touchdown on the next play, putting the Falcons up 30-13. Needless to say, that was the decisive stretch of the game, fueled by one of Atlanta’s most dynamic players. He’ll be key in the playoffs.
- On a day where Coleman accounted for 135 yards, Devonta Freeman quietly put up 88 of his own, with 53 yards on the ground and 35 through the air. It was the latest strong effort in a season full of them, and the Falcons still have the best running back tandem in the NFL.
- Julio Jones did not put up 300 yards this time, but he was still the team’s leading receiver, with four receptions for 60 yards. It adds to his league-leading yardage total, and it was good to see Julio back on the field, healthy, and contributing.
- It would be amazing if the Falcons were able to move forward with Austin Hooper, Josh Perkins, and DJ Tialavea at tight end, given that the group would have youth and reasonable contracts across the board. Perkins had a costly penalty, sure, but he also had a 26 yard touchdown reception, while Tialavea chipped in a one yard touchdown along the way.
- This is the second time (I believe) that Courtney Upshaw and Brooks Reed have split a sack, and this time it was on a crucial fourth quarter fourth down that effectively killed Carolina’s chances. They’re a fun duo.
- Deion Jones was everywhere against the Panthers, and while he didn’t get a pick six or a huge sack, he did have 13 tackles and stopped more than one play while it was still a smaller gain rather than a breakaway gain.
- Jalen Collins was picked on throughout the game, but did a solid job overall and came down with an interception of Cam Newton, so it’s all good.
- Brian Poole has been stellar, especially for an undrafted free agent, and his first quarter pick of Cam Newton was a tone-setter for Atlanta, and a result, the team was able to go up two scores early.
- Despite a weird, short miss, Matt Bryant was as good as ever, hitting a pair of long field goals on his way to a three field goal effort. He’ll have to slow down at some point, but it still doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon.
- Credit the coaching staff and the players alike for not falling flat in a big road game on a relatively short week, especially when a strong possibility of a playoff spot was at stake. This coaching staff has, I think, proven their worth, and with another year and some upgrades to the roster, the sky feels like a poor limit.
- Cam Newton. On a day where the Falcons were solid defensively, Newton helped them a great deal by making a number of inaccurate throws on the day. He has enormous talent and an MVP under his belt, so I’m going to chalk this up to an off year, but thankfully he didn’t regain his MVP form against Atlanta.
- The Falcons failed to pick up three different blitzes in the first half, leading to a sack and lost yardage each time. The Panthers defense is a good one, but it’s worth noting that those failures are probably going to be costly against better teams in the playoffs.
- I guess...it wasn’t perfect?
So many good choices. I’ll give it to Tevin Coleman, who rescued one scoring drive essentially by himself and put up a team-high yardage total and a score. It was a great team effort, though.
The offense is the scariest in the NFL, for my money, and I guarantee no team wants to play the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.
The Falcons draw the Saints in Week 17 to finish the year. Check out Canal Street Chronicles for more on the team.