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One reason to celebrate, one reason to worry after Falcons’ victory over Panthers

Is it time to talk about playoffs yet, coach Mora?

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Christmas came a day early for the Falcons, who now hold the No. 2 seed in the playoff hunt thanks to a win over Carolina and a last-second victory by Arizona against Seattle.

Matt Ryan had another excellent day and several players contributed against the Panthers. A whopping 10 players caught a pass on Saturday, and Ryan set an NFL record when he found D.J. Tialavea for a 1-yard touchdown, the 13th different Atlanta player to catch a touchdown pass this season.

The Falcons didn’t reach the end zone as often as they could have and attempted five field goals on the afternoon, but their defense played a solid game overall and continued a promising trend of improvement.

A bye week is on the line against New Orleans, which should give Atlanta even more motivation to sweep its hated rival. The Georgia Dome should be at fever pitch for its final home game, which is the most fitting way for it to enter retirement.

Before that important showdown, however, let’s take a look back at what we need to celebrate and worry about after the Christmas Eve victory.

First and foremost, we should take a moment to celebrate the Atlanta Falcons earning a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2012!! Let’s go win the Super Bowl, full stop.

One reason to celebrate

Deion Jones: It’s no secret that Arthur Blank wanted three starters to come out of the 2016 NFL Draft, which has been easily accomplished, but the Falcons went above and beyond, and may have found a central figure for several years on defense.

Jones leads the team in tackles, he has one more than fellow rookie Keanu Neal, and recorded a game-high 13 stops against Carolina. Those stats only tell half of the story, however. Jones was very good at limiting yards after the catch and got to the receiver at the same time as the ball.

There were a couple of instances when Jones attempted to undercut the receiver and was just a second too slow. Impressively, his attempt at a big play never prevented him from securing the tackle and allowing a big gain. As he gains experience and a great feel for the game, he should become better at making a true impact in those moments.

Jones has not been perfect all season, but he’s improved faster than most probably expected. His athleticism is apparent and he’s picked up the mental side of the game quickly. Jones’ performance has coincided with the defense’s better play of late, and the future looks bright indeed.

One reason to worry

Breakdowns on the offensive line: We’ve seen over the course of this season what stability up front can mean to a team. The addition of Alex Mack at center solidified the offensive line and the Falcons’ offense has become a historic group.

The play of the guys up front will be even more important in the playoffs, and hopefully, Saturday was an aberration and not a sign of things to come. Ryan was sacked a total of four times and had he not become a virtual wizard at various points against Carolina, he would have been on the ground a few more times.

Atlanta’s only two punts in the first half came on drives in which Ryan was sacked. The Falcons’ offense is at its best when Ryan has time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the right matchup. Against the Panthers, Ryan’s pocket closed several times, forcing him to hit the check-down man and preventing big plays.

For much of the season, Atlanta’s offensive line has been a major strength. There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue to be the case as we head towards the postseason, but we got a glimpse of how breakdowns can negatively impact this incredible offense.