It’s difficult, as a writer on deadline, to not get wrapped up in the story in front of you. That story, during the third quarter when the Falcons lost the lead yet again, was a grim one. I may have typed out some metaphors that involved fire and sadness.
A funny thing happened on the way to a sad recap, though: The Falcons won. They won despite penalties and a classic Matt Ryan red zone interception and the lack of a pass rush and a fine day from the Raiders offense. They won despite Kyle Shanahan, Ryan, Dan Quinn, Bryan Cox, Robert Alford, and whichever frequent scapegoat you can scare up. They won on the road against a promising young team, even if that team’s defense looks far worse than advertised heading into the season. It was a good win.
I don’t know how many more good wins this team has in them, and neither do you. So many of us were ready to write this team off after that Buccaneers loss, and that may still wind up being the correct reaction when all is said and done, but we do not know. I’ve come to the conclusion that coming to conclusions is what the average football fan does best, and that it ultimately does no favors to our health or sanity to do so.
Here’s what we do know: Matt Ryan inarguably looks better than he did in this offense a year ago. The ground game looks like an asset, as do the tight ends. The defense looks shaky at best, the pass rush hasn’t materialized, and the Falcons are woefully thin at cornerback if injuries or ineffectiveness hit. This is a flawed football team that is going to drive us nuts on a weekly basis, but a quick glance at the state of the NFL right now is enough to tell you that all is not lost.
This is just a long-winded reminder that no story is truly written until it is finished, and the story of this 1-1 Falcons team isn’t close to over, whether it ends up being a tale of triumph or sorry talk of tragedy. If you’re tempted to write this team off or pencil them in for a playoff spot, then, I suggest you sit back and absorb the ride. It’ll take us...somewhere.
On to the full recap.
- Matt Ryan was hot and cold through most of the first three quarters of the game, but he caught fire in a big way in the third. The first drive there ended in an ugly, mistimed interception, but the Falcons were chewing up huge chunks of yardage, and that continued on the very next drive, as Ryan swiftly brought them down the field and threw a 14 yard touchdown to Jacob Tamme.
He then followed that with a crazy end zone risk that Justin Hardy caught off of a tip, putting Ryan at a lot of yards and three touchdowns for the day. The Oakland defense looks terrible after two weeks, but aside from a couple of missed throws and that pick, Ryan really does look genuinely improved this season.
- The ground game immediately looked better in this one, something that continued for the entire day. The Falcons have to run successfully if they’re going to be a team to beat in 2016, and they went a long way toward erasing doubt after a putrid first week on the ground.
Freeman was the hot hand, and he was terrific in the first half in particular, but Coleman wound up having a nice day and was once again a major factor in the passing game. This does truly look like a timeshare, and while that will drive their respective fantasy owners nuts, it benefits the Falcons.
- Justin Hardy had been quiet this game and the last one, but that heads up catch off a tip in the end zone for a touchdown was a case of making a good play when you’re lucky enough to be in the right place the right time. Kudos to him.
- Julio Jones has been having trouble with his ankle that I’m sure is in no way relate to other players stepping on it, but he still managed to deliver one hell of a day, putting up over 100 yards and a touchdown on just five targets (he caught all five). Ryan’s been spreading the ball around better this year, and while that will ultimately impact Julio’s numbers, he’s still eating.
- The defense did not necessarily enjoy a stellar day, but there were some big stops and promising plays. Vic Beasley’s sack that wasn’t a sack (more on that shortly) and big run stop, Deion Jones and Kemal Ishmael flying all over the field to make plays
- Every single one of you who had the audacity to criticize Eric Weems should be shut up in a shame clost for the next week. Weems had a brilliant 72 yard return that got him to the Oakland 19 late in the second quarter, and while the Falcons squandered that, he continues to be one of the better special teamers in the NFL.
- Vic Beasley’s sack came when he ran Derek Carr out of bounds, but it was a key play and it did what it needed to do, so kudos to him. Hopefully this is the first of many this season. He also had a key third quarter run stop, and is hopefully just getting warmed up.
- Give it up for the pass protection, which looked like it would go off the rails early in the game, but settled down in a big way. Jake Matthews was noticeably improved this week.
- The pass rush quietly had an impact on this one, with the Falcons (Jonathan Babineaux in particular) getting into the backfield and impacting some throws, but it was on balance another anemic effort. Bryan Cox’s defensive line (and more broadly, Richard Smith’s defense) has been responsible for just one sack on the season, a handful of pressures, and has not shown the kind of improvement we’re all hoping for. There’s time, yes, but chances are the Falcons are going to shake things up here a bit in 2017, whether by firing coaches or changing over personnel.
- Robert Alford has been underrated for years, in all honesty, which makes the first two games of the 2016 season frustrating. The call on him on the interception was perhaps borderline, but he had some lapse in coverage for the second straight game, and with the Falcons currently riding with only four cornerbacks, they really can’t afford Alford’s struggles.
Alford, of course, is working with an undrafted free agent rookie as the third cornerback and is responsible for covering good players, so we’re not going to beat him up too badly. He didn’t have a terrible game, on balance, and has the talent to have great ones.
- What is going on with these penalties? You anticipate a certain number per game, no matter who the team is, but the Falcons have had some very bad, very costly penalties, including a 12 men on the field on an Oakland punt that led to a touchdown when the play was reversed. That Julio Jones spiked football call was, in my opinion, egregious on the part of the referees, but the Falcons still need to get these things cleaned up.
- Broadly, this team came uncomfortably close to blowing this game multiple times, and if you can’t shake the feeling that too many of the missed tackles, penalties, and missed opportunities look the same as they did a year ago, you’re not alone. That’s the quiet undercurrent we need to pay attention to in a close loss, because if Atlanta continues to screw up in the same ways, the screws are going to tighten on Dan Quinn first and foremost.
Feels good to give this one to Matt Ryan again. Despite the pick, he threw for nearly 400 yards and three touchdowns and led some very impressive drives. Honorable mentions can go to many on offense.
The Falcons are not a finished product (I know I say that a lot), but they are capable of beating a quality football team on the road. That’s big.
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