clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Finishing off a historic Falcons season in impressive fashion

The MVP candidate put together the finishing touches on a magnificent season, while Julio Jones got back into the groove.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With so many all-time favorites attending the Georgia Dome’s final regular season game, the Falcons needed to deliver a signature performance on this momentous occasion. Although things became dicey near the end, it was another fantastic performance by Dan Quinn’s team. This offense scored five touchdowns in the first half.

With their young defense evolving into a semi-competent unit, they didn’t need to repeat their incredible performance from last September’s Monday night game.

It started up front, as both units played much better following an underwhelming performance against the Panthers. The offensive line allowed far too much pressure, which forced Matt Ryan into throwing several check downs last Saturday. In contrast, Ryan was only sacked once and stood like a statue in the pocket during the first half against New Orleans. Although the pressure was certainly sporadic, the defensive line hit Drew Brees more than expected, and that’s awesome.

Ryan solidifies his case

Based on his past, the surprise MVP candidate was supposed to slip up at some point. How can a quarterback who has fallen short in critical situations, continue to play at a high level?

Ryan has silenced skeptics with numerous outstanding performances. Since Eric Berry put on a show in the Georgia Dome, Ryan has thrown for eleven touchdowns and no interceptions in the past four games. To play four games without throwing an interception in a pass-centric league is very impressive.

There haven’t been any noticeable questionable throws either. Ryan’s composure is one of the main elements to his memorable season. Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo posted a chart about quarterbacks facing pressure and blitzes. Within every category, Ryan is ranked in the top five. Only Tom Brady boasts a more impressive outlook, and that shows how far Ryan has come following last year’s disappointing season.

He isn’t jittery in the pocket or force-feeding Julio Jones anymore. Having an enhanced supporting cast allows him to play with more confidence. Look at how Ryan steps up in the pocket and easily finds Mohamed Sanu in the end zone. By remaining calm and sensing pressure, he makes another touchdown pass look effortless. That continued in the third quarter, where stud defensive lineman Cameron Jordan nearly earned a safety. Ryan’s pocket presence is superb, as he finds space and make another excellent decision in a tight area.

Ryan’s ball placement was terrific against New Orleans. Despite never being known as a strong-armed quarterback, his accuracy on intermediate to deep throws has vastly improved. Placing the ball where only your receiver can catch it is what great quarterbacks do on a consistent basis, as was the case when Ryan caught Sterling Moore out of position on his fourth touchdown pass. If Ryan places it more inside, the veteran cornerback could manage to break it up. Moore is left hopeless, as Ryan throws the ball into Justin Hardy’s outstretched hands. Trust your receiver to make a strong play on the ball, where only he can catch it.

Consistency is something that everyone wants from their team. When evaluating the MVP candidates, only one player has done it on a weekly basis. A few minor hiccups against San Diego, Philadelphia, and Kansas City shouldn’t derail his resume. Ryan has consistently delivered this season. When the defense is allowing big plays or long scoring drives, the franchise quarterback puts them back in a winning situation. All five of their losses have ended in single digits. It shows how they are competitive in every game, which is extremely difficult in this league. Combine a porous defense allowing 25 points per game and league’s most difficult schedule to Ryan’s case as well. No team is more battle tested than the Atlanta Falcons. It starts with their stellar quarterback, who deserves to be rewarded with the most prestigious honor.

Playoff ready Julio Jones

As the New Year is finally here, the playoffs are looming. It was important for Jones to contribute and remain healthy. The superstar wide receiver surpassed those expectations. He took a more featured role and made plays across the field. It’s been quite some time, since Ryan heavily targeted his favorite wide receiver. They didn’t skip a beat against New Orleans’ hapless secondary.

Quinn was upbeat about Jones’ full recovery. His touchdown catch validated those statements. With the Saints surprisingly not double teaming Jones near the goal line, Ryan was ready to pounce on a favorable matchup. B.W. Webb didn’t have a chance in man coverage. Jones planted his right foot and exploded off the line of scrimmage. As mentioned above, Ryan’s ball placement was excellent. Taking two weeks off clearly benefited Jones. He was able to change direction and make hard cuts without any issues. If this team is going to make a Super Bowl run, they need their most dynamic weapon ready to stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive progress

Despite every player in the secondary getting hurt at some point, they played relatively well for three quarters. Quarterbacks continue to heavily target Jalen Collins. For the second consecutive week, they’ve eventually regretted it. Michael Thomas found success against Collins, but it was a highly contested battle. Collins broke up three passes and intercepted Drew Brees in the red zone, showing great improvement at times.

The second year cornerback showed excellent instincts to read the route. Although it was a poorly thrown ball, Collins recognized the back shoulder design. After struggling with ball location and being caught face guarding earlier last month, he has greatly improved over the past two weeks. There weren’t many instances where Thomas cleanly beat him.

Robert Alford limited Brandin Cooks to a mere three receptions for 19 yards. The cornerbacks have done an exceptional job replacing Desmond Trufant. It’s hard to gauge how they allowed 19 points in the fourth quarter. New Orleans is capable of scoring in bunches. Injuries may have placed a factor, along with the pass rush slowing down. This defense isn’t going to shut down above average offenses. If they generate some pressure and create one turnover, their contributions should be good enough in most circumstances. That proved to be the case against New Orleans.

Looking Ahead

A well-deserved bye week is on the horizon. That should allow Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper enough time to be ready in 12 days. If Tevin Coleman weren’t such a dynamic threat, Gabriel would be their x-factor. The wide receiver’s big play ability has been a game changer this season. Hooper is a valuable run blocker, along with being useful in the red zone. Both players have made an impact in this juggernaut offense.

For now, the Falcons await their next challenge. A rematch against Seattle would be the perfect matchup for Quinn’s first playoff game as a head coach. Their last meeting ended in controversial fashion. Atlanta’s last playoff win came against them as well. The storylines are endless for what could be a budding rivalry.