The Falcons played outrageously sloppy football in the rain, turning the ball over, dropping passes, and making the kinds of poor decisions that have defined this team for much of 2017. They also pulled off multiple plays that went further than 50 yards, dominated the line of scrimmage for long stretches of the game, and did the ugly, necessary things they needed to in order to put this Jets team away.
I wrote before Sunday’s game that the team’s performance would help to tell us where they might go from here, and whether they would rise up and begin winning the way they did a year ago, or succumb to a slow demise plagued by execution errors and dumb play calls. After seeing the team’s 25-20 win over the Jets, I’m leaning slightly toward the former, but it was such a weird game that I’m not feeling any more or less confident about the upcoming Carolina matchup than I was Saturday. If we take away some of the obvious errors, though, you can talk yourself into real optimism.
Start with the offense. Matt Ryan played a pretty crisp game with only a couple of errors, even though those were potentially backbreaking fumbles. The ground game piled up over 100 yards and featured a couple of big plays, and Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Austin Hooper all made big catches. This all happened despite multiple fumbles, some very bad (and likely rain-aided) drops, and Wes Schweitzer getting blown off the ball half the game. All things considered, it was an improvement, and Steve Sarkisian managed to get a little more explosiveness out of this offense than we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Then there’s the defense, which was truly excellent most of the day. They surrendered two long, lousy touchdown drives on the day, but otherwise completely stopped up the Jets ground game, forcing them to move to a bunch of short passes later in the game. They also forced two fumbles on the day (though they recovered neither), got pressure on Josh McCown, and were able to limit the Jets to a lot of unfavorable field goal drives, despite not always starting in enviable field position. The success against the run was particularly encouraging, I thought.
Even special teams was a bit better, with Matt Bosher nailing a huge punt, the always great Kemal Ishmael picking up a fumble, and Matt Bryant hitting everything the Falcons asked him to.
On balance, then, this was a better effort, one that should be encouraging. Where I ultimately hesitate in gushing about this one is the number of major unforced errors that cropped up once again, and the fact that the Falcons ultimately won by five points in a game where the Jets’ kicker whiffed on two field goals. I’ll take the win all day long, and I’ll take the improvement I saw, but you shouldn’t be at all surprised if the issues that have doomed this team three times this year crop up again down the line. These aren’t fixed Falcons, at least not just yet.
I’m not going to tell you that winning tough on the road in unfavorable circumstances is going to translate into anything. We rarely get the major motion picture arcs in the NFL, where a team figures things out because of one cinematic contest in the rain and rattles off nine straight wins. I am going to tell you that this was an important win for Atlanta, both to keep pace in the NFC South and to prove they weren’t in a death spiral. The team loves to talk about ignoring the world outside Flowery Branch and the resilience they have, and they walked the walk this week.
On to the full recap, as always.
- Matt Ryan clearly had trouble (along with Alex Mack, of course) handling the ball in slippery conditions. For all that, though, he played a quietly terrific game, making throws into tight windows, scrambling like a boss for the second straight week, and avoiding the kinds of overthrows that have plagued him throughout the rest of the season. His stat line would have looked much more impressive without the dropped passes, but this was a very encouraging effort from #2.
- Devonta Freeman always seems to finish the game with a worse stat line than his efforts suggest he should. Today, he mostly ran with power and anger, punishing the interior of a very good Jets defensive line and softening them up for the likes of Tevin Coleman and the passing attack.
- Speaking of Coleman, he rolled up 100 yards yesterday, including a 22 yard reception, 50 yard gallop through the heart of the Jets defense, and a couple of other nice scampers along the way. When he gets rolling and finds space to work, he’s legitimately one of the team’s most terrifying weapons.
- After weeks of Austin Hooper getting few meaningful targets, he nabbed three on the Falcons’ second offensive drive, ending it with three catches and a touchdown. Hooper was pretty quiet the rest of the way and dropped a ball in the end zone that could’ve been his second touchdown, but baby steps forward with the young, promising tight end.
- Mohamed Sanu has been arguably this team’s most reliable receiver this year. His numbers will never impress, but he makes tough catches regularly and still only has like one or two drops during his time with the Falcons. I thought he had a terrific game against the Jets, including an extremely impressive touchdown grab.
- Imagine putting so much time and energy into bottling up Julio Jones, only to have him pick up 50-plus yards on a single reception. That’s gotta be demoralizing.
- Grady Jarrett is doing everything he can to win games for the Falcons. He was nasty against the run yet again, getting several key stops, and he added a crucial third down sack of Josh McCown on the first play of the fourth quarter. He even tried to intercept a spiked ball, because Grady Jarrett does not know or care when things are impossible.
- Takk McKinley was pretty sharp in this one, with a sack that was initially credited to Adrian Clayborn (I made that mistake) and a nice run stop earlier in the game.
- Desmond Trufant got toasted once, but he also got a sack. The Football Gods giveth, they taketh away.
- The defense, generally, looked pretty sharp. You have to consider that they were playing against the Jets, and they still had some frustrating drives, but there was generally better discipline and solid results.
- Matt Bryant hit everything, even in pouring rain. He truly is money.
- Give Steve Sarkisian some credit here: This team was a few genuine errors of execution away from scoring over 30, and possibly pushing 40 points. He has to figure out how to use Taylor Gabriel effectively and he continues to make suboptimal calls on early downs, but yesterday felt like an improvement.
- This doesn’t really belong here, but honestly, the Falcons’ inability to pick up a fumble has to change at some point, because that’s just the luck of the bounce. They had two fumbles here from Josh McCown they were unable to get to, but that can’t continue forever, and that actually fills me with some hope.
- The conditions were not terribly favorable, but there’s no excuse for the level of sloppiness the Falcons showed in the first half. They had an ugly touchdown drop by Austin Hooper and two Matt Ryan fumbles recovered by the Jets, which could have been fatal if New York’s offense hadn’t been stymied both times. You can and should chalk that up to the rain, but mistakes are mistakes.
- Desmond Trufant was beat and beat soundly by something called a Robbie Anderson on a 24 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. He hasn’t had a bad year—I wish people would stop saying that—but it was an ugly play, especially given that the Jets might have otherwise stalled out on the drive.
- Wes Schweitzer has been very good for weeks now, but he struggled a little bit against New England, and to these eyes he struggled a lot against the Jets. I wouldn’t call it a major concern—this is a good interior defensive line, and young players have their ups and downs—but we should probably look at any game featuring a dominant opposing defensive tackle as a cause for concern in the short-term.
- Andre Roberts has not been, on balance, the boon for this return game we hoped he would be. He made a poor decision that led to the Falcons starting within the 10 yard line, and then he muffed a punt. Then they decided to let the ball bounce at the 18 in the third quarter, which it did....all the way to the one yard line. Special teams is no longer one of this team’s persistent strengths, outside of Matt Bryant, and the team’s inability to make the right decision with kicks deep in their own territory is legitimately baffling.
- Another week where a bad call has an impact. The lack of a defensive pass interference call on Julio Jones late in the second quarter doomed what might have been a touchdown drive, with the Falcons settling for a field goal.
Or that would’ve been the worst call of the week, had the referees not called an absolute horrible block above the waist penalty on Sharrod Neasman that negated a huge Andre Roberts punt return for a touchdown.
- Week after week, we see the Falcons incapable of turning around lousy starts to drives. They got the ball at the start of the second half, strung together two largely unproductive runs, and then completed a pass short of the first down. Incredibly, the next drive they started on the 1 yard line and handed the ball off up the middle twice to Tevin Coleman, for a single net yard gain. Then, on the cusp of the red zone, the Falcons threw a screen on third and short that did not connect, and had to settle for yet another field goal.
That’s a concern even with the improved results, because the margin was fairly thin today, and it’ll be even thinner against teams like Carolina and Dallas. This team has to be able to do what it did late and pick up big yardage when their backs are against the wall if they’re going to make real, continued strides on offense.
There are a few worthy choices this week, but give me Grady Jarrett for his absurd performance against the run, drive-killing sack of Josh McCown, and near interception of a damned spiked ball.
The Falcons played fairly well, all things considered, and won a football game. We needed that.