When you are trying to snap a prolonged losing streak, the last thing you want to face are obstacles that you can’t control. A stormy day added more pressure on the Falcons’ stumbling offense and inconsistent defense. With rain pouring down at a ridiculous rate, the players had to respond. Not only did they perform and earn a vital victory. They embraced the wild setting.
“It was pretty rough,“ Ricardo Allen said. “We got rules on our team though. Rule number two is no excuses, no complaints. We go out there no matter what. If you complain about the weather, you are going to get down. If you go out there and say its just football we about to get this win. It’ll make you feel much better. We saw it as just rain. We take showers every day. We get in the bathtub every day. We go to the pool. It doesn’t matter. We go out there and play ball. That’s what matters.”
“It wasn’t cold thankfully,” Ryan Schraeder said. “I had a ton of fun out there. It’s the most I’d ever seen it rain during a game. I kind of wish it were real grass, so we can get all muddy. That would have been cool to get the full experience.”
Some players had to make more adjustments than others. Julio Jones was one of the few players not to drop a pass. The Falcons dropped a total of six passes, which includes Austin Hooper dropping an easy touchdown. Jones made the necessary adjustments.
“You can change a few things,” Jones said. “Sometimes you want to get the ball on your body just to be sure. The game goes so fast. You can’t think too much out there. You got to stay aggressive and go get the ball.”
“It was one that we really wanted to really be mindful for and make sure that part of our game opens up so much of the other parts with the shots down field,” Quinn said. “So even though some of the runs only go for one or two yards, that allows a linebacker or a safety to have to suck up to where you may have a chance to throw a big ball to Julio (Jones). Those two things working in concert, and we knew that part of our game would come and it certainly did today. Although the runs, some of them are two and three yards, they’re still a factor.”
Schraeder was pleased about the offensive balance as well. The stout right tackle is starting to feel like his old self again following a solid performance.
“If you get drives going and convert on third down, I feel you can run the ball more effectively,” Schraeder said. “Balance is important for our offense every week. I think we did a good job today. The offense fits our (offensive line) style well. Jake and I are both athletes. They like to get us out in space. We move well. That plays to our strengths. We always want to get those second level blocks and give our playmakers space to make big plays.”
“I’m getting back into my groove. After feeling rusty in my first game back, I’ve been feeling a lot better over the past two weeks. I’m focused on getting back to where I want to be.”
With a persistent running game, it opened things up for the aerial attack. Jones’ longest catch on the season was 34 yards against Green Bay. That is unacceptable for a player of his caliber. The connection simply hasn’t been there between Matt Ryan and Jones. After weeks of missed opportunities, they finally clicked on a 53-yard play. Jones is confident that this will start to happen on a consistent basis.
“If we get the coverage let’s go,“ Jones said. “A lot of teams have been doubling me in the first six games. Safety would usually be over the top. It’s been kind of tough. Matt (Ryan) threw a great pass today. He let it go when the safety was down low. We took advantage. It was important for us to keep going at them. We know that we have the players to do that.”
For all of the Falcons’ success, they started the game poorly. Allowing an eight play, 75-yard scoring drive to a limited Jets’ offense was a troubling sign. The defense didn’t seem to be playing with much urgency. Ricardo Allen didn’t agree with that assessment. He saw it more as a communicational issue.
“We didn’t detail our work on the first drive,” said Allen. “That drive was crazy. I committed a PI (pass interference). We had some communication issues. That’s how these problems start. The beginning of the game is when you want to communicate the most because you haven’t seen what they are trying to do you. You haven’t really dug into their details or where they’re trying to get the matchups that best suits them. The first 15-20 plays of the game are typically the hardest time to communicate so you can be forced into over communicating. That’s what happened on the PI. It’s why I got penalized.”
Allen is known for playing with a high IQ. The reliable free safety plays a massive role in the defense’s organization. It starts with communication for him.
“Communication is so important,” Allen said. “If you watch the film, you will see a lot people talking. You will see people make plays and then turn around to the person and tell him what the play was. We went with the statistics and found out what they were doing. If they did something else, we would play our ball. We made sure they weren’t going to beat us with the play that they typically run out of their formation.”
After being one of the lesser-known players in the Falcons’ defense, Allen is starting to earn recognition as one of the team’s leaders. His post-game interview following the loss to Miami received major praise. Many are starting to recognize his value to the team. On a defense with not many veterans or vocal leaders, Allen has stepped up to the plate.
“I’ve embraced the role of being a leader for not only the secondary, but also the entire defense,” Allen said. “I’m the middle of the field guy. I see the most and know a lot. I consider myself as one of the smartest guys on the team. Why not take a leadership role? I work hard. I grind every day. I’m accountable for my play.
“If I give up a play, I will say that I gave it up. When I mess up like on the PI, it’s important to say that I messed up. If I miss a tackle, then it’s my job to take responsibility. I’m not afraid to admit my mistakes. That comes with my role. I come with it every day. My young bucks look to me all the time. Even veterans appreciate it. I’m proud of what I’ve done so far. There is still plenty of work to get done and bigger things to accomplish.”
The defense did a much better job on third down, as the Jets only converted five out of fifteen attempts. An improved pass rush was at the forefront of their success. Vic Beasley looked like his normal self. Although he didn’t record a sack, the 2016 sack king looked more explosive and generated plenty of pressure.
“I felt good today,” Beasley said. “You gain confidence as you continue to play and get a feel for the tackle. My bull rush was working. I had the awareness of who the tackle was. I’m a work in progress. Still got areas to improve as a player.”
Duke Riley’s absence created more opportunities for them to move around Beasley. He lined up as a strong linebacker on a couple of snaps. After being pegged for the role last season, it never quite came to fruition. Beasley enjoyed sliding into that spot.
“I’ve been working more and more at the position,” Beasley said. “I’ve always felt I can play there. With more emphasis on the nickel these days, you don’t get to see it much. It was good to get some reps there. I pride myself on being versatile.”
Quinn will be pleased about getting productivity out of multiple role players. Ahtyba Rubin showed some flashes in his Falcons’ debut. Takkarist McKinley produced one sack and two quarterback hits. Although both players are being mostly relied upon in one area, they are going to play integral roles on the defensive line.
“It’s great seeing him (McKinley) evolve as a player,” Beasley said. He is getting more comfortable with the nuances of the defense. You will see him making more plays in the future. Takk is a special talent."
“Rubin is big for us,” Dontari Poe said. “He made some plays today. It’s always good to get some relief. I’m able to rejuvenate and then let loose.”
After playing a major part in limiting the Jets to 43 rushing yards on 22 carries, Poe received praise for his performance. The bulldozing defensive tackle does envision himself contributing in other areas. Could we see a repeat of the Christmas special?
“I don’t know yet,” Poe said with a big grin. “Will see what happens. Stay tuned.”
The Falcons are back on the winning track and look to continue moving forward. There has been plenty of criticism over the past three weeks. To go 1-3 against the AFC East could hurt their playoff chances in the future. That being said, they can’t afford to let that affect them. Julio Jones remains solely focused about what lies ahead.
“Those (losing streak, AFC East record) are facts," Jones said. "We can’t erase that. We don’t worry about the past. We don’t worry about people think of us. We stick together. We work for each other. It’s our job to watch film, continue to get better, and go on with our business."