At various points in this game, my convictions swung between “the Falcons are definitely going to win this game” and “oh god, oh no, not losing like this again.” There are few teams in the NFL that manages to turn laughers into nailbiters like these Falcons, and last night’s effort took that to the extreme, with the Falcons nearly losing two score leads multiple times before hanging on to win 34-31.
I want to start this relatively short recap (it’s 12:30 a.m. as I type this) with the acknowledgement of the only important takeaway from this game when you brush away how it unfolded: The win. Atlanta’s victory pushes them into the sixth seed in the NFC for the moment, gives them a head-to-head tiebreaker with Seattle if things should come down to that, and provides yet another confidence boost for a team that still cannot seem to play a clean game from end-to-end. Winning against the Seahawks on the road in primetime is neither easy nor fun, typically, but it’s still a major accomplishment to do it.
About that: The things that went wrong in this one bordered on the absurd. There were bad calls against both teams, embarrassing defensive lapses that included a 45 second or so scoring drive for Seattle that shaved the deficit down to three, a complete inability to run the football with Tevin Coleman thanks in part to a fixation on toss plays, and some of the ugliest, costliest special teams lapses we’ve seen in a season that has been full of them. That muffed Andre Roberts punt and some of the coverage mistakes alone could have lost this one for Atlanta. Oh, and there were also questionable in-game coaching decisions that were thankfully outdone by the ones being made on the other sideline.
Bright spots? It was a largely mistake-free effort for the passing game, albeit against a depleted secondary, and they got quality play out of the likes of Levine Toilolo and Terron Ward, which is a plus for those days when your ground game and top receiving options aren’t putting up big numbers. The defense came up with two huge plays and did an admirable job holding the Seahawks in check on short fields until late. And winning a game like that on the road still matters a great deal, no matter how many years it shaved off our already shortened lives.
Ultimately, Atlanta did what they’ve done at least four times this year: Found their way to a narrow win thanks to good enough play and, sure, a little luck. The offense has been quietly achieving better results for the past month, even if execution cost them against Carolina and some bad tendencies on the ground nearly cost them in this one, and the defense will be just terrific if they ever stop facing smart, mobile quarterbacks, as Russell Wilson did much of the damage in this one. I don’t know if there’s an easy fix coming for special teams, but at least we’re worrying about that at 6-4 instead of 5-5 or worse.
On to the full (and again, abbreviated) recap. I’ll take that result, and that nice two game win streak.
- Yet another good effort from Matt Ryan, who had trouble connecting with Julio Jones (which is partly on Jones) but was otherwise sharp and efficient against a depleted Seahawks secondary. He also picked up 14 yards on a scramble, the latest example of his newfound speed and agility. He may not have kept his streak alive, but he spread the ball around, kept his wits about him against a tough Seattle defensive line, and piloted this team to victory. He’s been genuinely impressive for a while now.
- Give Tevin Coleman credit for taking a beating and keeping it going, if nothing else. This Seattle front is very tough to run against, and while Coleman did himself no favors with his ongoing balance issues, he fought like hell.
- Terron Ward, meanwhile, picked up 31 yards on six carries, including an impressive 17 yard scamper. He’s one of those plays who is easy to write off, but consistently delivers.
- I’m not sure if Julio Jones is nursing an injury that’s slowing him down a bit or not...but an off game for Julio still leads the team, and he had five grabs for 71 yards last night.
- Mohamed Sanu just kept making good catches in the first half, including a nice touchdown grab. He has typically been a target in one half and not the other, but as long as he’s playing a role in a win, I’m happy for him.
- Levine Toilolo got wide open and managed a 25 yard touchdown grab. You have to love it when he does that, because it always manages to be a surprise.
- Adrian Clayborn somehow built on his scary good Dallas game by scooping up a fumble and returning it for a touchdown. Even if he was otherwise fairly quiet, that’s a nice play, and he’s having arguably his finest season in the NFL based on his last two games.
- Of course, that was enabled by Takkarist McKinley and Courtney Upshaw’s dual takedown of Russell Wilson, when Upshaw managed to get the ball knocked loose. Takk has been quietly excellent getting after quarterbacks, while Upshaw appears to be rounding back into form.
- Desmond Trufant had like, one bad play? Otherwise he was consistently very good in coverage, as he often is, and he managed yet another interception in a season that has seen him picking up more turnovers than anyone else on the Falcons. He is good at football, thanks for watching.
- The Seattle Seahawks tried to run a fake field goal with Grady Jarrett on the field. That just wasn’t destined to work. Add in Jarrett’s devastating red zone sack of Russell Wilson and 3rd and 4 in the third quarter and you’ve got a workmanlike night for arguably the team’s best defender.
- Kemal Ishmael just doesn’t get a lot of playing time these days, but he made the most of his opportunities in this one, coming up with a nice sack of Wilson.
- Depleted secondary or no, the Falcons putting up 34 points on this Seattle defense mattered. Remember, they only scored 7 against a lousy Patriots defense weeks ago, and they sort of meekly put up 17 against a Carolina team similarly great up front and struggly on the back end. There’s some progress here, even if it’s coming alongside considerable hiccups.
- Special teams has been up-and-down in 2017, to put it mildly, and aside from that nice 50 yard Andre Roberts return to start the game, they were atrocious against Seattle. Roberts muffed a punt that led to a Seattle score, the Falcons couldn’t corral Tyler Lockett at all until very late in the game, and only Matt Bryant’s excellence and Matt Bosher’s huge 53 yard punt near the end of the game saved them from being the goat for this game. I’m not thinking that Roberts will be cut or Keith Armstrong will be out of a job at the end of the year, but I also can’t see the Falcons tolerating special teams being a huge liability forever.
- The defense just can’t seem to crack the code when it comes to mobile quarterbacks. Cam Newton overpowered them, Dak Prescott picked up some nice gains against them, and Russell Wilson was a damn sorcerer once again, regularly picking up first downs and extending plays with his legs. Vic Beasley, who is normally so good, struggled as a spy on Wilson when the team asked him to handle those duties, while Deion Jones fared just a bit better once he took over the role full-time late in the game. Atlanta needs to hit on a solution before the next time they have to face Newton, because for the third straight week, it was a quarterback who did the most damage on the ground against them.
- Run blocking wasn’t going to be perfect against Seattle, but I continue to worry over just how difficult it is for this team to get things going on the ground at times. Coleman was running into walls frequently, a problem not helped by Steve Sarkisian’s insistence on toss plays that repeatedly met with failure. The offense hummed along for long stretches and it didn’t prove to be fatal, but the Falcons need to put on a better show against, say, Minnesota.
- Look, any time you have to depend on Blair Walsh to save you from overtime, you haven’t fully done your job. The Falcons just had so many missed opportunities to salt this one away, and they blew it via penalties and mistakes, as they so often have. The win shouldn’t convince them that they don’t have a lot of things to clean up this week, not that I think it would. This team’s upside is still absolutely limited, no matter how many wins they manage in the regular season, unless they can stop being a two or three quarter team larding their successes with boneheaded plays.
- Between Dan Quinn accepting a penalty on a play that would have become a 4th and 2—we can argue over whether that was the right move, but I didn’t love it and Seattle converted the 3rd and 12—and Pete Carroll attempting the fake field goal before halftime, these coaches made some very weird calls Monday night. It’s a cheering reminder that a coach as great as Carroll is prone to some indefensible in-game calls, too.
Give it to Ryan, who did enough to earn the win today.
Atlanta’s good enough to win close, choppy games like this one. They’re just not good enough to blow out a team that struggles as much as Seattle did.