It’s okay to breathe now. Thursday night’s rollercoaster victory underlined one of the major things that Dan Quinn promised when he came to Atlanta -- finishing. This season, the team has been up-and-down in that department. They finished close games against New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Seattle and Tampa Bay. They didn’t finish against Minnesota, Buffalo, Miami and Carolina. Thursday’s win was against a depleted Saints team, but you take the wins you can get, especially when Matt Ryan isn’t on. Atlanta is going to have to overcome its inconsistencies and play complete football to compete with Philadelphia, Minnesota and Los Angeles. And once Alvin Kamara gets healthy, this Saints offense will be firing on all cylinders again. But, the Falcons got the win, and stayed alive for playoff contention. Win two of the next three, and you’re probably in for January football. They know what they need to fix -- but can they do it in time? You’ll have a chance to find out.
It wouldn’t be a Falcons-Saints game if it didn’t start and end with a string of absurdities, and this one might have been the weirdest chapter yet. The fact that the Falcons barely won a game where the Saints committed 11 penalties, lost their best offensive player, and saw Sean Payton lose his mind should concern me, but I also watched the Falcons squander an endless number of opportunities to put it away. This team remains a mystery at times, but they’re now 8-5, and nothing about that is accidental. They just might pull this thing off.
Ignore the sloppy nature of this game (that’s normal on a short week). Ignore the worst game of the season for Matt Ryan. This game was about the defense. Before we go too far, it is important to note that Alvin Kamara was knocked out early, so that was certainly a factor, but the defense finally delivered a complete game against a top offense. It wasn’t perfect but they delivered at key moments throughout the game, including several sacks which came on key third downs. If this team is going to make a run at the playoffs, the defense has to be top-notch since we’re no longer fielding a top-10 all-time offense. After the game against the Saints, there’s reason to think they can do it.
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. You never know what to expect with Saints games, and knowing how important this game was, I wasn’t sold Atlanta could bring home the win. It was another weird game for the Falcons, but they made the right plays when needed. Now the Falcons should have their eyes on making the playoffs.
A key point coming into this season was that the Falcons had a very young but rapidly improving defense. That has turned out exactly as projected - the defense has played well enough for the Falcons to have won every game this season. They haven’t been perfect, and we should certainly expect that they will continue to go through their growing pains. But they have been more than sufficient for a team with an allegedly high powered offense.
The great news now is that the Falcons control their fate, and they have a little extra prep time this week for the coaches to gear up for this final run through the division. If they get it done, they will have achieved something that the franchise has never done before - consecutive division titles.
I don’t care how sloppy it was. You know why? Because these are the kind of games that the Falcons lost in the past. A 3-interception performance by Matt Ryan would have doomed the Falcons in the past. A game in which the defense only registered two sacks would have ended in a massive wildfire. Instead, the Falcons turned a game in which there were a number of things going wrong into an important division win that will have playoff impact. That, my friends, is growth.