Sunday was a strange day in the NFL. It was rife with upsets and weird scores—Jacksonville blew out the undefeated Ravens 44-7, Buffalo took Denver’s defense to task in a 26-16 win, New Orleans embarrassed the Panthers at home to the tune of 34-13, Chicago beat the Steelers in overtime 23-17. Heck, a Minnesota team led by Case Keenum blew out the Bucs 34-17, and the Jets won a game.
So, it only makes sense that the Falcons-Lions game would follow a similar trend. After dominating the Lions for almost the entire game, Atlanta gave the Lions hope after a series of awful mistakes. They ultimately held on to win, 30-26, after time expired on a controversial officiating decision. It was ugly, but sometimes, you need to win ugly.
Here are some of my in-depth observations after re-watching Sunday’s game.
The running game is back to being one of the best in the NFL
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were nearly unstoppable on Sunday, as the Falcons piled up over 150 yards rushing. Both backs were also huge factors in the passing game, combining for 6 catches for 75 yards. Freeman had by far his best game of the season, piling up 106 yards on 21 carries for a whopping 5.04 YPC. More importantly, he showed off the traits that make him a special player: his vision, burst, and patience were on full display as he repeatedly gashed an overmatched Lions’ defense.
Atlanta’s offense is at its most deadly when the running game is working, and boy was it working in Detroit. The Falcons controlled the clock and found success with their play-action passing game. Even when the passing stalled or was faced with difficulties, the running game was reliable. Having a balanced offense is key to keeping opposing defenses on their toes, and it certainly helps take some of the pressure off your QB. Sark seems to have the rushing attack operating at a very high level, and that will pay dividends throughout the season.
Young offensive linemen are improving
The Falcons decision to start a second-year 6th-round draft pick at right guard was a bold one, but it appears to be paying off. Wes Schweitzer struggled in his Week 1 debut, but has continued to improve in both run blocking and pass protection ever since. Against Detroit’s stout defensive line, Schweitzer held up remarkably well—a far cry from his miserable performance in Chicago. He’s not quite there yet, as a few penalties certainly marred what was otherwise a solid performance, but he’s taking strides each week.
Next to him, the Falcons were forced into starting recently-acquired T Ty Sambrailo in the place of injured RT Ryan Schraeder. Expectations were incredibly low—after all, we all remember Vic Beasley downright abusing him last year against Denver. Surprisingly, Sambrailo has been solid overall. While he has his struggles in pass protection, Sambrailo has been a very effective run blocker. His athleticism is apparent, and it gives the Falcons a similar presence to Schraeder on the outside. Atlanta may have found their swing tackle of the future.
The defense continues to answer the call
This is now the second time in three weeks that the Falcons’ defense has been the savior of the team. How many times could we say that in 2016? I clearly remember all the blown leads, particularly the game against the Chargers. Atlanta was set up to win that game handily, and the defense couldn’t get a stop to save their lives.
In 2017, things are clearly different. The Falcons’ young defense stifled the red-hot Lions offense throughout the game, holding them to only one offensive TD—which didn’t come until late in the game. Every time the Falcons offense screwed up and put the defense in a bad situation, they answered the call. Deep in their own territory after a turnover, they held the Lions to a field goal. They stopped Detroit three straight times in the last seven minutes of the game. Sure, the ending was weird and took a little shine off of what was otherwise a fantastic performance by the defense, but these guys deserve a ton of respect for their improved play this year.
It’s still early, but it might be time for people to recognize that the defense is no longer a weakness of this team.
Mistakes clouded what should’ve been a blowout
Ryan’s first interception—the only one that was his fault—broke a streak of 9 consecutive games where he hadn’t turned the ball over through the air. Glover Quin simply read the play perfectly, followed Ryan’s eyes, and turned in into a TD. Two more picks came later, after the normally sure-handed Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman bobbled easy catches straight into the hands of Lions’ defenders.
Without those plays, this game would’ve been nothing short of a blowout. As I stated earlier, the Lions only managed one offensive TD. One of those bobbled catches came with the Falcons on the doorstep of the red zone and looking to put the game away. In reality, the Falcons were painfully close to dropping a 40-burger on a 2-0 Lions team. Unfortunately, football is weird sometimes, and mistakes happen.
I’m not overly concerned. Sometimes QBs throw picks, it happens. Two of those were completely on the receivers. Ryan isn’t melting down or suffering from a hangover. The team will continue to grow and build on this game, and should be able to clean up the mistakes in the future. But it mars what otherwise should’ve been a blowout, as the Falcons thoroughly outplayed the Lions through the vast majority of the game.
The Falcons once again found a way to win ugly on the road
In the NFL, the only thing that matters is getting the win—no matter what. Sometimes you have the luxury of winning pretty. Those wins are great, and they certainly help our blood pressure. But much of the time, you have to find ways to win ugly. The NFL is hard, and every team is a threat to beat you every single week. Mistakes are bound to happen. Sometimes you play exceptionally well, only to...oh, I don’t know, throw three interceptions? Then you’ve got your back against the wall, up 30-26 with the opponent driving for the win.
Atlanta’s defense stood tall, preventing the Lions from closing the gap. The offense got the Falcons the lead, and managed to burn just enough clock for the final result to happen. Sure, it was strange, and ultimately a little unsatisfying to see the game end with a 10-second runoff. But the takeaway here is this: the Falcons got the W.
You have to be able to win ugly in the NFL. You have to be able to scratch out wins on the road against raucous fanbases in hostile stadiums. You have to take care of business at home, and find ways to pile up wins by any means at your disposal. So far, the Falcons have managed to do just that. They’re 3-0, and things are looking bright for this team heading into Week 4.
Those are my exhaustive thoughts on the Falcons’ 30-26 victory over the Lions. Really, it was a quite a strange game. The Falcons were completely capable of blowing the Lions out of the water, but uncharacteristic mistakes kept it close. Luckily, they didn’t doom Atlanta, and the Falcons survived to remain the only undefeated team left in the NFC. Here’s to hoping that our streak of wins continues.
What were some of your thoughts on the game? Any feelings on how the game ended? Play or player of the game for you?