Had the Falcons lost this football game, it would have been more ammo for those who think Atlanta needs to clean house. Had they narrowly won, it would have damaged their draft stock and yet likely still have been a deeply frustrating victory.
Instead, the Falcons finally proved one positive thing: They are much better than the Arizona Cardinals. For one afternoon, the Falcons put together a delightfully dominant effort on defense, one aided by Arizona’s limp offensive effort, and got more than enough offense to cruise to a victory. They won 40-14, and it was only that close thanks to Mike Glennon’s garbage time score. The gulf between the two teams was impressive, and given how bad Atlanta has been, frankly reassuring.
This win didn’t salvage anyone’s opinion of this team so much as it likely proved to be a relief to those inside the building, who were enduring a ton of doubt outside Flowery Branch and facing the prospect of dropping a game to perhaps the worst team in the entire NFL. The Falcons tried some different things again and saw some results, with the offensive line coalescing a little bit in run blocking, and Atlanta playing strong defense across the board with the exception of a handful of lapses, with Brian Poole and Steven Means among the surprise players picking up sacks. Again, the Cardinals are bad, but the Falcons weren’t for one moment.
Where does this leave the Falcons? At the moment, with the #6 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft and two divisional games left to go, which are coin flips if Atlanta’s actually playing well. I have no idea where they’re going to end up, but even if they drop the next two and get busy picking up a top five pick, we saw one brief moment where the Falcons looked like at least a shadow of the team they were supposed to be. In a lost, annoying year, it felt a little bit like a reprieve.
On to the full recap.
- Tevin Coleman isn’t a force on a play-by-play basis, but damn is he good when he can get into the open field. His 65 yard scamper was beautiful and showcased his speed, his 43 yard touchdown run was also a tremendous play, and he finished the day with 11 carries for 145 yards. When the blocking shows up and Coleman can keep his feet under him, he’s capable of having days like that, and it’s frustrating that we’ve gotten to see so few of them in what might be his final season in Atlanta.
- It was a workmanlike effort from Julio Jones, who only wound up with six receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Julio’s season line is currently at 100 receptions, 1,511 yards and six touchdowns, and his brilliant campaigns in good years and bad years at least ensures we have something to enjoy on Sundays.
- For the second straight week, Justin Hardy had two grabs and a touchdown. He’s proven to be a solid red zone option in the past, so it’s curious that he couldn’t find his way to relevance until so late, but the Falcons had been focused on Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu for a long time. Neither player had a huge game this week, so there was opportunity for Hardy, rookie Russell Gage (2 grabs for 33 yards), and Marvin Hall (1 grab, 10 yards).
- Grady Jarrett was a monster in this one, with multiple big-time run stops, two sacks, and a forced fumble as he simply abused that poor Arizona offensive line. With six sacks in just 12 games, Jarrett is having the most successful season of his young career and is still just 25. The Falcons have to get him locked up now so he can continue to dominate for years to come.
- Kudos to Brian Poole, too, as he managed six combined tackles, a sack and an interception in arguably his best game of the year. Poole is not a top-flight cornerback, but he is capable of such things, and should be here as at least Atlanta’s fourth corner next year.
- While we’re doling out the good feelings for big plays, give it up for Bruce Irvin (1.5 sacks), Deion Jones (a pick six where he showed off his elite speed), Steven Means (a sack and some solid run defense lining up inside), and Marquand Manuel and Dan Quinn for finally starting to figure out ways to put these guys in positions to succeed. It’s too late and arguably too little, but it looks a bit like actual improvement for the pass rush in particular.
- He didn’t show up on the stat sheet until late thanks to his sack, but this was another solid game from Vic Beasley, who seems hellbent on coming on no matter how late it may be. He sniffed out screens, helped out with the pass rush, and batted down a couple of passes, including a tip that Deion Jones picked and took to the house. I don’t think the way he’s come on a little bit in the last few weeks is going to save his job—he put too many terrible games on tape—but Atlanta may figure out a way to keep him anyways.
- The Falcons defense needs—and better get—reinforcements. This was largely a good day for them, but they still let Mike Glennon throw for a dang touchdown. They also let Josh Rosen burn them for a 40 yard gain downfield and a first down on 3rd and 15 just on the opening drive, and while I love Rosen, that shouldn’t happen in his rookie year with his offense. This is nitpicking, really, but Atlanta was playing an awful offense and still managed some lapses up front that probably will only b solved by the addition of more talent.
- Why even go for two? There’s always at least one curious coaching decision per game, and while the Falcons aren’t going to draw much criticism for doing so up 26-7, it felt sort of arbitrary and pointless to even do so at that moment in the game. Sometimes Dan Quinn’s decision-making is very opaque.
Plenty of worthy choices this week, but I’ll let Grady Jarrett and Tevin Coleman share it because they were both so effective.
The Falcons really aren’t the worst team in the NFL.
The Carolina Panthers, again. Will Atlanta lose this time around? Can they put together their second winning streak of the season? Stay tuned, I guess.