It’s hard to call the second game of the season a must-win, but the Falcons really needed to avoid the 0-2 start that sinks most postseason dreams. They did just that by putting up 31 points against a good Panthers defense that completely shutdown Ezekiel Elliott just the week prior.
Here are my key takeaways from the game.
Best game Sarkisian has called
After a week where people were calling for his head, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called his best game yet for the Falcons. Using a mixture of play action, balance between the run and pass and a variety of route patterns and movement, he had the Carolina defense off-balance for most of the game. Some will undoubtedly focus on his play calls in the last two minutes, but it should not offset what was an otherwise very well called game.
Matt Ryan bounced back big time
Along the same lines as above, Matt Ryan received (and deserved) a lot of criticism for his game in week one. As he usually does, he bounced back in impressive fashion. Minus a few deep passes that were off the mark, the highly paid QB was dialed in all afternoon. He finished with 23 completions on 28 attempts (one was a drop) for 272 yards and 2 TDs. He added in 2 more TDs with his legs and orchestrated an offense that dominated in the red zone this week.
With the injuries to the defense, this team needs the best version of Ryan it can get. He gave us just that today.
Don’t write off the defense just yet
Yes, they gave up 24 to the Panthers and nearly let them tie it at the end of the. Yes, there were some ugly plays and missed tackles by guys like Duke Riley. And yes, the pass rush did not dominate the way we wanted against an offensive line made up of popsicle sticks held together by week old bubblegum.
Keep in mind, though, this was the first real start for several of these guys. Damontae Kazee - who was ejected early - was starting for the first time. Jordan Richards was just recently signed by the Falcons. Duke Riley filled in as a starter at middle linebacker for the first time. Hopefully, this is the floor of what we can expect from this defense. I do not think we’ll see a top-10 or maybe even top-15 defense this year, but there’s no reason to think that the performance today is as good as they’ll get. Let’s see what they look like in a few weeks before we push the panic button.
What are your takeaways from the Falcons victory?