The Falcons seemed prime for the tank in the first half of their finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was as bad of a half of football as they’ve played all season long — like the entire team was encased in the hardening amber of a season gone off the rails. But they came alive after halftime, forcing a turnover and utilizing creative red zone schemes en route to a 34-32 win in the final seconds over the Bucs.
Here’s the final Hat Tips & Head-Scratchers for the 2018 season.
Opening drive stop
The Falcons have given up points all year long on opposing teams’ opening drives, so a three-and-out to start the game was a nice surprise. It might have been a mulligan, however, as Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers’ offense carved up the Falcons’ defense on the subsequent drive, culminating in an over-the-shoulder touchdown grab for Mike Evans.
The Philly Special
The Falcons Special? The Atlanta Okey-Doke? I’m workshopping aloud here, but regardless of what you call it: it was awesome. In what was potentially Steve Sarkisian’s last stand, he reached deep into his bag of tricks and dialed up The Philly Special in the third quarter. Snap to Matt Ryan, hand-off to Calvin Ridley, pitch to Mohamed Sanu and a flip to Matt Ryan with the finger tip catch at the right pylon. Gorgeous.
It was Matt Ryan’s first reception in the NFL, and of course it went for a touchdown. Mohamed Sanu boosted his career passing touchdown total to four, and the play jump-started the second half for a team that was dead in the water for the first 30 minutes of the game.
Matt Bryant seals it
Matt Bryant closed out 2018 in typical fashion. After some welcome clock management in the waning seconds, Bryant came on and did what he’s done his entire career: win football games. He split the uprights on a 37-yarder as the clock hit zero, sending the Falcons into the offseason with a 34-32 victory over his former team.
Robert Alford prevents two-point conversion
Robert Alford may or may not be on this Falcons team next season for a litany of reasons — glaring lapses in coverage, penalties, payroll — but he can still flash at times. He did so in the fourth quarter after a Tampa touchdown, making a crucial tackle on Chris Godwin to prevent a two-point conversion that would’ve put the game within a field goal. Alford deserves the criticism he receives for his play in 2018, but this was one of his highlights.
First half energy
This isn’t much of a head-scratcher — it’s how the team has looked for most of the second half of the season. If the Falcons had made a conscious decision to tank this game, it would have looked much like the first half. Aside from Grady Jarrett, it didn’t seem like anyone really wanted to be out there at all.
Dove-tailing from the above, the Falcons went 0-5 on third down conversions in the first half. You aren’t going to win if you can’t move the chains, and the offense looked entirely pitiful.