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Falcons - Panthers recap: The wheels keep on turning, and they grind Carolina to dust

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The Falcons are suddenly, improbably on fire, and they’ve won two in a row.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Falcons may as well have spun themselves a chrysalis and emerged as a glorious butterfly, because this has been nothing short of a miraculous transformation. They’re now 2-0 in their last two games, having outscored their opponents 55-12 and putting the rest of their division on notice that they’re not just going to sink quietly into the basement and stay there.

As they were busily beating Carolina all over the field, you couldn’t help but simultaneously marvel and get angry at what you were seeing. This is the football team I expected to see all year, a tough defense and a capable offense combining to absolutely give teams hell. Instead, we got eight largely forgettable games before they actually got going, which makes this lost season feel more keenly lost than if they had just kept stinking.

For all that bitterness, the Falcons are playing so well right now it’s virtually impossible not to enjoy it. The defense was once again stellar, snagging multiple interceptions and sacking Kyle Allen over and over again, with the defensive backs making plays they just didn’t make earlier in the year. Despite barely being able to run at all yet again, the Falcons stomped Carolina into pieces, not allowing a score until the fourth quarter and putting up 26 points in the interim.

Will the Falcons keep the good times rolling? Honestly, it’s hard to bet against them after the last two dominant weeks, because the changes to the coaching staff appear to have made a massive difference. This team is simply better (if not worlds better) on defense, and still good enough on offense to cause problems for teams of all stripes. When they are firing on all cylinders, they are this good, and I just wish they could have figured this out much, much sooner, before they playoff chances had dwindled to virtually nothing. Dominant defense and quality offense is, however, welcome at any time.

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the recap this week.

The Good

  • Younghoe Koo kept the good times rolling, hitting a 38 yarder on the team’s first drive to put them on the board early. Unfortunately the good times didn’t continue, but it was a strong start the Falcons built on capably. Koo would redeem himself for the wind-assisted miss just fine by nailing two more tries later in the game, and he’s now 7/8 on field goals so far in his Falcons career.
  • Matt Ryan looked much sharper in this one, with a couple of off-target throws early yielding to sharp balls the rest of the day. Ryan’s deep throw to Julio Jones in the second quarter was an absolute thing of beauty, as it was thrown right into Julio’s hand and over the assorted defenders trying desperately to keep up with him. He continued to drill deep throws all day and cruised to victory over the Panthers, putting up his eighth career 300-plus yard game against Carolina.
  • Calvin Ridley had the breakout game we’ve been waiting for. He just couldn’t be stopped Sunday, making catches all over the field and looking especially deadly on deep balls as he got open seemingly at will. We know how good he is and can be, and it was nice to see it all come together against the Panthers.
  • Russell Gage figured to have a big day, and while he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers, he did good things throughout the day. He had the game’s first catch and picked up a nice falling touchdown in the second quarter that was ultimately overturned, and should be a crucial (if not necessarily oft-targeted) part of the offense going forward.
  • The defense looked game early, with Takk McKinley taking down Kyle Allen, whose desperation throw was picked off by De’Vondre Campbell on an excellent play. It’s unfortunate the Falcons weren’t able to take advantage of that, but that’s not atypical.

What was atypical was how they followed it. The Falcons were nothing short of dominant on defense, have now strung together 10 quarters without a touchdown allowed, and picked up five sacks and four interceptions on the day. That sack total is more than a third of their season total coming into the game, while the turnover total matched what they had coming in. The team built a little momentum coming into the bye, made smart changes during it, and completely turned their fortunes around. The timing is problematic, yes, but the performance is beyond welcome.

  • Vic Beasley has really come alive post-deadline. His first quarter sack of Kyle Allen was tremendous, as he used his speed and good hand usage to work his way by the right tackle and bring down the quarterback, ending the drive.
  • Adrian Clayborn was a welcome addition to this defense in the offseason, but it took a while for the team to get him going. Now he’s unstoppable.

That’s three sacks in the last two weeks for Clayborn, who picked up two against Kyle Allen. His second one was a masterclass, as he simply drove Greg Little backwards and took down Allen with his spare arm. I’ve said it a couple of times already but I’d love to see him back as a veteran presence for what should be a young defensive line in 2020.

  • Ricardo Allen and Desmond Trufant were balling like yesteryear in this one. Both had picks in this game and both had excellent coverage, with Allen putting together a particularly impressive sequence where he broke up a goal line pass and then got his interception on the next play. That did my heart some good, because both of those guys have been underrated throughout much of their careers and deserve to be recognized on days like this.
  • Kenjon Barner has been a nice addition for this Falcons team, but he went from nice to legendary with that first quarter punt return. He caught it spinning, worked his way to the middle of the field and then took off on the sideline, with Qadree Ollison providing the final block to get him into the end zone for the team’s first return touchdown since Devin Hester in 2014. That was a hell of a play.

The Ugly

  • Dirk Koetter’s obsession with up the middle or off tackle runs on first down is beyond parody at this point, and is equivalent to just setting a down on fire. On the team’s first two drives of the game, those runs picked up a combined...four yards? Maybe? I don’t understand why the Falcons continue to go back to something that doesn’t work, but that’s been the story of the season.
  • The offense is just not well-run at times. Dirk Koetter being this team offensive coordinator was not my preferred outcome, but I figured he couldn’t actively screw things up for a unit this talented, and I was mistaken. The Falcons left gobs of points on the field, and while that’s not a big deal for a team that won 29-3, it will be a big deal in the near future when the score is tighter and Brian Hill is taking two steps up the middle and getting creamed.
  • Speaking of Hill, he and Ollison had the kind of success behind this line that you would’ve expected from guys backing up Devonta Freeman. I like both backs a great deal, but they didn’t averaged under three yards a carry by accident. Koetter’s lack of creative play calling on the ground and the continuing run blocking woes of the line are huge limiting factors, and as a result neither one got going. Free is not heading for the bench when he gets back, to put it mildly.
  • Dan Quinn’s timeout near the end of the first half was a masterclass in making the wrong call. The Falcons had been rolling and wanted a shot at more points, which I understand, but that gave the Panthers enough time to get an improbable first down, then another one, then fortunately a pick to end the drive.

The most fascinating subplot of the final six or so games, especially with the Falcons heating up in a major way, is what will happen to Quinn. I continue to think that as beloved as he is by the players and staff at Flowery Branch, his teams and his decision making have been far too inconsistent to award him another year unless he essentially wins out. Even then, I’d be tempted to move on, because they never would’ve been in such a deep hole to begin with if the first half of the year hadn’t been so badly bungled.

For the moment, though, it probably makes the most sense to just sit back and enjoy some quality Falcons football.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

If you want to pick one guy, it’s probably either Desmond Trufant or Ricardo Allen, given that both were brilliant and helped ensure the Falcons clamped down hard on Carolina. It’s tempting to give it to the entire defense, though, because they played perhaps their most complete, consistently excellent game since the 2017 season. Major kudos to them, full stop.

One Takeaway

The Falcons really should have timed this better, but they are absolutely a Good Football Team right now and will be scary as long as they can keep this up.

Next Week

After two straight impressive road wins against division rivals, the Falcons get the struggling Buccaneers and pick six machine Jameis Winston at home. I’m not going to jinx anything, but that certainly looks promising on paper.

Check out Bucs Nation for more.

Final Word