It took five miserable weeks of bad football, a glut of injuries, and the firing of both the head coach and general manager, but the Falcons finally managed to win a football game. Atlanta didn’t just win—they dominated the Vikings from start to finish, with the game out of contention at halftime. Unlike in previous weeks, notably against the Cowboys and Bears, the Falcons didn’t relent in the second half. The offense kept pace with their opponent and the defense did enough for a resounding 40-23 victory.
We saw this version of the Falcons in spurts over the first five games of the season, but never for 4 quarters. Against the Cowboys, Atlanta was dynamite in the first half but completely collapsed on defense over the final 15 minutes. In Chicago, the Falcons got ahead early and forced the Bears to bench Mitch Trubisky, only to let Nick Foles come back and pull off a nearly impossible 4th-quarter comeback.
It’s fitting, then, that a team with a distinct culture of blowing big leads promptly bucked that trend within days of Dan Quinn’s firing. Interim head coach Raheem Morris and new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich played a more aggressive style of defense, and Dirk Koetter called a more aggressive first half complemented by a balanced second half to help close out the game. Atlanta recovered two onside kicks under new special teams coordinator Bernie Parmalee, excising that particularly embarrassing demon.
The Falcons appeared reinvigorated and excited for the first time all season. I suspect the players and staff felt the same way about the major changes as we did: like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. Like there was finally hope for things to be different after three seasons of mediocrity and annoying sloganeering. For as well-liked as Quinn seemed to be among the vocal players in the locker room, the team as a whole certainly played a lot better for Morris and Co. in Week 6.
While we should put this performance in the proper context—the Vikings were a 1-4 team with significant issues of their own on both sides of the ball—it was refreshing to see the Falcons actually play up to the talent on the roster for a change. On offense, this team has the pieces to legitimately push 30+ points per game. On defense, the unit is below-average but at least has enough talent to force a few turnovers and get the occasional stop—particularly against the run.
Against Minnesota, we got a performance that matched those expectations. Koetter’s scheme works really well against overmatched defenses, and that’s exactly what we saw on Sunday. The defense got some turnovers early off some miscues by Kirk Cousins and kept the Vikings off-schedule by shutting down Alexander Mattison and the rushing attack. By the time Minnesota got the passing game in sync, they were down by 3+ scores and virtually eliminated from contention.
That’s clearly the recipe for success in Atlanta: outscore the opposition, capitalize on opponent errors, and pray for a handful of stops from your defense. Against bad-to-average teams, the formula should work pretty reliably. Against above-average to good teams? It’ll be a lot harder, especially against quality defenses—where Koetter’s deficiencies as a playcaller become readily apparent.
That’s why this iteration of the Falcons is still likely to finish in the realm of 4-12 to 6-10. Better coaching should help, particularly on defense, but the ceiling was probably always around 8-8 or 9-7 with this schedule. After a lousy 0-5 start, that translates to roughly 5 or so wins out of the remaining 10 games.
A dominant win like this always fills fans with optimism (or trepidation, if you’re concerned about draft position), but let’s remember a few things going forward.
1) This Falcons team was 0-5 prior to this game, and they’re likely to have many more stinkers left in them—even with Quinn gone.
2) Teams coming off a head coach firing often play very well in the immediate aftermath. Sustaining that high level of play is another thing entirely, and is much harder to do.
3) Atlanta plays a tough schedule going forward, with maybe 3-4 remaining matchups as favorable as Minnesota.
Enjoy the win, Falcons fans, and the assurance that 0-16 is no longer a possibility. But don’t fret too much about this team playing itself out of a top-5/top-10 pick, and don’t put too much stock in one strong performance alongside 5 disastrous ones.