We should have known. The Atlanta Falcons are a team that dropped back-to-back games to the so-so Tampa Bay Buccaneers and putrid Carolina Panthers to seemingly end their season, so naturally they came out screaming and potent against a very good Indianapolis Colts team that had won five of their past six games.
With Taylor Heinicke under center and Arthur Smith well aware he was coaching for his job, the Falcons finally found some continuity on offense, overcoming some near-turnovers and mishaps for an excellent day on the ground and far better day through the air. Returning offensive linemen helped, but Heinicke was sharper than Desmond Ridder has been, the team’s stable of backs played better, and the gameplan was a bit better. On defense, the Falcons were as good as ever, allowing a frustrating opening touchdown drive and then largely bottling Indy up on the ground and giving Gardner Minshew and company fits with genuine pressure. They wound up holding the Colts to 10 points, and given how well the offense had been playing recently for Indianapolis, that’s an excellent result.
The result was one of the most impressive victories of the year, and honestly, one of the more impressive victories of the Arthur Smith era. The fact that it only happened after the Falcons lost to the then-1-12 Panthers last week and the season was in danger of mathematically slipping away is beyond infuriating, but it was the latest proof that there’s something deep inside this dumb sloppy football team that matters and is worth building upon. Whether they can actually do this thing over the final two weeks, move to 9-8 and try to stick around in the playoff hunt remains to be seen, but it certainly feels more possible than it did a week ago.
This was one of the largest margins of victory in the Arthur Smith era and, if nothing else, a very fun win against the Colts on Christmas Eve. There are going to be fans disappointed that the Falcons won because they wanted to ensure Arthur Smith was out the door, and I understand that, but I’ll enjoy the standalone effort and the fact that we got some good Falcons football. We’ll hope that Arthur Blank and company make the right choice for the team, independent of how well (or how poorly, depending on your perspective) things go the rest of the way, especially after they were beguiled by a strong second half back in 2019 and kept Dan Quinn for an ill-fated 2020 season. If they think Smith can lead this team with a better quarterback, let it be because they saw that evidence throughout the season, not over the final games; similarly, if they decide to get rid of him, let’s look at the body of work.
For now, though, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you, and I hope you enjoyed a surprisingly pleasant Sunday afternoon courtesy of the Falcons. It’s been a rough year, and we deserved at least a little cheer.
Here’s a drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched.
The Colts had the ball to start things off. Gardner Minsehw’s first pass to Kylen Granson took a funny bounce into the air and fell incomplete, and then Josh Downs was taken down quickly by DeMarcco Hellams. On third down, though, Minshew got away from pressure and was able to hit his man over the middle of the field for a first down. Trey Sermon went for four yards on first down, and then Minshew hit Alec Pierce for a first down. Minshew then hit Will Mallory for another first down. Jonathan Taylor then went for about five yards, and then took it for a first down and more on the next carry. On first down, though, the Falcons got him after maybe a yard. On second down, the Colts barely got the play off and Lorenzo Carter was all over Minshew, who just threw it away before he was sacked. A.J. Terrell was called for pass interference on an end zone shot. Now sitting on first and goal, the Colts handed it to Taylor and he was stopped just short by LaCale London and company. On second down, the Falcons stuffed Taylor again, but on third down he was able to get enough room to get in. 7-0 Colts.
Taylor Heinicke completed a four yard pass to Bijan Robinson, and then Heinicke threw a risky ball on second down that fell incomplete. On third down, however, Heinicke hit Scotty Miller for 15 yards. On the next play, Bijan took it and exploded out of the backfield for 32 yards. On the next play, Heinicke threw a deep ball to Kyle Pitts for an easy touchdown. 7-7 tie.
Taylor got nowhere thanks to Zach Harrison pursuing and taking him down. Minshew got away from pressure and ran for about five yards. Minshew hit Downs for a first down on the next play working against Jeff Okudah. A faked handoff and then first down throw to Josh Downs followed. Minshew was hit on first down with good coverage downfield and threw it away, and then Minshew hit Granson for a first down and a defensive holding call was declined. Kaden Elliss then came flying into the backfield to take down Taylor for a one yard loss. Minshew tripped trying to get away and Zach Harrison took him down for his second sack in two weeks. On third down, Minshew was taken down by Arnold Ebiketie to end the drive. Punt, and the team was inside their own 5 yard line.
Heinicke dropped back after the fake handoff and hit Pitts for a 20 yard, one-handed catch. Robinson picked up six yards on first down, but he was swallowed up by Grover Stewart on the next play for a loss. On third down, the Falcons got five yards from a neutral zone infraction. Tyler Allgeier was stuffed on third down.
Punt for Atlanta.
Six yards on first down for Indy,, and Minshew hit someone I have never heard for for a first down working against Clark Phillips. Taylor was then taken down by Landman and the defense for no gain. Minshew’s second down ball was a butterfly that fell to the turf. On third down, Ebiketie and Elliss got Minsehw out of the pocket and forced him to scramble, and he only made it about four yards before running out of bounds. Punt, and Dee Alford took it about six yards.
On first down, good coverage forced Heinicke out of the pocket, but he was taken down by Kwity Paye for a sack. Robinson then juked a couple of defenders but still only got a couple of yards. A false start on Matthew Bergeron backed Atlanta up five yards, and then Heinicke hit Cordarrelle Patterson for about 10 yards to set up a 4th and 3. Punt.
Minshew threw it too high for Downs on first down. The next play was an incompletion, but DeMarcco Hellams’ big chop saw him called for pass interference. Minshew badly overthrew Granson on first down. A sideline shot to Downs was incomplete after Phillips and Downs got tangled up and both fell down. On third down, pressure was coming but a high ball was not caught. Punt.
Allgeier kicked things off with a six yard run. The next play saw Allgeier catch a quick pass from Heinicke and turn it into a 19 yard gain, and a 15 yard unncessary roughness call gave the Falcons even better positioning. A quick hitter to Jonnu Smith under pressure lost three yards. Robinson then caught another quick pass for 11 yards. Robinson then caught a low pass from Heinicke for a first down. Heinicke then threw a risky one to Jonnu Smith, but the pass was broken up. A false start on Robinson backed Atlanta up. Heinicke then scrambled for about seven yards, narrowly avoiding a lunging Colts defender trying to sack him, and then Heinicke threw a dangerous ball again to Robinson that luckily was knocked down. Younghoe Koo’s field goal attempt hit the upright, but an offsides on the Colts gave the Falcons a 4th and inches. Patterson ran for a first down. A nice ball from Heinicke to Drake London for 18 yards followed, and then Robinson got nowhere on first down. Heinicke got London again for about five yards to set up third and goal, and then Heinicke tried Robinson but the ball was a little late and Robinson didn’t get hit feet down. Koo hit the easy field goal try to make it 10-7 Falcons.
The Colts didn’t get anything going on first down with a faked handoff, faked handoff, and would-be screen pass that was almost picked. Taylor then stayed patient and ran for six yards despite there being no room initially, and then Kaden Elliss took down Minshew for a sack. Punt, and it was nearly blocked by Zach Harrison with a solid little return from Alford.
Heinicke hit Jonnu Smith on first down, and Smith fought his way through contact to pick up additional yards and a first down. Heinicke nearly threw an interception on the next play. and then rallied to find Pitts for about seven yards. A push pass to Bijan went for about six yards and a first down, and then he found Robinson again and saw him juke a defender to pick up a few additional yards. Heinicke then hit Van Jefferson for 13 yards and a first down. Confusion led to the Falcons needing to use their third timeout after spiking the ball, and that set up a 47 yard field goal try for Koo. He hit it and the Falcons were up 13-7.
The Colts kneeled it out and we headed for the half.
Taylor Heinicke fumbled the opening snap, but fortunately the Falcons fell on it. Bijan Robinson then took it 14 yards and the Falcons managed to get another first after that before handing it off to Cordarrelle Patterson, who took it outside for a first down. Patterson then vaulted for seven yards. He then took another handoff for a first down. Tyler Allgeier then took a handoff to the house thanks to some nice blocking and his own ability to turn on the burners down the sideline. 20-7 Falcons.
Taylor got two yards on first down. Then a three yard pass to Downs, and then Gardner Minshew hit WIll Mallory for a first down, but he did fumble it before recovering his own mishap. The Falcons elected to challenge the play, but the challenge was not successful. Taylor got five yards, and then he was swallowed up on second down for no gain. Minshew then threw it over a leaping Falcons defender and got Granson for another first down. Taylor picked up a couple, and then Minshew ran for 23 yards up the middle. Minshew then hit Downs for close to a first down, but an ineligible player erased the play. Taylor got about four yards, and then Minshew tried to get away from pressure and was sacked by Calais Campbell. Downs then picked up 11 yards and set up a field goal try. It was successful, and it was 20-10 Falcons.
Heinicke for some reason decided to throw it behind the line of scrimmage to Patterson, who had nowhere to go. His second down throw was batted down, but a quick one to Jonnu Smith on third down went for a first down thanks to Smith’s rumbling. Robinson picked up about four yards, and then Patterson got a couple of yards on second down. Heinicke then threw another risky one, but Khdarel Hodge made an excellent catch despite the defender hugging him for a first down. Drake London then brought in another first down grab on a tight window throw. Tyler Allgeier took advantage of a nice block to roll for a first down and then some.
Allgeier was able to get a yard or two on first down. After a fake and facing pressure, Heinicke wisely threw it away. On third down, he overthrew an open Van Jefferson in the end zone. Koo hit the field goal try, though, to make it 23-10 Falcons.
Granson got a first on the quick throw from Minshew. A high ball from Minshew was not caught by Downs on the next play, and then Minshew threw it through Kaden Elliss for eight yards to Granson. Taylor didn’t get the first down thanks to Nate Landman. A faked handoff and a pass to Granson resulted in a first down. Alec Peirce then reeled in one for six yards, and then Taylor got nowhere with Bud Dupree and Campbell coming in. Dupree then took down Sermon for no gain. The fourth down throw under pressure was tipped in the air in part thanks to an excellent effort by Jessie Bates and nearly intercepted, and it was a turnover on downs.
Heinicke found Robinson for about six yards on first down, and then he got about a yard on the ground. Heinicke then threw it into the ground on a target to Robinson. Punt, with the Colts starting from the 15 yard line.
Zach Harrison chased down Minshew for his second sack of the day. Minshew’s shot to Peirce fell incomplete, and then his next deep ball was picked off by (who else?) Jessie Bates.
Allgeier ran for four yards, and then Robinson got a nice block from Jake Matthews to take it 26 yards. A couple of short runs got the Falcons to 3rd and 5, and then Robinson got the delayed handoff and had no room to work. Loss of yardage, and then Koo hit the field goal try. 26-10 Falcons.
Two straight incompletions and then Richie Grant blew into the backfield to get a sack. On fourth down and long, Minshew threw it deep, but it was ruled uncatchable because it was too deep and Grant got tangled up with the receiver.
Allgeier took it a couple of yards, and then rumbled for a first down on second down to keep the clock moving. Robinson went nowhere on first down and picked up a few yards on second down, and then Patterson lost yardage on third down. Koo’s field goal try was inevitably good. 29-10, Falcons.
A big run for a first down from a Colts reserve running back. A quick hitter to Mallory got another first down. Minshew got Peirce, but Clark Phillips tackled him in-bounds. An incomplete pass and then a run ended the blowout.