Beware NFC and NFL – a sleeping giant may have finally awakened and flexed its muscles. Hopefully not too late for this giant. The giant is the Atlanta Falcons who played perhaps their most complete game on both sides of the ball reminiscent of the Super Bowl team that took the league by storm two years ago.
The Atlanta Falcons played their most complete game on both side of the ball Sunday as they soundly defeated the NFC East leading Washington Redskins 31-14. Where to start to about all the good things. Let’s make it easy and start with the offense. Yeah, I know everyone is talking about Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Patrick Mahomes when it comes to the league MVP, but you need – or at least sports media needs to start paying attention again to Matt Ryan. Ryan is on pace to better the numbers that won him the award two seasons ago and he kept piling on Sunday. The only blemish was an interception – his first since week three – way back in September. The 11-year vet threw for another 350 yards and four touchdowns that give him 19 at the halfway point of the season. The Atlanta team is number two overall in passing yards – just another day at the office for Ryan.
Ryan hit rookie Calvin Ridley for one of the scores while hitting Tevin Coleman for two and finishing the day off by hitting Julio Jones from 35 yards out. That’s right – Julio Jones. Jones scored his first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter that ended a much written and spoken about drought. The Falcons’ star receiver went almost 1,000 yards between touchdowns. That’s a lot of yards when you consider most receivers only dream of gaining 1,000 in a season – let alone score a touchdown. To put that into perspective this season, 200 players in 2018 scored a touchdown before Julio. That being said, he continues to rack up receptions and yards. Against the Redskins he caught seven passes for 121 – and that monumental touchdown.
Let’s give some love to Coleman as well. The vaunted running game has been pretty non-existent all season especially after Devonta Freeman was put on IR and even before. Coleman had a complete game for the Falcons who finally toppled 100 passing yards for the first time in weeks. The third year back accounted for 156 yards of total offense as he ran for 88 and caught five passes for 68 and two touchdowns with a big chunk of that coming on the opening series as he caught a Ryan pass and turned it into a 39 yard scoring play as Atlanta was off to the races.
Yeah, sure the Atlanta offense was off to the races but kudos to the defense stepping up their game as they gave up their lowest point total against Washington. Washington and Alex Smith didn’t know what hit them. I do. It was Jack Crawford and Grady Jarrett. The two combined for three sacks of Smith and left Adrian Peterson as a footnote on the day. A lot should be said about Atlanta’s rush defense the past couple of weeks. On Monday night two weeks ago they shutdown the Giants’ Saquon Barkley and now future Hall of Famer Peterson. Peterson gained all of 17 yards on nine carries. Alex Smith led all Redskins rushers with 22 yards as the Atlanta front four shut down the running game.
The Falcons were left to defend the passing game – something that’s been their Achilles. But they were facing the “dink and dunk” king as Smith very rarely stretches the field as he went at least one season in KC not throwing a touchdown pass to a receiver. Smith was respectable but he’s no Matt Ryan. He threw for 306 yards and once score while throwing an interception. But Alex Smith is no Matt Ryan and that was obvious Sunday as the Redskins offense lacked punch and urgency – not to mention a legitimate long ball threat.
Once Atlanta got the lead they never gave up and unlike other games they didn’t take their foot off the gas. After kickoff and Atlanta’s first score the closest Washington got to the Falcons was seven points with 3:10 to go in the half and that was short-lived as Ridley scored with 38 seconds to go in the half to give Atlanta a 14 point lead and they held onto a double-digit lead the rest of the game.
Atlanta’s 504 yards of offense was something Washington could not keep up with and was their most balanced attack all season. With the addition of the defense starting to gel and look like its old self with a number of injured starters to start coming back to the team in the coming weeks the Falcons are not only back in the playoff hunt, but the rest of the conference should start to sweat as indeed this sleeping giant of a juggernaut is awakening and just in time.
The Falcons remain on the road this coming Sunday as they visit the Cleveland Browns who have reverted to their usual dumpster fire the past couple of weeks including the first head coaching firing of the season. Kickoff is scheduled for pm and the game will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal