The Houston Texans did something this season no one else has been able to do. The Atlanta Falcons’ star receiver Julio Jones was held to four catches and 38 yards.
But who needs Julio Jones when you have Devonta Freeman?
Freeman, starting only his second game scored three touchdowns in a little over two quarters of play before Atlanta coach Dan Quinn replaced the first stringers with reserves as the Falcons at this point had a 42-0 lead.
Freeman, who lost out on the starting job in the backfield to rookie Tevin Coleman due in part because of a nagging hamstring injury that did not allow him to take the field all preseason, making the decision easy for the team. Coleman’s start was promising but an injury has given Freeman his opportunity and he’s taken advantage.
Freeman leads the league lead with seven touchdowns. He’s the first Falcon running back to have back-to-back three touchdown games since Michael Turner. Freeman became the first player with seven rushing touchdowns in the first four weeks of a season since RB LaDainian Tomlinson ran for eight scores in 2005. Freeman’s seven rushing touchdowns are the most by a Falcons player through the teams’ first four games of the season.
When coach Dan Quinn decided to rest the first string or employ the “mercy rule” the Falcons running game did not suffer. Rookie RB Terron Ward scored his first career touchdown on an eight-yard run in the third quarter to put the Falcons up 42-0. The college free agent running back out of Oregon State finished the game with a career and team high 72-rushing yards on 19 carries. The Falcons ran for 135 total for the day.
Atlanta’s defense continues to improve and impress. Of the seven touchdowns scored against the Texans, two were scored by the defense on two fumble recoveries; one early in the game by Desmond Trufant and one on the last play of the game. LB Nate Stupar recorded his first fumble recovery of the season, which he returned 84 yards for his first touchdown of his career. It was the team’s sixth touchdown of the season off of a turnover.
“I knew we had a great week of preparation as a team on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It was going to take that. We knew facing a good outfit that we would need good preparation and we did. The thing that we thought about was the football,” said Quinn. “For us, to end up plus four today, in terms of turnovers was exactly like we like playing. It was a great job by the offense, and then the defense I believe scoring twice was just terrific. I can’t talk about the balance on offense enough. Over 130-yards rushing and over 250 passing, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Matt Ryan had another solid game under center that saw him not turn the ball over. Through three quarters of play, QB Matt Ryan was 19-of-27 for 256 yards with one touchdown and a 112.6 passer rating. Ryan improved his streak of games with at least 250-passing yards to 11 games, which is the longest active streak in the League.
“I thought two things specifically; I mean obviously the run game is huge. I thought we ran the ball extremely well the entire day and our offensive line stepped up to the challenge. That’s a really good front 7 and I thought our guys played extremely well,” said Ryan. “But, the third-down conversions and our success in the red zone, to me, was the key to our success. We were able to keep those drives going, and then obviously when we got into the red zone we capitalized with touchdowns.”
CB Desmond Trufant recorded his first career touchdown when he recovered a fumble and returned it 24 yards to the end zone. The touchdown was the Falcons first defensive touchdown of the season. “I think they challenged him some outside. We expected that,” said Quinn on the play of Trufant. “We knew it was quiet for a little while, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the way throughout the season. He just answered like he always does. He had two fumble recoveries today. We couldn’t be more pleased with his game. He works at it extremely hard. Those are the things that you don’t see behind the scenes of why he is so good. He just relentlessly works at getting better.”
“It’ a great start, it’s a great feeling. We worked so hard throughout the week with the preparations, the coaches give us a great game plan and we go out and execute it. We believe in each other and it’s really starting to show,” said Trufant.
WR Leonard Hankerson caught his second touchdown with the Falcons at the end of the second quarter. He finished the game with six receptions for 103 yards, which is the second best receiving total of his career, and the first time he’s had over 100-receiving yards in a Falcons uniform. Despite the Texans being able to slow down Jones Sunday guys like Hankerson stepped up to the plate.
“Obviously people are gonna adjust to Julio with what he’s done the first three weeks of the season. There were some adjustments by their safeties, playing over the top help and giving you advantageous looks to the other side, to kind of force you to throw to other guys,” said Ryan. “But when they do that it opens up opportunities for other guys, I thought Leonard Hankerson did a great job for us today, I thought Roddy White did a great job, Devonta catching the ball out of the backfield is another huge matchup for us. So I thought our other guys stepped up and did really well.”
With the 48-21 win the Falcons improve to 4-0 and are starting to make believers out of some critics. The team remains tied with the Carolina Panthers for the top spot in the NFC South and are one of three remaining undefeated teams in the NFC (the other being the Packers).
The Falcons remain home this weekend as they welcome the Washington Redskins to the Georgia Dome as they look to improve to 5-0. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm and the game will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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