That faint beat that you hear is that of the playoff chances of the Atlanta Falcons. After seemingly flat-lined after last week’s debacle against Carolina a slight pulse – weak as it might be began again after Sunday’s defeat of the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17.
The Falcons sort of looked like the Falcons of old (the good old – not they sucky old) as they took the opening kickoff and drove the length of the field with Devonta Freeman scoring for the first time on the ground in nearly two months.
The play calling and execution was actually sharp with Matt Ryan completing passes to Julio Jones (who else?) and Roddy White – yes, Roddy White. The opening drive was indeed a blast from the past. I immediately got the feeling watching the drive that Kyle Shanihan was coaching for his job – which I’m pretty certain he was. Going back to the 2008 season when the Atlanta offense is firing on all cylinders they always score first. That was one of the main characteristics of the Mike Smith era (sorry to mention him so much in these stories – get over it). More often than not the Falcons scored first – usually on the opening kickoff during their five year winning streak. The last two season have been hit or miss while this year started off strong but the offense all but shut down during a six-game losing streak.
The Falcons enjoyed a 14-3 lead as the first half was coming to a close. Ryan had hit Jones for a TD earlier in the quarter but now it looked like the Jag’s Blake Bortles was going to reciprocate. (Blake? What happened to QBs having manly names like Bob, Bill, Tom, John and Tom? Hell, I’ll even take “Boomer” over Blaine) Inside the Atlanta ten Bortles was intercepted at the goal line by Kemal Ishmael who returned the ball 84 yards. He was knocked out of bounds and it appeared the time had expired in the half. After going over the play it was decided that two seconds remained in the half and Shayne Graham came in and nailed a field goal to make the score 17-3 at the half.
The second half had all the makings of a typical Atlanta game as well. Jacksonville score twice on consecutive drives to tie the score but Ryan got back to work and led the Falcons down for two field goals and the defense stiffened up again shutting down Bortles and the Jaguars to claim their seventh win of the season and their first since the month of October.
Jones led all receivers with nine catches for 118 yards and in doing so beat Roddy White’s old record of 115 receptions in a single season. White also caught three passes for 47 yards.
The running game once again failed to hit 100 yards but who cares when you finally win a game. They did finally get their first rushing touchdown in quite a while and the run plays were properly used to compliment the passing game and help eat up the clock when needed in the second half.
Ryan looked a little more comfortable under center unlike the last two months but once again failed to spread the ball around much as only four different receivers caught the ball.
With the win the Falcons even their record at 7-7 and still have faint playoff hopes alive. A lot will have to fall in their favor for them to get in. If only they were in the NFC East they would be tied with Washington for the division lead and actually would hold the tiebreaker since they defeated them already this season as well as everyone else in that division. However in order for Atlanta to make the playoffs they it will require Minnesota and Seattle to lose their last two games and Atlanta to win their final two. Even that is a long shot seeing that the Falcons already lost a head-to-head match-up with the Vikings earlier in the season and nothing looks like it’s going to slow down Seattle right now.
The Falcons return home Sunday for the final two games of the season as they will take on the still undefeated Carolina Panthers who embarrassed them two weeks ago 38-0. Revenge will be on Atlanta’s mind but we will have to see if they will execute of look like the same Falcons we’ve seen the month of November. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm and the game will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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