So are these 2016 Atlanta Falcons for real? I have to admit, I am starting to warm up to them. The Falcons increased their AFC South lead to a full two games Sunday soundly defeating their rival Carolina Panthers 48-33 Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
For the first time in years the Atlanta defense showed up – at least for three quarters – they did give up 23 points in the fourth quarter to make it briefly interesting… They even knocked reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton out of the game – and we’re not sure for how long yet (concussion protocol).
To top it all off it was a day for the record books as both Matt Ryan and Julio Jones set notonly franchise records but are now in the NFL record books – all for the right reason.
Matt Ryan threw for a career and Falcons high 503 yards against the Panthers going 28-of-37 with four touchdowns and one interception. Ryan not only set a Falcon team record and is now tied for 17th for most passing yards in an NFL game.
Jones caught 12 of those passes for 300 yards which also puts him sixth on the list for ost NFL receiving yards in a single game. After a slow start of the season hampered by lingering injuries Jones now leads the league in receiving yards.
And one more for the record books; the duo of Ryan and Jones are the first passing/receiving tandem to pass and catch for 500/300 in an NFL game.
And while all praise is deserved for the offense, the defense finally started to show a little improvement – at least for the first three quarters.
Going into the fourth quarter the Falcons held a 31-10 lead. The lone touchdown scored was on a pick-6 by Kurt Coleman who intercepted Ryan at the eight and waltzed into the end zone, therefore theoretically the defense only allowed three points during the first three quarters.
All of that fell apart in the fourth quarter as Carolina scored 23 points – three touchdowns and two two-point conversions. However the first two-point conversion had dire consequences for the Panthers that may affect the team beyond this game. Cam Newton scored on the two-point conversion where he was hit head on and spun across the goal line. Instead of his usual bravado of a Superman gesture, he just laid there. Newton suffered a concussion and was replaced by Derek Anderson. ““I think we all saw it (the hit), maybe he could have avoided it but I don’t think he saw the guy, so that’s neither here nor there,” said Anderson. It is unknown if Newton will be available to play next week.
Anderson led two scoring drives as the Falcon defense went into a prevent defense mode allowing yardage but seemed unable to stop the Panthers from scoring. Carolina made it interesting at the 4:05 mark when Anderson hit Greg Olsen from 14 yards out and with the two-point conversion drew within one score at 34-26.
It took Atlanta seven seconds and one play to answer. One the next play from scrimmage Ryan hit Jones on a crossing route but instead of a first down Jones kept going and sprinted down the right sideline untouched for a 75 yard touchdown. The 75 yards toss and catch is what propelled Ryan and Jones into the record books as well as increasing their lead to 41-26.
The Panthers were determined to make a game of it as Anderson tossed his second touchdown pass hitting Corey Brown from 16 yards out with two minutes remaining.
Carolina’s defense held sacking Ryan forcing a punt. But then Atlanta’s defense rose to the occasion. With 1:25 remaining Robert Alford picked off Anderson returning it 30 for the score and a 48-33 lead. “They played Cover 2 and I saw Greg going into the flat, I started to throw it and tried to pull it back. I tried to just hold onto it, settle in and unfortunately I made a non-confident throw that floated over his head and unfortunately the guy was sitting right there,” Anderson said about the Falcons’ cornerback.
Three plays later Alford came up big again with 46 second to play picking off Anderson for a second time thus quashing any hopes for a miracle comeback.
With the win the Falcons improve to 3-1. The Falcons in their last two games combined have scored 93 points. That’s more than division leaders New England (81), Houston (69), Los Angeles (63) and Minnesota (88) have scored all season (through four games). The offense, off to perhaps a historic start is averaging over 35 points a game and the season opener (21) was the only game they didn’t score at least 35 points.
The downside of this is the fact the defense keeps giving up large chunks of yards and on average giving up 32 points a game. The least amount of point the defense has given up was 28 in a week two win at Oakland.
The Falcons face their biggest challenge of the young season to date as they travel to Denver to face the Broncos. The Broncos boast the fifth ranked defense in the league giving up an average of only 16 points a game. It will be the first real test for the leagues number one ranked offense. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:05pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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