The Atlanta Falcons had a rude welcoming for the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The last time the 49ers were at the Dome they came from behind to upset the Falcons in the NFC championship game to go to the Super Bowl.
Since that meeting the years following have not been kind to the two franchises until thi year as the Falcons appear to have rediscovered their winning ways. A few hours after dismantling the 49ers 41-13 they discovered they are once again in sole possession of first place – someplace they’ve been following week two of this season and unlike last year or the years since the 2012 season.
Devonta Freeman’s three touchdowns along with Matt Ryan’s two scoring strikes spelled doom for Chip Kelly’s 49ers who haven’t put a “W” in the column since week one against the Ram whom the Falcons destroyed a week earlier.
It wasn’t until the second quarter that Colin Kaepernick woke as the 49ers spotted the home team three touchdowns in the first quarter and never looked back.
The controversial quarterback whose raised the ire of many fans this season for his protest of the National Anthem kneeled once again during the performance. From that point forward there was a constant and very loud stream of boos coming from the stands. The boos were only interrupted by cheers for the Atlanta offense and when the defense stopped Kaepernick which was most of the game.
Ryan once again saw his time cut short after completing 17-of-23 passes for 287 yards and two scores as Matt Schaub came in again for mop up duties in the fourth quarter leading once scoring drive. Ryan finished with a QB rating of 144.5.
The biggest story perhaps besides the animosity towards Kaepernick was Atlanta’s running game. Playing without Julio Jones for a second week many figured the Falcons would try to rely a little more on their run game. It didn’t take much effort. The 49ers who hade one of the leagues worst rushing defenses demonstrated that as the Falcons ran all over them for a total of 244 yards with Freeman leading the way with 139. “Devonta [Freeman] played really, really well and he’s special for us. He’s a special player, but it doesn’t get going without those guys up front. I think our offensive line played extremely well and allowed all of our running backs, and specifically Devonta, to get to the second level. Our guys are so good and Devonta is so good that when he gets into the second level of the defense it’s a problem. He’s a great slasher and a great runner,” said Ryan.
The Atlanta offense moved the ball in big chunks as Ryan averaged 12.4 yards an attempt, 16.9 a completion and the running game averaged 5.95 yards an attempt. “I think Matt [Ryan] is one of the top quarterbacks in this league. When you have a good group of receivers like they have and the two big tight ends that they mix in there and obviously I think the running back was outstanding. We faced them last year they did the same thing. It’s a really good offensive football team,” said 49er coach Chip Kelly about the explosive Falcon’s offense.
Atlanta’s often criticized defense should be given props as well. The team held the 49ers to under 300 yards of total offense and once again gave up only two touchdowns total while completely shutting out San Francisco in the second half. That is a significant difference compared to the rest of the season where the defense tended to give up chunks of yards late and often late points either clinging to a late lead or losing them in games like Seattle and San Diego.
Kaepernick whose last appearance at the Dome was in that fateful NFC championship game four years ago was unable to rally the troops and defense literally kept him on the defense and grounded as he accounted for a total of 204 of offense with only 21 on the ground. While Kaepernick’s play has been relatively inconsistent all season since regaining the starting slot the Falcons kept constant pressure on him sacking him twice.
With the two teams heading in opposite directions the Falcons were able to avoid a letdown and again double up points on an opponent and for the second week in a row give Ryan a majority of the fourth quarter off and let Matt Schaub take over. “I think you can always throw records out. In this league, it’s tough every week regardless of who you are going against. For us, we have to play up to our standard. We talk about that day in and day out in our building. It’s about playing to the level we are capable of with whoever is out there and try not to miss a beat. I thought offensively we did that today. We still have a few things that we can clean up and do better and that’s what we’ve got to work on this week,” said Ryan.
The Falcons have a short week coming up as they will travel to Carolina to take on the Panthers. If things play out well Atlanta can clinch their first playoff spot since the 2012 season..
– Dave Weinthal
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