The Falcons are 6-0 after Sunday’s victory over the Oakland Raiders. Overall, the game was a struggle, as Oakland came in off the bye week and had ample time to heal some players and improve in some key areas.
When all was said and done, it was clear that Oakland gave Atlanta more than they bargained for as the Falcons had to answer the Raiders time and time again throughout the game and had to pull another fourth-quarter/last-drive game-winner out of their collective magic hats.
In each game, there are winners and losers, and this game was certainly a mixed bag for Atlanta, as they had to overcome themselves several times to achieve victory. In the end, however, the strength of some key Falcons shined in a hard-fought win.
The Falcons winners and losers from Week 6 are:
Bryant connected on a game-winning 55-yard field goal to send the Falcons into the bye week, 6-0, for the first time in franchise history.
As can only happen in the NFL, the game-winner followed Raider’s coach Dennis Allen’s decision to ice Bryant by calling a timeout just before Bryant’s first attempt.
Though the timeout was called before the snap, Bryant followed through on the kick attempt, using it as a practice—a kick he missed wide left. As fate would have it, Bryant got the second chance and crushed a make that would have good from 60-plus.
Bryant’s game-winner made up for a wide-left miss from 43 yards earlier in the game that may have very well negated the need for his eventual heroics. Before the missed 41-yarder, Bryant had been perfect on the season at 10-of-10 on field-goal attempts. As only a kicker can, Bryant went from loser to winner from his first kick to his last.
The Falcons did not address their biggest personnel need this heading into 2012, and it continues to show at crucial moments. Numerous times in games this season, the Falcons have been stymied up front, and Sunday was no different.
Though they only allowed one sack in Sunday’s victory over the Oakland Raiders, the Falcons offensive line was again a point of weakness throughout the game.
Matt Ryan was under immense pressure most of the day, resulting in several off-balance throws, numerous hits taken and leading directly to one of his three interceptions on the day. Ryan was never settled in consistently on any one drive, which resulted in a very inconsistent game from the quarterback.
The run game was anemic as the Falcons only rushed for 45 total yards. The line created very few running lanes for backs and was stuffed on the goal line while trying to take the lead which resulted in a game tying field goal.
The offensive line must improve if the Falcons are to attain their stated goal of reaching this year’s championship game. Ryan has made up for the lack of execution up front most of the season, but that is not a recipe for long-term success.
Samuel was brought in this offseason to bolster a Falcons secondary that had been maligned by big plays the past few seasons. He has been a big part of the Falcons’ turnaround to becoming one of the league's better pass defenses.
He took it a step further against the Raiders with a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown. Oakland was in field-goal range with the possibility of taking the lead with under three minutes to go in the game when Samuel undercut Palmer’s pass and raced virtually untouched for the score.
Samuel’s venture into the end zone was the first this season for an Atlanta defense that has forced 14 total turnovers. It's fitting that the newest addition set the tone for defensive scoring. When 2012 is complete, Asante Samuel may well be the most important player on the Falcons' roster.
While the Falcons defense made some big plays and had some key stops, they also gave up some explosive plays due to several key missed tackles. Atlanta possesses several big hitters throughout the defense; players who, at times, don’t finish those heavy blows.
With the team clinging to a one-point lead and halftime approaching, linebacker Mike Peterson gave up the go-ahead-score after not finishing off a big strike.
With the Falcons leading late in the fourth quarter, safety Thomas DeCoud missed a key tackle that gave the Raiders 1st-and-goal just outside the 6-yard line that kept their game-tying drive alive.
Finally, Akeem Dent had arguably the worst day as his poor form led to a big penalty that kept the Raider’s hopes alive and made things much more difficult than they should have been.
The Falcons are playing great defense overall, but that fact has been overshadowed, at times, by their lack of effective tackling. The day will come when this type of poor execution leads directly to a loss to an inferior opponent.
The Falcons went into this past offseason open to letting defensive end John Abraham sign elsewhere. The Falcons took their time gauging the free-agent market, taking a peek at free agents from other teams.
In the end, the Falcons weren’t in the big-money game to bring someone in, and Abraham discovered he wasn’t a big-money player for other teams. The results of the reformed relationship have been great for both, as Abraham is playing some of the best football of his career.
His three sacks and forced fumble against the Raiders would easily have earned the nod as defensive player of the game if not for Samuel’s pick six. His sacks weren’t just big plays, they were game-changers.
Each sack had a direct effect on the outcome of the game. He had a huge sack for 14 yards, leading to a 3rd-and-16 the Raiders couldn’t convert. He also added a strip-sack that led to a game-tying field goal.
Abraham was a force all day as he made hay in the Raiders' backfield often.