“This whole season we’ve been finding a number of ways to win football games,” said Turner. “That’s the true test of a team, not just winning in one particular style of play.”
Turner has a point.
The Falcons have won in blowout fashion (San Diego Chargers), come-from-behind fashion (Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders) and even late-game-miracle fashion (Carolina Panthers). They’ve cruised early (Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles) and shined after halftime adjustments (Kansas City Chiefs).
Atlanta’s win over the Dallas Cowboys was a different type of win. Call it a blast-from-the-past style of win.
The Falcons ran the ball 26 times in Week 9, led by Turner’s 102 yards on 20 carries. Turner floundered a bit before busting open a huge 43-yard gain with just over a minute to go in the third quarter.
Atlanta had trouble tackling Sunday and allowed the Cowboys to drive into Atlanta territory five times on nine drives. The Falcons tightened up when it mattered, the epitome of "bend, don’t break."
The Falcons' win over Dallas reeked of a style of football that hasn’t been seen much since the new era of coaching took over this season. Since Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan were added as new coordinators, Atlanta’s won with convincing and aggressive styles of play.
Bend-don’t-break was 2008 through 2011. So was the run-first mentality. It was Brian VanGorder and Mike Mularkey. Sunday wasn’t the 2012 Falcons on display.
“Different games are going to take on different dynamics,” said head coach Mike Smith in his postgame press conference. “We knew that we had to run the football. We knew if we could get it to the second level, our wide receivers were doing a great job blocking downfield.”
So the Falcons handed the Cowboys a steady and sluggish diet of Turner—one yard to the left, one more to the left, three yards to the right, then no gain at all.
Turner was seven carries into the game before he broke the 10-yard barrier. He averaged 2.3 yards per carry in the first half. He added two more carries early in the third quarter for negative yards before he struck gold.
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On Turner’s 11th carry of the game—almost 43 minutes in—he broke loose into the Dallas backfield. He broke arm tackles and got to full speed quickly, gaining 43 yards and setting himself up for a three-yard scamper later on in the drive.
Turner added 35 more yards in the fourth quarter and notched his second 100-yard game of the season. It wasn’t pretty, but it was hard-nosed Atlanta Falcons football. It was Mike Smith football.
The win showed that Atlanta can break out any style of game plan to win. But running first and beating a team down with heavy doses of Turner isn’t what’s going to get this team to the Super Bowl. This team has tried that. Recent playoff history shows that can’t happen again.
The Falcons need to treat this win just like many of their other close wins this year: as a learning experience and a way to grow toward the goal.
Smith is one step ahead, already.
“We’ll put this one behind us and move on to the next one,” said Smith. “We’ve got a lot of things that we can fix between now and next week.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.