The Atlanta Falcons beat down the Detroit Lions Saturday, 31-18, and secured the NFC’s No. 1 seed in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout. But Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record and stole the spotlight.
That’s nothing new for the Falcons, who even when they were the sole unbeaten team in the NFL were still being overlooked.
Another aspect from Atlanta’s win that was quickly overlooked—and this one’s not such a shining portion of the night—was the fact that even in the win, as lopsided as it was, weaknesses were brought to the forefront during the third quarter.
The Falcons took a 21-6 lead into the halftime locker room. Even with the cushion, the way Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford drove the ball down the field at the end of the second quarter to tack on three points should scare Falcons fans.
The way the third quarter started should as well.
The Falcons possessed the ball just twice in the third quarter and notched just one first down. The offense failed on third down, going 0-of-2, and the offensive line was sorely overmatched by the pass rush Detroit put together.
Detroit scored its only touchdown of the game in the third quarter and brought the margin to within one score. But just as so many things were overshadowed Saturday, Atlanta’s fourth-quarter play quickly made people forget just how bad the third quarter was.
Atlanta put 10 points on the board, moved the chains eight times and put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. Matt Ryan threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, but he was still knocked around a bit.
Some other areas of Atlanta’s play weren’t pretty either.
If not for a garbage 22-yard run with 7:03 left in the game, running back Michael Turner would have had a miserable game statistically. He still averaged just 3.15 yards per carry for the game. Imagine if Detroit’s defense hadn’t been soft late and allowed that run. Take away that run and Turner averaged 1.58 yards per carry.
Turner finished the game with 41 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers not only had just 14 yards on six carries but was outgained on the ground by two Ryan scrambles by 11 yards.
Atlanta’s running game is in dire need of an overhaul. In fact, it’s currently in a state of disarray. Saturday, Ryan and the passing game bailed out Turner and Rodgers’ inability to run the football. There’s going to come a time that that won’t be the case.
But the running game will be overlooked because Ryan threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He completed just over 78 percent of his passes and hit Roddy White and Julio Jones with such regularity that it’s questionable whether or not the Falcons need a running game.
The way Atlanta played Saturday night, how many games will the Falcons win in the playoffs?
Clear that thought, because Atlanta definitely does need to be able to run the football. There is only one more game where the Falcons have any wiggle room for mistakes. After their Week 17 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, if the Falcons falter, they go home.
If Ryan has an off day—remember, he’s had three of them in his three postseason appearances—and the running game can’t bail him out, it’s curtains.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the Falcons. After the Week 15 blowout of the New York Giants, it was important for Atlanta to keep momentum up. Outside of the third quarter Saturday, that happened. The Falcons played well in the first half and in the fourth quarter.
But a ton went wrong in the third quarter, and the Falcons still have close to no run game at all. Sooner or later a hiccup will knock Atlanta down when there’s no more football left to play to rise back up.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.