While I'm trying to catch up on the season finale of "Devious Maids"...
Are the Atlanta Falcons Still Contenders in the NFC?
I know what you're going to say. "This is coming from a typical Atlanta Falcons' homer, so how can we expect you of all people to be objective?" It's not about being objective or subjective, it's about stating facts, and after watching Atlanta defeat the up-and-coming St. Louis Rams 31-24 at the Georgia Dome, I am more than convinced they have what it takes to lift up the Lombardi Trophy in the winter air of Snoopy Stadium in New Jersey come February.
Ryder: "But JR, don't you know that unless ESPN says so, your team is garbage?"
Yeah, go tell that to those analysts still waving the RGIII pom-poms, a man who's taking a beating so bad in the first two weeks he should be calling himself Toby, but that's a story for another day. Anyway, back to the Atlanta Falcons, who showed that they have what it takes to win, and win consistently. Just take a look at what transpired today:
1) Leadership. It all starts in the NFL with coaching and your quarterback, and there's something to be said about being 20-3 after a loss since 2008. It means you don't see the Falcons endure any long losing streaks, and credit needs to go to Mike Smith, a guy who looks like that crazy uncle who comes by every Thanksgiving with the wild turkey.
He knows how to make adjustments when needed, and when the Falcons lost Steven Jackson to a quad injury in the first quarter (get used to that a lot this year) Smith decided to eschew the run and put the ball in the hands of his best weapons, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Ryan, in his sixth year, was able to utilize the screen pass effectively and make the passes necessary to keep the surging Rams at bay, throwing for 374 yards. It is that combo of coach and QB that makes this team a threat, even when it loses a large chunk of talent.
2) Stars still matter in the NFL. Speaking of Jones, when will this guy get any credit? Everyone loves to slurp Megatron and A.J. Green (comes from Georgia, I hear) but yet no one mentions Julio Jones, you know, the same guy who burned the San Francisco 49ers defense for 182 yards in the playoffs?
Jeff Fisher should have probably used a very simple technique to keep him in check, something along the lines of a double team, perhaps? That being said, the Falcons did a great job of throwing screen passes to Julio as well as keep him moving around to the point where he proved he is the most dangerous man on the field at all times. Roddy White is hurt, Tony Gonzalez is looking his age, and no one else is really able to step up; perhaps this year the league will credit Julio Jones as the all-world receiver that he is today.
3) Depth that "rises up" when it matters most. The Falcons lost LB Sean Weatherspoon (foot), CB Asante Samuel (thigh), and DE Kroy Biermann (ankle, but more than likely it was due to his wife calling him home to rub her feet) to injuries. Normally the average team would crumble losing such leadership on defense, but not this team. Credit defensive coordinator Mike Nolan for devising a game plan that basically held down Drew Brees last week and kept Sam Bradford out of the end zone until they ran out of gas.
Don't blame the defense for the Rams' near comeback; it's hard to be effective all game long when the defense had to be on the field twice as much in the second half as it was in the first. If the offense had moved the ball more often, it would've helped what has been a very effective line in the first two weeks.
Osi Umenyiora created a pick-six, and guys like Jonathan Massaquoi and Joplo Bartu stepped up to help. Also, credit William Moore for his old-school spinebuster slam during the game. I have to deduct some points, though, for not going for the pin.
I think this is more than enough reason to convince everyone that in spite of what people may think, the Falcons are not a soft team that can get pushed over, and expect them to be in the mix all season long.
Now, time to catch up on some "Breaking Bad"...