Falcons vs. Bills: Takeaways from Atlanta's 34-31 Win over Buffalo
Matt Bryant hit a game-winning field goal from 36 yards, capitalizing off a Bills turnover that started overtime.
The Falcons got into a deep hole with a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter but were able to climb out of it in the third quarter to take a 24-17 lead. They would come back again from another deficit to tie the score in the final two minutes to send the game into overtime off a Steven Jackson touchdown run.
The Falcons snap their five-game losing streak and hope to build off this momentum next week against the Green Bay Packers. They will have plenty of positives to look at as well as some negatives to focus on fixing against the Bills.
Turnovers Bounce Falcons Way
The Falcons benefited greatly at the end of the game from a pair of Bills turnovers. Stevie Johnson fumbled a catch with 28 seconds left in the game that would have put Buffalo in prime field-goal territory at Atlanta’s 30-yard line. William Moore was able to recover Robert McClain’s strip, which sent the game into overtime.
The exact same thing happened again to the Bills on the opening drive in overtime, as Scott Chandler was stripped near midfield by Moore. The ball was recovered by Robert Alford and lateraled to Desmond Trufant, who was able to return the ball to Bills territory to help set up Bryant’s game-winning kick.
One can’t help but wonder if the Bills fumbles were indicators that the Bills lost this game more than the Falcons won it. But either way, the Falcons will take any win they can get at this point in what has been a disappointing 2013 season.
Matt Ryan Is More Aggressive
The Falcons seemed much more willing to dial up the deep throw, and Matt Ryan was able to hit five passes of 20 or more yards against the Bills.
It seemed to be the kick in the pants that the Atlanta offense needed, as the Falcons were able to score 17 or more points in the first half for the first time since their last win in Week 7 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Falcons almost completed a sixth big play, which came with roughly six minutes left in the game. Antone Smith dropped a perfect throw by Ryan, potentially a 40-yard play that would have given the Falcons a 31-24 lead at that point. The eventual fumble by Stevie Johnson did allow the Falcons to take that late lead a few minutes later.
As the Falcons offense hopes to get better over this final month of the season, looking downfield may be a big part of any improvement it makes.
Steven Jackson Leads Solid Rushing Attack
While Steven Jackson looks for his first 100-yard effort in a Falcons uniform, he was able to get a step closer to that benchmark on Sunday against the Bills. Jackson finished the game with a season-high 84 yards on 23 carries with a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Antone Smith continued to shine with a 38-yard touchdown run on his lone carry, and Jacquizz Rodgers contributed with 12 yards on four carries.
Overall, the Falcons running game was efficient on the day, totaling 151 yards, a yard shy of matching its season-high as a team in 2013.
With continued success on the ground, the Falcons can begin to open up more play-action opportunities to continue their ability to attack downfield.
Roddy White Returns to Form
One of the reasons for the Falcons’ success throwing the ball was due to the return of wide receiver Roddy White to his normal form. That form consists of being named to the Pro Bowl four times.
White had a season high of 10 catches for 143 yards against the Bills, outpacing the production from his last four combined games where he caught a total of 10 passes for 125 yards.
White has been nagged by injuries this year and struggled in the first week this season where he did not appear on the Falcons injury report, being held to just two catches against the New Orleans Saints in Week 12. But he looked to be completely healthy this week, able to beat Leodis McKelvin several times, among other Bills defenders, to produce a huge game.
White continuing to produce adds a completely new element to the Falcons offense, which is a true No. 1 receiver who can help carry the team’s passing attack. That element has been missing since the season-ending injury to Julio Jones in Week 5 earlier this season.
Falcons Continue Musical Chairs Up Front
The Falcons offensive line has been shuffled quite a bit, as Atlanta tries to find the correct five-man lineup to finish the season.
After consecutive benchings at right guard, this week’s changes came at right tackle. Atlanta plugged in undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder in the second quarter, replacing starter Jeremy Trueblood. Schraeder held his own against the formidable Bills pass rush, but the team returned to Trueblood in the second half.
Overall, the Falcons pass protection struggled, particularly on its interior where several of the Bills six sacks came. However, the run game did step up this week, as the line was able to create holes for various Falcons running backs.
Whether the Falcons look to get Schraeder more reps down the stretch is unknown. But it would be a good idea given the likelihood of a major shake-up to the unit this offseason. Finding out how Schraeder potentially figures into that shake-up will be a good thing to discover over the final four games of the season.
Pass Rush Continues to Disappoint
Atlanta’s pass rush has been nonexistent for much of the year, and that was fully on display Sunday against the Bills. The Falcons did not tally a single sack against EJ Manuel, who had all day to find his receivers.
Even at times when the Falcons were attempting to dial up blitzes, the Bills front was able to pick them up effectively and keep Manuel’s jersey clean. And on the rare occasions where Manuel did see pressure, his mobility and athleticism in the pocket allowed him to escape from it.
After taking the lead in the second half, having a competent pass rush would have been very beneficial for the Falcons to retain that lead. They will need to find ways to create more pressure down the stretch if they want to get some wins against tougher competition like Green Bay, the San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers.
Falcons Secondary Steps Up
While the Falcons didn’t get much help from the guys up front, the secondary was able to compensate for the lack of pressure. As a team, the Falcons were credited with six pass deflections.
Their three young corners in Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Robert McClain each got credited with one, while safety William Moore added two. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon got another, looking sharper in his third game back from a foot injury that held him out for several weeks on short-term injured reserve.
McClain got beat a couple of times by Stevie Johnson, but his strip near the end of regulation made up for most of his struggles on the day.
Both Falcons rookies in Trufant and Alford continue to play at high levels, giving the Falcons a lot of confidence both this year and next. The Falcons can trust their young corners more on islands, leading to potentially more blitzes for the rest of the season to supplement the pass rush. They also can be confident going into 2014 that they potentially have a pair of bookends on the roster to build around for the future.
Run Defense Still a Work in Progress
The Buffalo Bills found success on the ground with 195 rushing yards. It marks the ninth consecutive game where the Atlanta Falcons allowed 100 or more rushing yards to their opponent and their third-highest allowance of the season.
The Bills’ success was largely thanks to a few big runs by C.J. Spiller, including a 36-yard score and a 77-yard run that set up another.
If there’s a positive, it would be that the Falcons only allowed 82 yards on the 29 other rushes by the Bills, an average of just 2.8 yards per carry. But those big gains led to some easy points for the Bills, and the Falcons will need to eliminate those breakdowns before they can really expect to improve the run defense.
The Falcons will have their work cut out for them next week against the Green Bay Packers, who are averaging 125.9 yards per game this season thanks to the strong legs of rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
Special Teams Make a Difference
The Falcons were helped by their play on special teams, which gave them just enough of a boost to help win a tight ballgame against the Bills on Sunday.
A lot of Falcons offensive series stalled, leading to seven punts from Matt Bosher. But the Falcons punter was able to put four of those kicks inside the Bills’ 20-yard line, helping flip field position.
The Falcons opened the game with a 40-yard kickoff return from Antone Smith on a reverse.
They were also able to limit the explosive Marquise Goodwin to 55 combined yards on a pair of kickoff returns, thanks to good coverage and four touchbacks by Bosher.
Those are the sort of things that don’t stand out on the stat sheet, but in a back-and-forth game like this one, the battle of field position can make a significant difference in the outcome of the game. This week, it did in the favor of the Falcons.