Falcons vs. Bills: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Atlanta
The win didn't come easily for the Falcons, who trailed for a lot of the game and gave up 195 yards on the ground and allowed six quarterback sacks.
Despite that, the Falcons showed some grit and forced some late mistakes out of the Bills to help secure Atlanta's first road victory of the season.
Let's break down how the Falcons got the job done this week by dishing out our Week 13 position-by-position report card grades from Atlanta's win over Buffalo.
All game stats are via espn.com.
Matt Ryan threw for more than 300 yards for the first time in more than a month and gave the offense some juice by throwing the ball downfield. He did a nice job of keeping his composure in the face of pressure from an aggressive Bills defensive front.
Falcons fans were probably very pleased to see Ryan and wide receiver Roddy White finally get into a rhythm together, as Ryan connected with White 10 times on 14 targets.
Ryan also gained 17 yards on two quarterback scrambles.
Ryan looked to have another touchdown pass on a long pass to running back Antone Smith that Smith probably should have caught, but Ryan's own miscues (a fumbled snap that led to a touchdown and a play where Ryan tripped and fell in the red zone after receiving the ball from center) kept him from earning an "A" here.
Atlanta running backs combined for 134 yards on 27 carries. Thanks to some improved blocking up front, Steven Jackson was able to get to the second level and create some explosive plays on the ground like he did on his 27-yard touchdown run.
In addition, Antone Smith turned on the jets on a routine sweep play and continued to show why he deserves more touches in the run game. Does Smith's speed make him a better option as a change-of-pace back than Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling?
Fullback Patrick DiMarco also deserves some recognition for getting a nice block on Jackson's long touchdown run in the first quarter. DiMarco seems to have become more physical at the point of attack in recent weeks.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Roddy White gave Falcons fans a reason to smile on Sunday because he appeared to return to the top-level form we've seen from him in the past six seasons by hauling in 10 receptions for 143 yards.
White, who told ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure that he still hasn't fully healed from his preseason ankle injury, gave Atlanta's passing game the downfield playmaker it has been missing since Julio Jones went down. White isn't the home run threat that Jones is, but he's more effective at picking up chunks of yardage on deeper routes than Harry Douglas.
Speaking of Douglas, he had a decent outing, but his late fourth-quarter personal foul penalty nearly cost the Falcons a chance to tie the game. Douglas was able to draw a pass interference penalty on the next play, but Atlanta may not be so fortunate next time.
Tony Gonzalez was able to bring in a contested pass in the red zone for his fifth touchdown of the year, while rookie tight end Levine Toilolo had a 12-yard catch that netted a first down.
Atlanta's offensive line may have had its best game of the year in terms of run blocking, but it continued to have some issues in pass protection, as evidenced by the Bills' six sacks.
Lamar Holmes, Justin Blalock and Ryan Schraeder all had strong blocks on Steven Jackson's 27-yard touchdown run.
Schraeder, who played as an extra tackle in Atlanta's 4-2 unbalanced formation and at right tackle in place of Jeremy Trueblood, added some much-needed toughness up front and made a case for why he should get a longer look over these next four weeks.
As much as I've criticized Peter Konz this season, I feel the need to give him some credit for a pancake block he had on Bills defensive tackle Marcel Dareus in the first half. With that said, a lot of the pressure that Atlanta faced in the passing game came from the interior.
Unless Konz shows more improvement at right guard over the last four games, he could head into 2014 as a backup to a re-signed Joe Hawley at center and a new Falcons starter at right guard.
Holmes and Blalock appeared to have a communication issue on one of Buffalo's six sacks because the Buffalo defender was untouched off of the left side.
Atlanta's defensive line left a lot to be desired on Sunday. The pass rush never showed up, and there was very little penetration in the run game, as Bills running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson easily made their way to second level on the way to pacing Buffalo to 195 rushing yards.
Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Corey Peters and Osi Umenyiora were all very average, and none of the Falcons' young defensive ends did much to get excited about.
There just isn't a true playmaker amongst this group on the Atlanta defensive front, and the entire defensive unit suffers because of it.
The defensive line would have probably taken a majority of the blame if Atlanta had lost this game, so they don't escape a poor grade here even though the Falcons were able to escape Toronto with a win.
The Falcons' linebackers were forced to do a lot of catching because Buffalo running backs were in their laps at the snap of the ball too many times on Sunday.
Paul Worrilow led the team in tackles again and maintained his position as the team's leading tackler of the season.
Sean Weatherspoon continued to get his feet under him in his third game back from the foot injury that cost him most of the season, but he was far from the game-changer that many Falcons fans had hoped he'd be. Worrilow may be the best linebacker the Falcons have right now.
Joplo Bartu and Akeem Dent had quiet afternoons.
Desmond Trufant displayed tremendous hustle when he caught speedy Bills' back C.J. Spiller from behind on a 77-yard run in the first quarter.
That's the kind of play that the coaching staff will make note of moving forward because at this point in the season they're looking at which guys have packed it in and which guys have continued to play hard. Trufant can count himself amongst the latter group because of that play and what he did in pass coverage on Sunday.
Speaking of Spiller's long run, safety Thomas DeCoud could've prevented a lot of that yardage if he had made an open-field tackle shortly after Spiller cut back and broke free on the carry.
William Moore and Robert McClain can take a lot of credit for this victory because of the role they played in two timely Bills turnovers late in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Matt Bryant connected on both of his field-goal attempts, including his 36-yard game-winning kick. It was nice to see him rebound after missing a 52-yard kick in the fourth quarter against the Saints in Week 12.
Falcons punter Matt Bosher also had a strong outing by helping Atlanta win the field position battle with his 39.7 yards per punt average.
The kick return unit's reverse handoff to Antone Smith on the opening kick of the game was very effective, but Atlanta's offense couldn't take advantage of the good field position.
Hats off to Atlanta's coverage units for keeping Bills' return man Marquise Goodwin in check.
Mike Smith's team looked flat and fell behind 14-0 after starting the game with a nice kickoff return. Smith deserves some credit for rallying his troops at that point and staying committed to the run game that eventually helped send the game into the half with a 17-17 tie.
The game played out a lot like the kind of victories we saw this team have over inferior opponents in 2012.
Atlanta gave up a few too many big plays that kept things close in a game that Atlanta probably could've won by double-digits. Since things were close, the Falcons needed the ball to bounce their way at the end of the game in order to come out on top.
Nevertheless, a win is a win in this league, and Atlanta will take what it can get after its five-game losing streak.
Some Falcons fans may be concerned about the team losing draft position by winning this game, but the NFL is a tribe of competitors, and you really can't expect Mike Smith to do anything short of trying to win games the rest of the way out.