Falcons vs. 49ers: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons had every intention of spoiling Candlestick Park's going away party, but their effort came up short as the San Francisco 49ers prevailed 34-24 behind a late pick-six by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
While some Falcons fans may be pleased by the team's effort in a loss, Atlanta's players and coaches aren't likely to be moved by yet another game that slipped away from this team.
Join us as we break down how the Falcons earned their 11th loss of the season and dish out our Week 16 full roster report card grades for Atlanta.
Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards while completing over 70 percent of his passes for the second time this calendar year against San Francisco's defense.
He did most of his major damage in the second half when he and Falcons receiver Roddy White really got into a rhythm.
You can nitpick about whether Ryan should have gambled on the throw to Harry Douglas with the way 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock was closing in behind Douglas, but 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh may not have been exaggerating as much as you think when he called the play that NaVorro Bowman made off of the deflection "the best thing he's ever seen happen in a football game."
Prior to Bowman's interception, Ryan had probably played the best two quarters he's played all season in the second half.
Steven Jackson had a little success on the ground in the first half, but his most important contribution may have been when he got in 49ers safety Donte Whitner's face in an effort to remind Whitner that he wasn't intimidated by the 49ers' physicality.
Atlanta went away from the ground game in the second half once the 49ers offense kicked things in gear, so it's tough to evaluate Atlanta's backs either way.
Jacquizz Rodgers did more as a receiver than a runner, and proponents of Steven Jackson returning to the Falcons in 2014 may soon argue that an upgrade over Rodgers may be needed in the backfield more so than one over Jackson.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The Falcons may not have gotten off to a 1-4 start if Roddy White had been healthy enough to play like he did last night. White's 39-yard fourth-quarter touchdown reception from Matt Ryan was one of the better connections we've seen from Atlanta this year.
Elsewhere in the receiving corps, Atlanta got an unexpected contribution from Drew Davis as he helped set up Atlanta's first touchdown of the game with a 59-yard catch-and-run.
Harry Douglas had a relatively quiet night outside of being involved in the game's biggest play, but he did gain enough receiving yards to put him over 1,000 on the year.
Tony Gonzalez continued to play like a pro and seemed to savor his last appearance on Monday Night Football. It's tough not to feel bad for Gonzalez after last night because he's been on the wrong side of games that have ended that way plenty of times during his career in Kansas City and Atlanta.
Atlanta's offensive line played about as well as you could have expected it to play against the 49ers' dominant defensive front seven that could be the best group in football.
A long-time Falcons fan commented to me offline during the game that he believed Lamar Holmes was playing like a poor-man's version of former Falcons tackle Bob Whitfield.
I think that comparison could prove to have some merit based on what we've seen from Holmes this year because like Whitfield in his day, Holmes has plenty of physical tools, and he can actually be a very effective pass-protector when he's engaged in the game mentally and not committing costly penalties.
On the right side of the line, Ryan Schraeder fought hard even though a defender put him on his tail on one third-down passing play.
I've been tough on this group all season, and even though it allowed some pressure last night, it didn't let San Francisco's front seven dictate this game the way I thought it would.
Falcons fans should leave Week 16 feeling a little better about this group's ability to pass block as long as Atlanta's brain trust doesn't use the unit's performance against the 49ers as justification for staying with the status quo up front this offseason.
The line still has to get a lot better as a group (especially at right guard) in the ground game, and it still probably needs to add another tackle to play on the right side.
Atlanta's defensive line put together a scrappy effort in the first half when the Falcons built a 10-3 lead, but the unit got punched in the mouth in the second half by the 49ers offensive line once San Francisco got its ground game going.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi were the main standouts for the Falcons as both had sacks on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
NaVorro Bowman's fourth-quarter interception may have clinched the game, but if you recall, the 49ers were able to grab a lot of momentum behind a six-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that extended their lead to 27-17 earlier in the quarter.
San Francisco ran the ball on every play on that drive. That's a situation where Atlanta needed someone on its defensive line to get some penetration and make a play, but it never happened.
Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon missed this game with a knee injury, but give veteran Stephen Nicholas credit for stepping up in Weatherspoon's absence.
Nicholas, who took more than his share of the blame from many fans for Atlanta's loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game, had 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack on Monday night.
If you combine that with what Nicholas did last week against Washington, you can see that Nicholas didn't spend his time pouting on the bench earlier this season when Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow took his playing time.
Speaking of Bartu, he probably played his best game since Week 2 against St. Louis as he tied Nicholas for the team lead in tackles against San Francisco.
While Nicholas and Bartu played well, this unit has to take a hit on its report card because of the 49ers' ability to get a couple big plays in the run game in the second half.
After a strong first half, Atlanta's cornerback group gave up some plays to 49ers receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin in the second half that helped put San Francisco out front.
This wasn't an awful performance by Atlanta's secondary, but much like the rest of the Falcons defense, nobody stepped up and made the game-changing play that this team needed to get over the top in this contest.
Safety Thomas DeCoud returned to the lineup, but he was just a guy out there for the most part.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford both still look like the odds-on favorites to start at corner for this team next year.
Matt Bryant connected on his only field-goal attempt of the game, and Matt Bosher averaged over 48 yards per punt.
However, Bosher and the rest of Atlanta's kickoff unit earn the high grade here for their execution of an outstanding onside kick in the fourth quarter that gave Atlanta a chance to win the game.
Kudos to backup running back Jason Snelling for the nifty recovery.
You have to give Falcons head coach Mike Smith and his staff credit for having the Falcons prepared to compete in a game that most observers expected to be a blowout for San Francisco.
Players seem to relish playing on Monday nights under the national spotlight, and Smith appeared to capitalize on that sentiment by getting the most out of his bunch.
Despite the effort, some all too familiar issues haunted Atlanta in this loss. The 49ers outscored the Falcons 31-14 after halftime adjustments were made, and the Falcons just couldn't make enough of the big plays that win games.
Smith helped Atlanta earn a small bit of respect from a national audience, but there are no moral victories in the NFL.