The Atlanta Falcons faced a tough Week 2 matchup with the "dream team" on Sunday evening. The media hype leading up to this week's Sunday night football game revolved around Vick returning to the Georgia Dome for the first time as a starter. As Sunday's night game proved, the Dome is still one of the toughest places to play on the road for any NFL team.
The game proved to be an exciting one, with each team trading 10-plus point leads and ending in a 35-31 win for the Falcons. Michael Vick left with a concussion, sending backup Kafka in to try to get the Eagles back on track, but ultimately could not stretch the field enough for a late comeback.
Let's take a look at what was good, bad and ugly for the Atlanta Falcons in this game.
The Falcons defense did a good job bringing pressure on Vick multiple times, causing two turnovers and several hits on Vick. Vick ultimately suffered a concussion and left the game. While it's never good to see a player get injured, it was good to see the Falcons making bold moves towards the quarterback and limiting his playmaking ability with his legs.
Roddy White stepped up as he normally does and proved why he is one of the best wideouts in the league. He scored the first offensive touchdown of the Falcons' season, and it was a monster of a catch that Roddy snatched out of the air despite decent coverage.
Matt Ryan performed well in the fourth quarter to get the lead back. Ryan finished with a career-high four touchdowns despite only having 195 yards in the air. Ryan proved that good decision-making trumps flashy play nine times out of 10. This also marked the 14th game winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the Falcons since 2008—the second most in the NFL. Two words from Tony Gonzalez's post-game comments summed up Ryan's clutch play: "what poise."
Speaking of Tony Gonzalez—he has to get the nod for player of the game. He finished the game with two touchdowns, one of which was an amazing one-handed grab that showed why Gonzalez is the greatest tight end to ever play the game (as if we need more proof). Tony moved ahead of Terrell Owens on the all-time receptions list, making him fifth on that list. He'll likely finish the season at second in all-time receptions.
Jacquizz Rodgers showed his dynamic ability late in the game with a beautiful run that made it first and goal in the fourth quarter. Rodgers is very small, making him an underrated player but he has a lot of dynamic talent and speed to boot. His role as a "change-of-pace" back should suit him well going forward.
Michael Turner had a 61-yard romp in the fourth that was eventually capped off with the go-ahead touchdown. Turner is a beast of a running back at 250 pounds, and he made the Eagles defense pay with that long run.
The defense had three clutch forced turnovers that were ultimately game-changers. Babineaux's backup Peria Jerry forced a fumble—a fumble that Ray Edwards scooped up and ran for 64 yards—and showed his playmaking ability coming off the bench. Vick also fumbled again and threw an interception as well later in the game. The Falcons offense was able to capitalize on these three opportunities with two touchdowns. This type of efficiency is necessary to beat high-flying offenses like Philadelphia's.
When Atlanta's defense wasn't bringing the pressure on Michael Vick, it was allowing Lesean McCoy to run all over the field. The run defense was porous, and it allowed McCoy to rack up 95 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
Dunta Robinson seemed lost half the time. There was one Eagles touchdown in which Jeremy Maclin was wide open—literally. Dunta brought decent coverage about half of the time, but the other half let Vick display some of his passing ability. It's good to limit Vick's mobility with his legs, but ineffective if the secondary coverage is blown.
Matt Ryan has got to trust his receivers more and throw the ball just a little more often. I don't believe Matt should force throws, but the Atlanta Falcons pay him a lot of money to be able to make passes when passes are necessary. How long did it take for Matt to get to 100 yards passing?
The Falcons need to step up their third down efficiency. The Falcons only converted six of 13 third downs. In case you are bad at math, that is less than half.
The Falcons' offensive line can certainly step up their game. Ryan was sacked four times too many; it's a good thing for Falcons fans that "Matty Ice" is tough and can rebound from big hits.
Brian Van Gorder's mustache. Need I say more?
Dunta Robinson laid down a "helmet-to-helmet" hit on Jeremy Maclin, which cost a 15-yard penalty for the Falcons. I personally thought that the hit was low enough on the helmet—it looked to me to glance off the bottom of the face mask—that it should not have been penalized. However, Dunta was fined last season for a similar hit and he has to know that the league is only going to get more vigilant against head-first tackles. That being said, how in the world does someone not lead with their head while tackling?
Sam Baker is not the greatest offensive tackle to play the game. In fact, he may not be that good at all. He got pushed around by his man all game, and he's lucky that Matt Ryan is still alive under his watch.
The rookie Matt Bosher turned in the worst punt I have seen in several seasons. Punting from the back of the endzone, he kicked the football out of bounds around the 20 yard line. The Falcons' 20 yard line. Not sure how it benefitted the Falcons to get rid of the most efficient punters in the game—look up punt return yards allowed by the Falcons for the past two seasons—only to allow a rookie to serve up lemons on a silver platter.
Matt Ryan threw two interceptions that could have easily been avoided. I know that the Eagles have what many consider to be the best corner squad in the game, but the receivers have to create space, and Matt has to make the right decisions. He showed us in his first three seasons that he is not afraid to throw the ball away when nothing is there. Hopefully, he can remember that going forward. It is worth noting that Asante Samuel has had three picks against Matt Ryan—one each time he played against him.
Matt Ryan threw a career high four touchdowns Sunday night, but he has got to be able to throw more often and more efficiently in quarters that are not the fourth. His clutch ability is there—we are all aware of it—but the next step is to score early and often and not have to make the fourth quarter comeback.
Falcons have to continue to pound the ball in the running game. I'd like to see Snelling get a few more touches and for Turner to continue doing exactly what he has been doing. Continuing with the run-first offense opens up the passing game for play action and keeps the defense on its toes. It is classic football, and the Falcons have had great success with this strategy in the past few seasons. Straying from what works will get the Falcons nowhere this season.
Falcons' offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey should trust Matt Ryan with the no-huddle offense more often. Ryan needs the opportunity to show why he is a top-tier quarterback. His first season drew heavy comparisons to Peyton Manning's rookie season, and it would be nice to let Ryan evolve into a Manning-like team leader. Trust him with the offense, intervene when necessary and come out on top.
This was a great game for both teams and for fans of both teams. The storyline leading up to the game made it emotional and relevant, even for viewers across the country who are not Falcons or Eagles fans. The finish was stressful, but triumphant for Atlanta, and it was certainly good to see more Matt Ryan jerseys than Vick jerseys. You never like to see a competitor like Michael Vick suffer an injury, and it's unfortunate it has happened to Vick so early in the season.
Still, it must feel good for Atlanta fans to come out victorious. This game was a must win for the Falcons, and coming off an embarrassing defeat in Chicago in which not a single offensive touchdown was scored, it is nice to know that Matt Ryan is still an incredible quarterback destined for greatness.