It was said several times that Matt Ryan led this team to the victory. If you were only counting late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter, that would be absolutely true.
Ryan was solid, and we will get to him later. I’d love to say that he was the MVP of the game, but I can’t in all food consciousness say that. The MVP was the Falcon defense, Peyton Manning’s interception evil twin, and the referees.
The real story, especially early in the game, was the interceptions by Peyton Manning. With all of the ESPN pre-game talk and attention on him, you would think that he was a walking god. Manning is, without a doubt, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. But for whatever reason, he was less than his super-human self that he showed against Pittsburgh, and the Falcons turned those into points. Not in the major, capitalization type of way that you might expect and look for, but they did certainly turn those turnovers into points.
Off of three interceptions by Manning and a fumble by Knowshon Moreno, the Falcons produced only a touchdown, a punt, and two field goals. The first touchdown was off a drive that came from an interception return to the 1-yard line, and it took the Falcons three plays to run the ball into the end zone. Only 13 points off of four turnovers early in the game is something that I will accept, but I absolutely will not be really proud of. Given the outstanding field position that the defense gave the offense, I would expect a whole heck of a lot more points for the Falcons. It was almost a really, really close contest even after all of those turnovers.
The defense early was completely against what was expected early in the game. I expected the Falcons to be picked apart systematically by Manning, and that simply wasn’t true; the front seven applied pressure and stopped the run, and the secondary held up extremely well. I expected the Broncos to pick on Chris Owens or whoever lined up in the slot early and often. I said in my pre-game matchups that if Owens or the cornerbacks not named Robinson and Samuel produced, the Falcons would have an edge in the game. Not only did Robinson and Samuel play much better than their normal selves, but the backups stepped up as well.
I would credit defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with producing the three interceptions. My Dad walked into the basement while I was cussing up a storm watching the game, and dubbed the defense ‘Chaos’. The defensive backs, linebackers, even the defensive linemen were lined up at all kinds of different places on the field and interesting positions, atypical of a ‘vanilla’ defensive scheme. It looked like the alignment of the defense had absolutely no rhyme or reason. That was absolutely by design. The ‘chaos’ that Mr. Huseth noticed was merely a pre-snap disguise of the coverage that the Falcons wanted to drop. There were very important landmarks that the Falcons who were dropping into coverage needed to hit, and despite their very confusing pre-snap looks, dropped properly and created ‘chaos’ between Manning and his receiving corps.
When the Falcons really needed offensive scores, they did. In the middle of the second quarter, the Falcons took to the no-huddle, and moved down the field very effectively. Through productive use of the run game earlier in the game/drive, the Falcons were able to effectively play-action from the 1-yard line for a touchdown pass to an uncovered Tony Gonzalez in the end zone. You are only able to steal every so often, and that was one of those opportunities.
Early in the third quarter, the Falcons offense looked like exactly the type of team we have expected after that game against the Chiefs. The Falcons took the ball 64 yards in only 6 plays on a drive that cumulated in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Roddy White. Winning a matchup against Tracy Porter, who was essentially lined up against a slot receiver on the play, was huge for the Falcons, and gave them the score that won the game.
Beginning at the end of the first half, the defense started going the way we all expected them to. Luckily, Manning and his receiving corps only got really heated up by the time the Falcons were completely in charge of the game. The yardage and three touchdowns the Falcons defense gave up in the final 32 minutes worth of game were significant, but so great were the Broncos turnover struggles early, that it prevented them from winning the game.
One thing I was very surprised to see was continued very good play from the offensive line. I know that the Falcons offensive line isn’t likely to win many collective awards, but against a very aggressive and talented Denver front seven, the Falcons blocked very effectively, and kept Matt Ryan very clean and upright in the pocket most of the night. Between that and Ryan’s quick delivery from the pocket, there were very few hits on Ryan, and only one sack by the Broncos on the night. Really outstanding blocking by the Falcons offensive line given the talent they were facing.
In the end, the Falcons score was just too much for the Broncos to surpass, especially on the count of the turnovers. Were it not for the turnovers, the Falcons would not have won. That is the reason you play the game; things happen that you would never expect to see.
The other big story line was the putrid officiating in the game. I don’t think it changed the outcome of the game, so I won’t address it too much, but it is something huge in the game that cost about half an hour of time, and really took away from the game itself. I’d like to say that the attention was focused only upon the game, but and equal amount of attention was paid to the officiating, and that’s a terrible thing. That will be addressed for both weeks and months to come, so I won’t make too big a deal of it.
Falcons win 27-21, and at the end of the day, that is all that is really important.