EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Atlanta Falcons won a game Sunday, which hadn’t happened in more than a month. This isn’t to say that they got well.
They won 25-20 largely because they were playing one of the NFL’s least talented teams, and they didn’t exactly control the game. Their first lead came with 12:22 to play. Given a gilt-edged chance to kill the game, they couldn’t.
Jeremy Kirley fumbled a punt. (The Falcon who had the best day? Punter Matt Bosher.) Kemal Ishmael recovered at the Jets’ 13. If you’re a good team, which the Falcons were last season and aspire to be again, you score the touchdown and make it a nine-point game and go singin’ in the rain. The Falcons ran the ball twice to no effect. Matt Ryan nearly threw an interception. Matt Bryant salvaged three points, but a five-point lead with 5:22 remaining against a halfway decent opponent would have been an invitation to get beat.
The Jets are not halfway decent. Their starting quarterback is Josh McCown, a 38-year-old journeyman on his 10th organization, not counting the Hartford Colonials. He had two chances to win this at the end. Neither made it past the New York 38. The first was quashed by an offensive pass interference call. The second saw the Jets fail to align themselves to spike the ball, which resulted in a 10-second runoff, which made this the second consecutive Falcons victory to end without the opponent taking a snap.
“This really exemplified in a lot of ways a good team win,” Dan Quinn said, and certainly it beat the alternative.
Had the Falcons lost here, they’d have been 3-4. Even in winning, they did enough wrong to make us wonder how much better they were. They managed two touchdowns, one in each half. Ryan had a terrible time just holding the snap, fumbling four times (including a botched 2-point conversion). Austin Hooper dropped a touchdown. Desmond Trufant was beaten for a touchdown. Andre Roberts’ punt return for a touchdown was overridden by Sharrod Neasman’s illegal block.
The separation gear that has gone missing in every game this season save the Sunday night dismissal of Green Bay? The Falcons’ biggest lead here was five points. They were 5-for-14 on third-down conversions. They were 2-for-6 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Those, you’ll recall, were this week’s areas of increased focus in practice.
About settling for a field goal after the fumbled punt, Quinn said: “It was (disappointing). It was a chance to go finish it off. The good news was that we were able to lean on Matt (Bryant). We’ll have to go back and look. But that (meaning the red zone) is not a one-week emphasis for us.”
Ryan: “You’d like to come away with a touchdown. But any points there were huge.”
The Falcons took pride in holding the Jets to 43 yards rushing, but these Jets aren’t the reincarnation of Emerson Boozer and Matt Snell. They entered averaging 103.3 yards per game, 19th-best in the NFL. And the home side grew so predictable in the third quarter – when the game began to lean toward the visitors – that it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was coming. The Jets faced first-and-10 five times in the period: Five times they ran it up the middle.
This might have been a concession to the rain, which fell in buckets throughout. (“Some of the hardest conditions for the length of the game I’ve ever played in,” Ryan said.) It also might have been a reluctance to place the game in the hands of a 38-year-old quarterback on his 10th organization. Soggy Jets fans – MetLife Stadium was less than half-full, FYI – surely didn’t head home feeling their team had exhausted every brain cell.
But credit Quinn, who in this calendar year has seen his team blow leads of 25 and 17 points, for managing the heck out of this endgame. The Falcons took the ball with 3:36 left. They ran it twice. On third-and-5, Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu – who made a sliding grab for the go-ahead touchdown off Ryan’s scramble pass – for the first down.
The two-minute warning arrived with the Falcons again facing third down but the Jets out of timeouts. Quinn ordered – he admitted it was his call, not Steve Sarkisian’s – a draw play, which fell a yard short of a first down but allowed the Falcons to run off 45 seconds before Bosher landed a back-up wedge on the Jets’ 4. “That was all we wanted to do,” Quinn said. “Bosher dropped a great one down there.”
There was never much chance that McCown could drive his team 94 yards in 77 seconds, and he didn’t. The Falcons won a game they had to win, if for no other reason than losing to this team after already going 0-3 against the AFC East would have been beyond the pale.
“Outside our building there was a lot of noise,” Quinn said of his team’s three-game losing streak. “Inside there wasn’t. I wasn’t surprised to see them lean on each other.”
Simply beating the callow Jets, however, doesn’t mean the Falcons are again themselves. They won’t beat any of their next three opponents – Panthers, Cowboys or Seahawks – playing this way. If this is as good as it gets for the Falcons, they’re not going anywhere.