This might just be one of those seasons when the Falcons keep us guessing … not merely from game to game but series to series … touchdown drive to too-many-knuckleheads on the field during a punt return … blown lead to, wait-whose-hands-did-that-pass-bounce-off-of? … red zone ineptitude to, um, red zone brilliance?
The Falcons, 0-1 and on the way to oh-and-done in the eyes of most amateur schedule critics, showed a little something Sunday. They weren’t nearly perfect. They made mistakes, committed penalties, blew coverages. But this is sports and all of the ugly stuff tends to get glossed over when a team shows resolve and the scoreboard tips in their favor.
So it was Sunday, when an offense that looked to be dying of thirst any time it neared the goal line for the first six quarters of this season, steamrolled the Oakland defense. The Falcons scored touchdowns on three straight red zone drives, amassed 528 yards and in a throwback game — as in AFL throwback — they beat the Raiders 35-28.
Some of it was brilliance. Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards and three scores and he ran for a tw0-point conversion on a keeper. (To disbelievers: It’s on tape.) Ryan used nine different receivers, with Julio Jones and Jacob Tamme each have five catches and a TD.
Some of it was luck. Ryan completed two passes off deflections, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy. The pass actually was intended for running back Tevin Coleman but was thrown behind him, bounced off his hands and up in the air, when Hardy went for it and came down in the end zone, putting the Falcons ahead to stay at 28-21 with 9:29 left.
“We’re putting that play in next week,” coach Dan Quinn joked.
“Yeah, we work on that all time,” Hardy said, continuing the humor.
But seriously …
“That play is called, see the ball, get ball,” Hardy said.
Ryan called that play “a nice little break that went our way for a change. It’s good to be on the right end of those.”
The Falcons led only 13-7 at halftime. Then it turned into a video game. This kind of game should go over well when the Raiders move to Las Vegas and play in the Caesars Palace Slots of Fun Desert Dome.
The Falcons may not have been a great team but they were an improved team, a confident team and a team that made the Raiders’ defense look silly at times. It didn’t matter if they used a slow-down offense or a no-huddle. They just kept moving the ball.
So, yes, please: a little credit to the world’s most maligned offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. While the Falcons had drives to the Oakland 3 and 2 that ended in field goals, they would’ve scored on their final seven possessions if not for a red zone interception by Ryan (intended for Tamme in the end zone).
“We felt like we could keep them off balance,” Tamme said. “Matt mixed up cadences, Kyle mixed it up with tempo. We ran, we passed, we did play-action. They didn’t know what was coming.”
They’re a work in progress. Among the issues Sunday:
• First quarter: Ryan Schraeder’s false start penalty from the Oakland 30 created a second-and-long and pushed the Falcons out of field goal range.
• Second quarter: After a third-down 38-yard pass to Amari Cooper put the Raiders at the Falcons’ 37, quarterback David Carr sailed a pass over Michael Crabtree in the end zone. But defensive back Robert Alford pushed off for no reason, not only nullifying his interception but giving Oakland the ball at the 1. Next play: touchdown.
• Third quarter: The Falcons forced the Raiders to punt to open the second half but they had 12 men on the field. Dashon Goldson was tagged with the penalty but Hardy actually should have been on the sideline, not on the field. That gave Oakland a first down on its 41. Of course, five plays later, tight end Clive Walford is left wide open for a 31-yard touchdown pass, giving the Raiders a 14-13 lead.
Quinn: “Coaches’ mistake. Miscommunication. We’ll get that corrected.”
They kept us guessing again. But if mistakes continue to get corrected, they’re a team worth watching.