Beating the Cowboys Sunday would not mean that the Falcons had remedied their mediocrity problem – that is going to require more than a single treatment, along with lots of bleach and angry scrubbing.
Losing to the Cowboys, however, most certainly would have given the Falcons’ public ample reason to write off its team quicker than a new tax exemption. To forget them like a drunken promise. It was only the beginning of the season’s second half. Still, Sunday had that uneasy feel of an elimination game.
With everything to lose, the Falcons didn’t.
Not this afternoon.
In fact, they secured that most elusive prize of the season – a definitive victory. A profound 27-7 beat-down of Dallas, an opponent that claims to speak for all of America, and obviously did speak to a large percentage of those at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As they departed the building early and often, they were offered no refund.
Combine the most points the Falcons have scored in nearly two months with the fewest points they’ve allowed in a little more than two years and you have much-needed moment of clarity in an otherwise murky, inconclusive campaign.
“A good game to build on,” Falcons receiver Julio Jones deemed the day. “Really good for us.”
More than a game, it was a season for Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Working against the depleted left side of the Dallas line, Clayborn enjoyed a team record six sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
“It’s a mindset – you’re not going to get beaten,” Clayborn said, explaining the thinking entering Sunday.
“This shows we can do it,” he said. Let’s just say there were doubts growing that the Falcons, even this close to a Super Bowl season, had a game like this in them. The first half of the season featured one – ONE – day of convincing football. Now hang this one in the lonely exhibition hall that features only the Green Bay victory.
In fairness, the first minutes of Sunday’s game passed like a dirge. You felt aftershocks of recent losses.
An early Desmond Trufant interception was nullified by a Falcons offsides penalty (Vic Beasley).
Having already perfected the throwing of the tipped-ball interception, the Falcons nonetheless continued working on the trick. This one went off Mohamed Sanu’s outstretched mitts into the embrace of Cowboys safety Xavier Woods. Moments later, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was somersaulting into the end zone.
Running back Devonta Freeman wandered into the wasteland of the concussion protocol, after a committed hit by Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens.
And by early in the second quarter Ryan was being pulled at like a wishbone, another calamitous injury just waiting to happen.
But the Falcons claimed as their own the second half, 17-0, scoring on their first three possessions, including, amazingly, their first third-quarter touchdown of 2017. As Ryan stayed more upright, his efficiently magically soared (completing 22 of 29 passes, to eight different receivers). Clayborn continued to terrorize. And the Falcons had no apologies to offer anyone.
In fairness, these Cowboys were several bodies short of a posse.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott had exhausted his appeals and was forced to begin a suspension handed down sometime in the Tom Landry regime, or so it seemed. He reportedly had left for an undisclosed location outside the country, to perhaps sit cross-legged in a distant ashram or find humility within a Mongolian yurt.
All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith was out with some lower-body malady, replaced by a pair of swinging doors named Chaz Green and Byron Bell. Clayborn blew past/blew through them both and filled his highlight flash drive to capacity.
By the second quarter, the marrow of the Cowboys defense, linebacker Sean Lee, was lost to an unstrung hamstring.
‘Tis not the time to declare a great Falcon rebirth. But at least we whistle past another weekend without needing to lay the first lily on the grave of the 2017 season.
Beating the Cowboys is never a bad thing. It is something to be savored, as if pulling a fast one on any major utility. But beating the Cowboys like this, during a season of doubt like this, is just about the best possible way to spend a Sunday.