Sunday’s 34-17 win over the Rams might have been the Falcons’ biggest win of the season.
If ever there was a Trap Game, this was it. Here were the Falcons, coming in with the best record in the NFC, fresh off a rousing Thursday night win over the mighty Ravens. A win which propelled them to the top of several sanctioned power rankings lists.
And they were headed to St. Louis to play the lowly Rams, recently improved but still only one year removed from a hideous 1-15 record.
The Rams have an excellent running back, a fine quarterback playing like a rookie in name only, and an inspiring first-time head coach with a strong defensive background. They also defend their home turf well. Sound familiar?
Still, we couldn’t possibly expect the Falcons to be as ready to play against the Rams as they were against the Ravens. Or the Saints.
What we expected was something along the lines of the Falcon’s efforts against San Francisco and Cleveland. We couldn’t reasonably expect to see them hitting on all cylinders or playing with ferocious intensity. But we did expect that they could overcome their lethargy and pull out a win over a lesser opponent, the way good teams do.
And, in essence, that’s what they did. Twice.
They overcame the league’s top receiver, Roddy White, short-circuiting their opening drive by throwing an elbow at defender
Ron Bartell. Instead of compounding his mistake, White turned in a nine-catch performance. His 83 yards receiving put him over 1,000 for the season, the earliest any Falcon has ever reached that mark.
They overcame the Ram’s next possession, in which the home team traversed half the field in only three plays. When someone named Michael Hoomanawanui catches a 25-yard touchdown pass, it forecasts a long day.
The Falcon defense would allow a field goal on the Ram’s next possession. Following a 33-yard punt return by Danny Amendola, another three-play touchdown drive would begin the second half. And that would be it.
All told, the Falcons would stop the Rams on 9-of-10 third down conversions. The Rams’ only success came on a late drive, a short pass to Amendola. Three plays later, William Moore ended that drive with the rarely seen interception of a shovel pass.
Like the defense, the Falcon offense began slowly, but it eventually became unstoppable. After the initial drive, the Falcons scored on their next four possessions to take a 16-10 halftime lead.
And when the Rams went ahead in the third quarter, the Falcons immediately responded with two scoring drives: 8 plays, 58 yards, lasting 4:59, resulting in a touchdown, and 14 plays, 73 yards, 7:06, field goal. These Falcons thrive on such drives.
The Falcons even overcame a sluggish start by their human battering ram, Michael Turner.
Early in the game it appeared that Turner might set an NFL record for most two-yard runs in a single game. Four of his first six carries went for two yards.
But Turner, and the Falcons, stuck with their plan. He carried five times for 15 yards in the first quarter, six times for 18 yards in the second. By the third quarter, it was eight times for 35, and in the fourth, nine for 58. And he saved his best for last, a 39-yard burst that iced the game.
The Falcons wore out the Rams.
They ran 70 plays and held the ball for nearly 36 minutes. They converted 9 of 16 third downs.
And for the third straight game, they didn’t commit a single turnover.
“I think we were moving the ball pretty good,” Turner told Daniel Cox of AtlantaFalcons.com.
“It seemed like we were getting a lot of first downs , ending up with a field goal or a touchdown.”
The Falcons could also tell the Rams were running out of steam. “Yeah, we picked up on that,” Turner added. “We just keep the pressure on them. We take pride in our physical shape. We think we are a pretty in-shape team. We go out there and like to run and run all day.”
Consider Ram head coach Steve Spagnuolo convinced.
“That was a good football team we played,” he said at his postgame press conference. “I give a lot of credit to Mike Smith and his staff and his players. They did a good job.
“They do everything really well. They’re really solid. They’re well-coached. They’ve got a great system. They’ve got really good players.
“Yeah, they’re good.”
Smitty wasn’t quite so effusive in his praise during his own postgame press conference. “Today we got the outcome that we wanted. We played in spurts. Consistency is a big thing we have to address.
“I don’t know the reason for it, and I don’t want to make excuses for any of us, including myself. But the guys hung in there and showed what we’re trying to get done.”
That’s what you have to like about Smitty’s team. They hang in there, they keep looking to improve, and they know they’re not where they want to be.