Who are these guys?
The Falcons’ rousing 35-31 win over the Eagles Sunday night seemed to raise as many questions as it answered.
As in, how could the team that got outscored 31-14 during the middle two quarters of the game rise up off the canvas and knock out the Eagles with a perfect fourth quarter?
How could the team that played one of the most soporific games in recent memory just one week ago turn right around and play one of the most thrilling?
And just what do we have here, the team that blew through the regular season a year ago? Or the team that, well, never mind.
Maybe the essence of what we should glean from this game is that the Falcons never quit. Every time they got flattened, they got back up — swinging.
That’s what coach Mike Smith seemed to be saying when he opened his post-game press conference. "I can’t tell you how proud I am of the way our guys played tonight. There was a lot of tough sledding in the football game.
"We obviously didn’t play our best game, but we played enough to get it done. On offense, we picked up the defense when we had to. And on defense, we picked up the offense when we had to."
Doubtless, the desultory middle portion of the game presented myriad pick-up possibilities. John Abraham committed two crucial penalties in the red zone, perhaps costing the team eight points. The offensive line couldn’t block anyone in green.
Matt Ryan hurled two interceptions and spent that long stretch under heavy pressure. The resulting happy feet and hurried throws didn’t befit the Matty Ice nickname.
Returner Eric Weems produced a pair of ill-advised kickoff returns that wound up short of the 20. He took the opposite approach on a third quarter punt. Choosing not to return this one, he watched as it rolled dead on the Falcons’ one-yard-line. This touched off a sequence that seemingly ended the Falcons’ chances.
Three plays produced a single yard. New punter Matt Bosher then boomed one all of 18 yards. Five plays later, LeSean McCoy scored to put the Eagles up 31-21.
By then it was difficult to remember that the Falcons had opened the third quarter scoring. Newcomer Kelvin Hayden’s interception at midfield led to a two-pass touchdown drive and a 21-10 Falcons lead.
The Eagles answer took two minutes, four plays and 70 yards.
Ryan then threw long to Julio Jones, and Asante Samuel intercepted. Two minutes, four plays and 22 yards later, Philadelphia led, 24-21.
The Falcons responded with three plays for minus-one yard. The Eagles next series featured a 15-yard roughness penalty on Dunta Robinson, and ended with that punt to the Falcons one.
Clearly, nothing in the preceding 10 minutes of play gave any indication that the Falcons were anything but dead pigeons.
So they went no-huddle. Ryan hit Roddy White, and then hit Tony Gonzalez for 13 yards on third-and-12. Then he completed three more. Finally, he threw to Ovie Mughelli, of all people, a one-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 31-28 with 10:45 left.
Lo and behold, the defense rose up with a stop.
Suddenly, there went Michael Turner, bursting through the right side for 61 yards.
"We hit a trap," Smith said after the game. "I can’t tell you how important it is to get those explosive plays and change field position. That was one of the bigger plays."
It took five more plays to negotiate the final 26 yards, Turner going around right end for the final three. The team without a clue had the lead. The harried quarterback was the Ice Man, savoring a career-high four touchdown passes.
"It was a wild one, for sure," Ryan told the Associated Press. "But we hung in there. I think everybody hung in there, and kept making plays, kept battling. Credit to guys on both sides of the ball. We never gave up."
But how did Ryan go from resembling Eli Manning to brother Peyton in that crucial fourth quarter? "You just keep getting back up," Ryan told the ap. "There’s a lot of tough guys on this football team, and I try to stay in line with those guys and just keep bouncing up. I’m just glad we came away with the win."
If the Falcons keep honing their pickup techniques, the season might just turn into one long happy hour.