Atlanta Falcons: Hoping For Some Late Season Luck
One more game. The Atlanta Falcons took care of business on Sunday afternoon when they beat the New Orleans Saints on the road. Now, they must take care of business again, playing their final game of the regular season at home against the Carolina Panthers.
Win and they are in. Lose and they are home for the new year.
Sunday showed the Falcons have more grit and game than some might think. It has been evident of late in games against the Packers and Steelers. Now, a Panthers team with a rejuvenated running game and a quarterback in Cam Newton who has something to prove following a back injury, are the only thing standing between Atlanta and a wild card playoff date.
Here are five things taken from the game on Sunday, according to Reid Ferrin and atlantafalcons.com.
No News on Injuries
Less than 24 hours after his team defeated the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, Falcons head coach Mike Smith addressed the media discussing the Week 16 win and promising to release any new injury updates when news become available.
Smith said Steven Jackson (quad), William Moore (shoulder) and Josh Wilson (hamstring) all had further tests done Monday. Smith later mentioned that despite right guard Jon Asamoah (back) "working like crazy" to return to game action, he was kept out for his own best interest and is expected to be limited at practice Wednesday.
Ryan's Record-Breaking Day
Sunday was the biggest stage for his team all season, and Matt Ryan delivered by outdueling Saints quarterback Drew Brees, completing 30-of-40 pass attempts (75 percent) with one touchdown and a 106.5 passer rating. It's the second-straight week Ryan delivered with such precision, completing 70 percent of his passes for the 31st time in his career, including no interceptions.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Ryan's 322 passing yards on Sunday moved him to 27,906 for his career, the second-highest total number of passing yards by any quarterback in his first seven NFL seasons, behind only Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (29,442).
Welcome Back, Julio
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones didn't practice at all last week before going out on Sunday and recording his third-straight 100-yard game. Jones has posted 100-plus receiving yards seven times this season, and his seven receptions in Week 16 gave him 100 catches for the season.
He is the fourth Falcon to record 100 catches in a season, joining WR Roddy White (twice), Terance Mathis and Eric Metcalf. Despite missing Atlanta’s Week 15 game against Pittsburgh with a hip injury, Jones still leads the NFC in receiving yards (1,535) and receptions (100) in 2014.
Outstanding OL Play
The Falcons posted 403 yards of total offense in Sunday's win, logging their second-straight game with more than 400 total yards. A big reason why the Falcons kept the chain gang burning calories up and down the sidelines is their offensive line.
Once again on Sunday, Mike Tice's crew needed to rely on depth, replacing Asamoah with Gabe Carimi, who joined his four fellow linemen to keep Ryan clean all game long. The offensive line allowed just three quarterback hurries and two tackles for loss.
Timely Forced Turnovers
The Falcons defense forced four turnovers in the win, including interceptions by Desmond Trufant and Robert McClain and a forced fumble by Kemal Ishmael.
McClain's interception set up an insurance score in the fourth quarter by Matt Bryant's 32-yard field goal. Ishmael's forced fumble, recovery and 18-yard return against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in the fourth quarter prevented a possible Saints' touchdown. Ishmael leads the team with five forced turnovers, including four interceptions and one forced fumble.
Kroy Biermann sealed the productive defensive effort Sunday with a sack and forced fumble against Brees at the Atlanta 11-yard line. Osi Umenyiora recovered and returned the fumble for an 86-yard touchdown as time expired. The return score was the 18th time the Falcons have posted a defensive score under Smith, owning a 14-4 record in those games.