It wasn’t a pretty second half of football, but that didn’t stop the Atlanta Falcons from improving to 1-1 with a 31-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The Falcons raced to a 24-3 before halftime (despite some questionably conservative decision-making late), and that cushion was just enough to hold on for victory. Matt Ryan led the offense (as usual) in a big way, going 33-for-43 with 374 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, while providing for a mini-breakout game for his monster target, Julio Jones.
This win wasn’t without incident, however, as the Falcons gave up back-to-back touchdown drives to the Rams between the 3rd and 4th quarters. St. Louis QB Sam Bradford finished each drive with a short touchdown pass (one to Tavon Austin, one to Austin Pettis), and with those 14 consecutive points, the Falcons seemingly insurmountable lead dwindled to 7 at 24-17. Thankfully, Julio Jones (with some help from Matt Ryan) led Atlanta down the field and Jason Snelling finished things off with a touchdown to extend the lead back to 14.
Despite the unequivocally positive results on the scoreboard, it wasn’t all positive in the Georgia Dome in Week 2. The Falcons were hit by the injury bug in a severe way, losing 6 total players at various points in the game. Sean Weatherspoon and Steven Jackson were the highest-profile losses, with Jackson exiting just after a 1st-quarter touchdown as a result of a thigh injury and Weatherspoon leaving the field with a foot issue. Jackson never returned (as his 3 carries for 0 yards stat line would suggest), but “Spoon” started the 2nd half and seemed to play effectively. It’s a tough break for Jackson that he wasn’t able to put up a big game against his old team (despite the early TD), but he was listed as “questionable to return” which would imply a short-term injury.
The other injuries are a little tougher to read, as Asante Samuel exited with a re-occurrence of the thigh injury that kept him out of week 1, while Bradie Ewing, Cliff Matthews, and Kroy Biermann with shoulder, neck, and foot problems respectively. Biermann’s looked to be the most severe as he left the field immediately with no ability to put weight on his right leg, but we don’t know much as of this time.
Fortunately, the injuries didn’t amount to any lackluster play on the field, and the depth of the Falcons shown through. Ironically, the previously injured wide receiver duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White looked remarkably healthy, especially in the case of Jones. Julio finished with 11 catches for a career-high 182 yards, and his 81-yard touchdown in the 1st quarter was absolutely electric. Jones did the majority of the work with his speed, reassuring everyone that his knee wasn’t a big concern, and the 81-yard play was the longest of his NFL career. As for White, he wasn’t his typical, explosive self, but the veteran made every play he was asked to make in finishing with 3 catches (on 3 targets) for 21 yards.
Defensively, it was a fairly average effort on the whole, but there were moments of greatness. Osi Umenyiora gave the Falcons a 21-point advantage with a 68-yard interception return (yes, interception return) for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter. It was the first touchdown of Umenyiora’s 11-year career, and that says it all. Sam Bradford and company got their yardage (421 in total) and points (21 in the 2nd half), but it was a “bend don’t break” effort from Atlanta that proved to be enough, even without the services of a few key pieces.
It was a bit troubling to see the Falcons visibly “let up” in two consecutive weeks after holding a double-digit lead. However, the team (namely, the offense) responded in a big way after St. Louis made their push, and this was a solid overall performance. I continue to believe that this a playoff-bound team that doubles as the NFC South favorite, and this did nothing to take away from that view. Rise up, Atlanta.