It was yet another ugly start to Sunday’s game in Toronto, as the Atlanta Falcons trailed 14-0 in the blink of an eye against the Buffalo Bills. However, the response was definitely different (read: better) in this one, and the Falcons scratched and clawed their way back for an exciting, 34-31 victory in overtime.
The opening salvo by the Bills was an explosive display from CJ Spiller on a 77-yard run that doubled as just the second play from scrimmage for Buffalo. Spiller’s trek didn’t quite reach the end zone, but the Bills punched it in just two plays later, as quarterback EJ Manuel took it himself from the 1-yard line. Unfortunately, the hole was just beginning to form, as the Bills took their ensuing possession (after an Atlanta 3-and-out) for a 9-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 4-yard plunge by running back Fred Jackson.
It certainly looked as if the Falcons could be rolling over for good, but they sprung to life as soon as the deficit reached 14 points. Steven Jackson took a 3rd-and-1 carry to the house from 27 yards away (yes, this actually happened), and following a field goal by the Bills to extend the lead back to 10, the ever-explosive Antone Smith got the call and took advantage of it. Smith utilized his one and only carry of the night by scoring a 38-yard touchdown, bringing his yards per carry average to 29.0 on the season (not a misprint) with 2 touchdowns on 5 carries.
Following the Smith touchdown, the Atlanta defense generated a quick, 3-and-out, and Matt Ryan drove the team to a game-tying field goal as the clock expired. The offense put any worry of complacency to bed by scoring a touchdown (an 11-yarder to Tony Gonzalez) on their first possession, and for a brief moment, it looked as if the newly awakened Redbirds would run away with the game. Unfortunately, that was short-lived.
A botched Quarterback-center exchange was the unexpected culprit of a momentum change, as the Falcons put the ball on the turf midway through the 3rd quarter. Buffalo took over on the Atlanta 21-yard line and took full advantage of the field position by scoring on the first play, courtesy of a Fred Jackson touchdown reception. Then, the ever-dangerous CJ Spiller reared his ugly head again, capitalizing on a mind-numbing penalty on William Moore by exploding for a 36-yard touchdown to give Buffalo the lead at 31-24 with 11:53 remaining.
That set up a wild sequence at the end of regulation, as the Falcons were attempting to score the game-tying touchdown. Atlanta easily drove inside the Buffalo 10-yard line in the final seconds, but the drive seemingly stalled due to an unnecessary roughness penalty assigned to Harry Douglas that backed the offense up to a 3rd-and-goal situation from the 16-yard line. However, Douglas was quickly bailed out for his error thanks to a semi-questionable pass interference call in the endzone, and Steven Jackson barreled through the line for the game-tying touchdown with 1:31 remaining.
A key play in the game happened next, just as Buffalo was driving for what looked like the game-winning score. Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson caught a crossing pattern that would have placed Buffalo in field goal range, but the veteran put the ball on turf and it was recovered by William Moore. With that, the two teams were headed for overtime, and the fumble theatrics were just beginning.
Buffalo won the toss to have the first possession, and appeared to be driving once again. Hilariously, the Bills put the ball on the turf again as Scott Chandler fumbled at the Atlanta 40-yard line, and it was recovered by Robert Alford then lateraled (insert laughter here) to Desmond Trufant, who brought the ball back to the Buffalo 47-yard line. From there, the Atlanta offense made quick work of things, using a 20-yard completion to Harry Douglas and two runs from Steven Jackson to set-up a 36-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant. As you know by now, Bryant split the uprights, and the Falcons completed the road heist.
There were several positives in this game, but we must begin with the explosion from the Falcons offense. Matt Ryan went north of 300 yards on the day (311, to be exact), and Steven Jackson played one of his best games (possibly the best) in a red-and-black uniform with 84 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the outside, Roddy White emerged from what seems like a season-long slumber with a 10-catch, 143-yard performance, and despite the aforementioned penalty issues, Harry Douglas posted yet another strong effort with 6 catches for 73 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary was beaten up a bit by EJ Manuel and company, but there were some points of shine. Desmond Trufant broke the franchise record for the most pass defenses in a season with his 14th of the year, and to be fair, Buffalo only managed 210 passing yards against Trufant, Robert Alford, and Robert McClain. The run defense (which has been an issue all year) wasn’t very effective, allowing 149 yards to CJ Spiller and nearly 200 overall, but fortunately, it didn’t sink the ship in this one.
Offensive line questions simply won’t go away for Atlanta, though, and there were times in this game where the collective fan base had to be fearing for Matt Ryan’s health. Ryan was sacked 6 times in the game, and there was really only one positive on the unit during the game, as Joe Hawley brought a bit of toughness and grit to the ground attack. Everyone is aware of this issue at this point, but it’s not getting better.
Overall, it’s tough to complain about an exciting, overtime victory. There is certainly a “lose at all costs” contingent out there who is chiefly concerned with draft position, and there’s an argument for that. However, keeping a winning culture alive is never a bad thing, and it was extremely nice to see the team compete for 60+ minutes and execute down the stretch in a game they trailed in at multiples times. Next up for the 3-9 Falcons is a road trip to Green Bay next Sunday, and if Aaron Rodgers is on the field for the Packers, things won’t be easy. Let’s enjoy this victory.