Atlanta Falcons: The Good, The Better and The Best in Week 16


It’s a rainy and dreary Tuesday morning in Atlanta two days before Christmas and the Atlanta Falcons are a woeful 6-9 heading into week 17.  They’ve only won one time outside the division and are near the bottom in almost every single defensive category. There are reports that Mike Smith will be gone after this season and your starting running back is hurt heading into week 17.

Merry Christmas, Atlanta.

Of course, none of that actually matters and most Falcon fans are riding high, as they just swept their most hated rival right out of their home dome. The Falcons now head back to Atlanta to celebrate the holidays and get ready for a chance to win the division. It’s an unreal turn of events that would be hard to replicate in a statistical simulator if you ran it 1,000 times. The only thing that stands in the way of a NFC South title is the Carolina Panthers.

As a Falcons fan, you couldn’t ask for anything more after how this season has played out.  In fact, many fans and even a few radio personalities would rather have a high draft pick then make the playoffs but most of that talk was pre-Saints victory.  The Saints victory was by far the most complete game the Falcons played all year.  The offense was fluid and the defense was inspired. In this weekly column, I typically like to point out a few negatives, but not this week. After beating New Orleans and bringing home a play-in game, I figured I’d focus on the three areas that helped Atlanta end the Saints season.  So without further adieu, lets get started.

The Good – Matt “Money” Bryant

He didn’t hit a game winning field goal or hit a 60-yarder to end the half, but putting Matt Bryant here is more of a recognition of what he has done all season.  Matt Bryant simply doesn’t miss. He crushed field goals from 44 and 50 yards and finally from 32 to ice the game. I hesitate to even think where the Falcons would be with any other kicker.

He’s made 7 field goals of over 50 yards this season which is almost double the amount he’s ever made in any other year. Bryant is 40 for 40 in extra points and 21/21 in field goals under 50 yards. In 5 out of the Falcons 6 wins, Matt Bryant has made field goals in the 4th quarter, including single handedly ending the Saints season with game winning, overtime field goal in week 1, and to put the Falcons up 9 in week 16.  No one in the NFL has more 50+ FG’s made and his FG% ranks 4th in the league at just over 90%.  Matt Ryan has the Matty “Ice” nickname but to me, there isn’t anymore more “Ice cold” than Matt Bryant.

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The Better – The Offensive Line

I’m not sure if O-line coach awards exist in the NFL, but if they do, Mike Tice should win it.  What he has done with this group over the past 5-6 weeks is incredible. Matt Ryan has only been sacked twice in the past 4 games and Steven Jackson even managed to break off his first 100 yard game in years in that same span. I am planning on doing a full write-up on the Falcons O-line for Wednesday, so I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s important to know how masterful Tice has been with this beat up group.

Five offensive lineman have been lost of the season and the Falcons offensive line still seems to be getting better and better each week. There should be no further evidence of how good Mike Tice is than to look at the experience of this O-line. James Stone is an undrafted rookie starting at center, Ryan Schraeder is in his second year, but is undrafted at right tackle, and Jake Matthews is a rookie left tackle guarding Ryan’s blindside.  This group seems to be gelling and coming together just at the right time, but don’t look at Mike Tice to rest anytime soon.

The Best – The Defense

I don’t know where Sunday’s version of the Atlanta Falcons defense has been all year, but it was phenomenal. A poor opening kickoff put the Falcons in a hole just seconds into the game, but the defense responded in a huge way. The defense would not allow another point for the next 53 minutes. Let’s put this another way, a defense, coming into week 16, was ranked dead last in almost every major defensive category held an offense lead by Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham scoreless for 7 minutes shy of full game.

They sacked Brees five times and forced four turnovers including a game-changing, controversial fumble by Jimmy Graham on the 1-inch line. Desmond Trufant picked Brees off in the first half and continues to show that he is one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.  Ra’Shede Hageman, nicknamed cupcake in Hard Knocks, has been anything but soft as of late. He sacked Brees once and had another tackle-for-loss in what Mike Nolan hopes to be a trend with the rookie.

The defense will have to be as equally as impressive vs. the Panthers if they want to win the  win-or-go home game. Cam Newton will surely have something special up his sleeve for the big game and it will likely be on National TV thanks to flex scheduling.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for my piece on the offensive line and later on in the week for a Panthers preview, but for now, let’s bask in the glow of an impressive performance by the Atlanta Falcons.