ATLANTA – The Atlanta Falcons held off a late Denver Broncos rally to win their 2012 home opener, 27-21, on Monday Night Football.
Here are six things learned from Atlanta’s six-point win:
- The defensive play calling: New Falcons’ defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, called a great game Monday night. From start to finish, Nolan had the defense in the right places at the right times. It started with William Moore’s interception of Peyton Manning on the Broncos’ first drive. Thomas DeCoud followed that with an interception of his own on the very next drive. Then, Manning was picked off by Robert McClain on his third drive. That’s three interceptions on Manning’s first three possessions for the Falcons defense. For a defense that has struggled covering the pass in recent years, and lost its best cover corner for the season, the ability to rebound against one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time can be traced back to one person, Nolan.
- Dirk Koetter’s patience on offense: Last week, Atlanta’s offense couldn’t be stopped through the air. While Monday night against Denver was a little more difficult, the offense still did enough to get the win. After the running game faltered for the second week in a row, it was sticking with the running game that helped the Falcons in so many ways. Atlanta kept running the ball even though Michael Turner looked slow at times. But it was important in the grand scheme of things. Without running the ball, Denver’s pass rush would’ve had free reign to rush Matt Ryan. Running the ball took some of Denver’s aggressiveness away. Not only that, when the Falcons had the ball and were trying to run the clock out, it was a 15 yard run by Turner that sealed the game. Had Atlanta gotten away from the run too much, Manning might have had another opportunity to score.
- Lack of using Jacquizz Rodgers: Some of the reason Rodgers had a minimal impact on the game was because he’s the kick-return specialist and the Falcons didn’t have to use that unit very often. Another reason, though, is the fact that he only got three carries. While he did line up as a receiver at times, he seems best at coming out of the backfield. There were holes in the defense on some of Turner’s plays that he was unable to run through, that Rodgers might have been able to exploit. Three carries isn’t enough to tell if a running back will be successful on a given day. The Falcons should give Rodgers a few more chances. If Ryan can run the ball six times, Rodgers can too.
- Roddy White’s dependability: White told fantasy owners this week, via Twitter, that he was going to play well, and he did just that. White not only had a big game statistically, but he made important catches. He finished the game with eight receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown came in the third quarter when the Falcons were up big. His score put the Falcons up by 20 and it was the last touchdown the Falcons would score. Without his touchdown, the Falcons lose by one. Julio Jones may or may not be the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver now, but White is their most dependable.
- The Falcons’ depth: When news came out earlier last week that cornerback Brent Grimes would be out for the season with an Achilles injury, it was thought that the Falcons would be in trouble. While there is still the whole season left, the Falcons defense looked good against Manning without the Pro Bowl corner. Not only did Atlanta not have Grimes, but the Falcons lost his replacement, Christopher Owens, in the first quarter with a head injury and still looked impressive. Head coach Mike Smith said the Falcons would have a “next man up mentality” about Grimes’ injury, and they showed it Monday Night.
- The Falcons ability to battle: Although the replacement refs were not the best, it must be kept in mind that the Falcons played with the same referees the Broncos played with. There were more than a few bad calls that one could argue hurt the Broncos, such as the Knowshon Moreno fumble. Moreno fumbled the ball and while it appeared the Falcons recovered it initially, the Broncos came away from the pile with the ball. Normally, the team that comes away with it has possession but the refs didn’t see it that way, giving the Falcons the ball. That hurt the Broncos just as much as the phantom pass-interference call against the Falcons hurt them on a fourth-down play right before half. Without the flag on the fourth down, the Falcons get the ball back and keep Manning and the Broncos from scoring right before the half. The officials weren’t the best, and previous Falcons teams would have let that beat them. Not this team. They showed the resolve of a team that has matured and may be ready to live up to its potential.