Atlanta's numerous penalties and second slow start on the road have been the center of attention in the aftermath of the Falcons' 27-24 loss to the Colts, and rightfully so. But there's something else from Sunday's game that deserves some focus from the fan base – an offense that was as red-hot in the second half as an NFL offense can possibly be.
The Falcons had three possessions in the second half, each of which resulted in touchdowns. Each of those drives covered over 70 yards and spanned at least eight plays; the longest drive covered 78 yards and lasted 16 plays. The point is, the Falcons' offense showed the ability to sustain drives and make plays in crucial moments.
After halftime, the Falcons were a perfect 8-of-8 on third down, despite facing an average distance of 5.9 yards such downs. As offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter later noted, that level of production is unsustainable, but it proved the Falcons could hit that gear when needed.
Quarterback Matt Ryan completed his first 18 passes of the second half and would have been a perfect 23-for-23 after halftime but for a pass that running back Devonta Freeman bobbled and dropped. Ryan shook off a forgettable first half and another ill-advised throw that resulted in his sixth interception of the season to look like the player who took home the NFL's MVP award in 2016.
Jacoby Brissett, the Colts' quarterback who was thrust into a starting role following Andrew Luck's surprise retirement before the season, was also incredibly efficient and completed his first 16 passes of the game on Sunday. But, as the passing charts below indicate, Brissett completed just five passes that traveled at least 10 yards in the air. Ryan, on the other hand, doubled that number and completed 10 such passes.
So, while Brissett was also incredibly efficient during a long stretch of the game, his degree of difficulty was lower than Ryan's. That's not to take anything away from Brissett, who did a great job of taking what the Falcons' defense gave him, but it's rather to highlight just how impressive Ryan's run was in the second half.
Ryan also spread the ball around and utilized the entirety of the Falcons' weapons with eight different players catching passes in the second half. Atlanta also didn't have to rely entirely on throwing the ball against the Colts.
Devonta Freeman turned in his best performance of the season, carrying the ball 16 times for 88 yards and showcasing the burst and cutting ability that make him a dangerous runner.
"I thought that when we ran the ball, we ran it really well," Ryan said. "I thought our offensive line did a good job. Again, when you fall behind you're going to have to throw it some more to get back into the game. But when we did run the football, we ran it very efficiently."
Offensively, the Falcons showcased a mixture of explosion and sustainability in the second half. That Sunday's game felt like it would come down to whichever team had the ball last is a testament to just how well Atlanta's offensive played after falling into a 20-3 hole leading into halftime, and it sure didn't feel like the Falcons would be stopped if they got the ball back a fourth time.
And this is where it comes back around to penalties.
The Falcons' defensive penalties helped sustain the Colts' lone scoring drive of the second half, and their offensive penalties chipped away at precious time on the clock, leaving them with no opportunity to get the ball back at the end of the game.
Yet, the Falcons' offense succeeded in spite of those penalties. In previous games such penalties would have stalled the types of long scoring drives Atlanta put together against the Colts. That wasn't the case on Sunday, and it's a reason for optimism with 13 games left to play.
The Falcons may be 1-2 after three games but all is hardly lost. Far from it. Of the 12 teams to reach the playoffs in 2018, six of them had the same record through three games that the Falcons do right now, including the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
How these early games unfold is important. It's not as important as a win or a loss, but with such a small sample size it provides some context for how things may play out moving forward. Given how Atlanta's offense kicked into gear on Sunday, this thing might be just getting started.