It took a while to come together, but the Falcons defense did what it needed to do to ensure a sixth Falcons victory on the season. They were needed because the Atlanta offense struggled to find points most of the game against the Oakland Raiders.
True, it was the defense that let Oakland back into the game after an Asante Samuel interception return for a touchdown appeared to close the door, putting the Falcons up 20-13 with 2:40 remaining. Following the interception, the defense took the field again but allowed the Raiders to score to tie the game back up. Atlanta's defense spent almost 11 minutes on the field during the fourth quarter and was admittedly running out of steam.
But like the Falcons have already done twice this season, the offense took over with 40 ticks of the game clock remaining and brought the team a victory. Quarterback Matt Ryan drove the field and Matt Bryant hit a 55-yard field goal as time expired to grab extend the Falcons to 6-0.
Although they allowed the tying score, the Falcons defense had plenty to be proud of. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux knew the offense wasn't playing as they're accustomed to and the D took hold of the reigns.
"It's a team game," Babineaux said. "Somebody's got to step up and make plays. Today we did that. Asante got the big pick, too. We just went out and finished the game."
The defense had bright moments throughout the game and kept the Falcons in the game, but two plays stand out as being truly deciding factors.
First, John Abraham gathered his third sack of the day of Carson Palmer. It's the defensive end's eighth game in his career where he's sacked the QB three times or more. More importantly, it came on a third down at the Atlanta 43-yard line. Palmer and the Raiders were moving the ball well and Abraham's sack ended the drive.
Samuel's pick-six was the other defensive play of the game. The new cornerback in Atlanta is plenty excitable and in the locker room following the game, he made sure everyone in the room could hear him as he explained his takeaway and score. He also shared his opinions on a defense that he said earlier this season could play better.
"We definitely have something special with this defense and we'll put it all together by the end of the day," Samuel said.
Abraham added two additional tackles for loss as well as a forced fumble of Palmer in the third quarter.
Babineaux, for the second week in a row, had a strong game as well. Three of his five tackles were for losses and his play was a big reason the Falcons kept McFadden to 70 yards rushing. He added a forced fumble in the first quarter on a hit to the running back.
While the Falcons allowed the Raiders 474 yards of offense, they came up big in big spots with their takeaways and stops. In addition to the three takeaways on the day, the Falcons defense limited Oakland to five-of-13 efficiency on third down.
It was far from a pretty win for the Falcons, but the NFL isn't a beauty pageant. It wasn't the elusive "complete" win either, discussed so frequently over the course of a game week.
It was just a win and even if it comes with five seconds remaining, the Falcons will always take it.
"That's why we play the game," Babineaux said. "We play the game to win."