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Cruise Control


*In Sunday's 34-17 victory the Falcons survived a slow start and got stronger as the game went on. The Atlanta offense held an edge in almost every statistical category over the St. Louis Rams, namely time of possession, controlling the clock and the game for over 35 minutes. Clock control and efficient use of it proved to be the difference as Atlanta improved to 8-2. *

ST. LOUIS — In every Falcons win, there seems to be that one drive that seals the deal.

Drives that take minutes off the clock, chew up yards with a mixture of run and pass and put opponent's defenses on its heels.

To begin the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over the St. Louis Rams, Atlanta put together another one of those drives, and what a drive it was. It served as a microcosm of the kind of day the offense had and essentially put the game away when it concluded.

Matt Ryan engineered the 14 play, 73-yard drive that concluded with a Matt Bryant field goal to put the Falcons up 26-17. The quarterback was 7-for-9 on the drive and it demonstrated Atlanta's offensive control of the game, despite the appearance of a close score.

"It's what we really try to do, control the clock and the tempo of the game," left guard Justin Blalock said. "That kind of imposes our will and it makes the defense stay out there a long time. They're getting winded and frustrated. That makes our day go that much better."

Entering the game, the Rams' defense was tied for first in the NFL with 28 sacks, with 14 coming from the two starting defensive ends. In Sunday's win, Atlanta's offensive line continued its stellar performance as protectors of Ryan, not allowing a sack all day.

The starting five along the line, entering their third year as a unit with Ryan under center, gave the quarterback enough time all day to execute a varied and efficient offensive game plan. At every turn of the game, the Falcons seemed to have an answer for what the Rams tried to do to stop them.

Double wide receiver Roddy White? Ryan got a total of eight receivers involved in the action, including touchdown passes to receiver Brian Finneran and tight end Justin Peelle.

"Roddy, Tony (Gonzalez) and Mike (Turner) can't carry us all the time," Peelle said. "Other people need to step up. Finn caught a touchdown and(Jason) Snelling did some good work. When we all contribute, then Roddy can have that big game because defenses have to focus on everyone else. It's very important, especially down the stretch when we're going to be on the road playing some good teams. We're going to need everyone to contribute for us to make a run at this."

Bring pressure from all angles to speed up Ryan's reads? Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey kept a page in the playbook from last week's win for a way to stop pressure. Ryan continued to work out of the no-huddle for much of the game, calling plays at the line of scrimmage and they used roll outs to get the quarterback moving out of the pocket and away from pressure.

Stay back to defend the pass? Turner cranked up his run game in the third quarter on his way to a 131-yard day with one touchdown.

The Falcons also continued to work an offense centered around ball control that frustrated the Rams' defense throughout the game and kept a St. Louis offense off the field that was at one point leading 17-16.

As the second half progressed, the Falcons doubled the Rams' time of possession, ending with a 35:55-24:05 edge. All of Atlanta's impressive stats culminated with that one drive in the fourth quarter when the Falcons went up by two scores and forced St. Louis to respond.

"We got into our no huddle and that was working well in the first half," Peelle said. "Then in the second half, we were able to grind it out a little bit and take some time off the clock and let our defense rest. We're always at the top of time of possession in the league, it's something that we like to do."

Despite all the stats, the offensive line bonded together to help produce, all that mattered to them is a win on Sunday.

"The biggest thing is to win first and foremost," Blalock said. "All those things contribute to it, but it's all icing on the cake. We'd love to go out and get all those great stats every time, but the first thing we want is a win every time."

The Rams put up a valiant effort when they got the ball back in the fourth quarter, driving to Atlanta's 2-yard line before safety William Moore iced the game with his fourth interception of the season.

Atlanta's offense bested the Rams by 16 total plays and held a 24-15 first-down edge. At times the Falcons' offense was high-flying and at others — late in the game — they returned to their old-school running-game roots.

Almost like they imposed their will.

"We can do whatever the defense dictates," Peelle said. "... Right now, it feels like whatever we want to do."

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