Early Bird Report: Falcons' wild win draws national praise

The Falcons needed Julio Jones to play like a superstar on the road against the San Francisco 49ers, and he rose to that challenge superbly. In Atlanta's stunning 29-22 victory against a team that entered the game slotted in as the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture, Jones caught 13 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score with two seconds remaining.

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It was a game highlighted by two tremendous receiving performances. 49ers tight end George Kittle matched Jones' reception and yardage totals, but, crucially, was held out of the end zone. After a touchdown drought of his own this season, Jones reminded the NFL why he commands respect as one of the best receivers in league history.

"The Falcons did the right thing in relying on their best player against arguably the NFC's top team as Julio Jones scored two touchdowns in the Falcons' upset of the 49ers," Vaughn McClure writes for ESPN's weekend takeaways recap. "Jones caught 13 passes for 134 yards on a season-high 20 targets, including six receptions for 59 yards and the game winner on eight fourth-quarter targets. If this game shifted owner Arthur Blank's thinking on Dan Quinn's job status for the 5-9 Falcons, Quinn will have Jones to thank for it. Quinn and the Falcons now have beaten arguably the NFC's top two teams -- the 49ers and the Saints -- both on the road. But Quinn can't afford for his team to have a letdown next week at home against Jacksonville.

To read the rest of ESPN's takeaways from Week 15 in the NFL, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

NFL.com: What we learned in Week 15

Given the way the game ended, it's easy to see why a lot of the reaction to the game centers around Jones' last-second heroics, and that's the topic Adam Maya led off with in his three takeaways from the Falcons' win for NFL.com.

"Julio Jones broke the plane and the 49ers' hearts," Maya writes. "With two seconds remaining, Matt Ryan hit Jones over the middle at the goal line for the game-winning score. The Falcons wideout was initially ruled down at the 1, where time would have run out, but the call was overturned. It came one play after Ryan seemingly hit Austin Hooper for the go-ahead TD, only the tight end pressed the ball against the ground before appearing to make an acrobatic catch. The wild sequence was capped off by Atlanta picking up a fumbled lateral in the end zone on the ensuing kickoff to score its second touchdown in the final five seconds. The Falcons scored on their final two possessions to rally from a 19-10 deficit in the final 10 minutes. It continues a late-season surge under embattled coach Dan Quinn, who's relinquished some defensive responsibilities to his staff while guiding Atlanta to four wins in its past six games. You have to think Quinn's familiarity with former OC Kyle Shanahan had a lot to do with how Sunday played out.

To read the rest of Maya's thoughts on the game, click here.

AJC: Falcons offer glimpse of what could have been

The Falcons are 4-2 since their Week 9 bye, and that record appears to be a true reflection of improved play during that time. With wins against the Saints and 49ers, as well as two decisive victories against the Panthers, the Falcons have looked like the team many expected them to be entering the season. Michael Cunningham, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also noticed another change in the team of late. Costly mistakes and the inability to rebound from them played a big role in some early-season losses for Atlanta, but that hasn't been the case recently.

"Every disappointing NFL team can tell a story in which they aren't as bad as they seem and the standings might show it with better luck," Cunningham writes. "For the Falcons that narrative includes Matt Bryant's missed extra point to tie in Arizona, Devonta Freeman's goal-line fumble against Seattle and the three-sack surrender after the Saints tried to gift them a victory in Atlanta.

"I was adding Kenjon Barner's fumbled punt return to the what-if file on Sunday when the Falcons suddenly flipped the script. They would not squander a good effort with fatal miscues. Instead, the Falcons overcame their errors with a furious rally to score the decisive points in the final seconds--twice."

To read the rest of Cunningham's column, click here.

The Ringer: Winners and losers from Week 15

Despite the disappointing overall record this season, something remarkable is happening with the Falcons. Kicker Younghoe Koo has emerged as an "onside kick god," as The Ringer's Rodger Sherman puts it. Atlanta attempted and recovered yet another onside kick at the start of the second half against San Francisco, only to have it wiped away due to a penalty. Koo has now successfully kicked four onside kicks this season; just two of them have counted, but that doesn't wipe away the impressiveness of the feat.

Even more impressive is that the Falcons recovered the kick despite having only 10 men on the field, which is what led to the illegal formation penalty in the first place. Sherman isn't happy about the rule, but his confidence in Koo is through the roof.

"The NFL should change this rule immediately," he writes. "I need to see Koo go out on the field with exactly one other teammate, just to see if he can still connect on an onside kick. I bet he can do it."

To read the rest of Sherman's piece for The Ringer, click here.

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