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Early Bird Report: Reacting to Falcons' dominant win; Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in award races

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes reactions and takeaways from the Falcons’ win as well as three players earning midseason-award recognition.

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The Falcons are on a three-game winning streak and played their best football of the season during their 38-14 victory against the Washington Redskins.

After their 1-4 start, the Falcons have now evened their record at 4-4 and appear to be trending upwards with the second half of the season still remaining. That Atlanta has battled to reach .500 is a testament to its resiliency after losing six important contributors to injury, as Jonathan Jones of Monday Morning Quarterback writes.

“Major contributors to the 2018 Falcons have been falling off all season,” Jones writes. “Safety Ricardo Allen, the soul of the defense, landed on injured reserve with an Achilles. Joining him on the list is guard Andy Levitre (triceps), linebacker Deion Jones (foot), safety Keanu Neal (knee), guard Brandon Fusco (ankle) and top rusher Devonta Freeman (groin). Jones, by the way, can return from injured reserve as early as Week 11 and revive a middling defense.

“All the while, Matt Ryan has been on pace for his first 5,000-yard season and a better year than his 2016 MVP season. He connected on 26 of his 38 passes Sunday for 350 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. At this rate, he’ll have a better completion rate (70.8%), more yards (5,370), fewer interceptions (six) and identical 38 passing touchdowns from 2016.”

To read the rest of Jones’ piece on the Falcons trending upwards, click here.

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

NFL.com: What we learned from Sunday’s games

Atlanta’s win against Washington should inspire confidence among the fan base. It was a complete, three-phase victory against a team that was in first place in the NFC East entering the game. Chris Wesseling’s post-game takeaways for NFL.com reflects the level of dominance on display from the Falcons in the win.

“No one is calling for the head of Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian this season,” Wesseling writes. “Matt Ryan's attack found the end zone on four of its first five possessions, with a red-zone interception as the lone exception through the first two and a half quarters. Redskins coach Jay Gruden acknowledged at halftime that his third-down defense was "a joke," but the Falcons do this nearly every week. They are converting roughly half of their third-and-long attempts, including Sunday's 40-yard touchdown to Calvin Ridley. They have also reached pay dirt on 17 of their last 20 trips to the red zone going back to Week 2. Coleman and Smith amassed 148 yards on the ground against a defense that was allowing just 80 rushing yards per game. This is one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, with Ryan playing at a level similar to his 2016 MVP season. Riding a three-game winning streak -- with star linebacker Deion Jones eligible to return from injured reserve in two weeks -- the Falcons maintain realistic hopes for a wild-card berth.”

To read the rest of Wesseling’s takeaways from the game, click here.

AJC: Now I believe it: The Falcons really are a good team

After a slow start to the season, the Falcons have seemingly found their stride. Their latest performance is another sign that this team is trending upwards, despite the numerous injuries that threatened to derail the season early on. They’ve even made a believer out of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Michael Cunningham, who writes that the Falcons are a good team.

The Falcons have won three straight games after losing three in a row,” Cunningham writes. “They beat the Bucs and Giants but were shaky on either side of the ball. Against Washington they were excellent all around and delivered their most complete effort of the season.

“Once 1-3 and seemingly sunk by injuries, the Falcons are 4-4 and on the come. Keep it up and the Falcons will not have to grind their way to the playoffs, but run over lesser foes on the way there.”

To read the rest of Cunningham’s piece, click here

ESPN: Barnwell’s NFL midseason awards

The Falcons have a trio of players mentioned in Bill Barnwell’s piece on who he believes should be recognized as award contenders at the midpoint of the season. As of now, he places Calvin Ridley in second place for Offensive Rookie of the Year after a truly impressive first half of his rookie season. Julio Jones would receive a third-place vote from Barnwell for Offensive Player of the Year, and Matt Ryan would also receiver a third-place nod for MVP.

“Yes, Ryan is not going to get as much consideration because his defense stinks and his team is a distant third at 4-4 in the NFC South, but he has been every bit as good as the guy we saw win MVP two years ago,” Barnwell writes. Keep in mind he was doing that with a better offensive line and Freeman as his lead back in the running game. This version of Ryan has Calvin Ridley, which helps, but the Boston College product just went five-plus games without an interception before throwing a pick on Sunday afternoon. If the Falcons make their way back into the wild-card hunt in the NFC, Ryan deserves MVP chatter.”

To read the rest of Barnwell’s piece, click here.

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