Early Bird Report: The key player behind Kenjon Barner's touchdown return


Kenjon Barner earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors after breaking off a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Panthers. It was the longest punt return in the NFL this season, and it gave the Falcons an early 10-0 lead.

Although Barner made several tacklers miss on his way to the end zone, it was a true team effort. When asked if there was a key block on his touchdown return, Barner quickly pointed out receiver Christian Blake.

"I've got to go (Christian) Blake," Barner said, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He took a bullet for me. He took a live bullet. It's No. 13 if you don't know who that is. I told him, I think I owe you some money. Medical bill, send it my way."

To read the rest of Ledbetter's report on Barner's return, click here.

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

Tampa Bay Times: Falcons have incentive vs. Bucs

Both the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter Sunday's game with a 3-7 record, but the two teams appear to be headed in completely different directions. The Falcons have two resounding rivalry wins in their last two weeks, while the Buccaneers have lost five of their last six games and a coming off a 34-17 loss against the Saints.

The Falcons have looked like a renewed and motivated team since their bye week, and they will be plenty motivated to keep that momentum going. There are plenty of connections in this matchup between the Falcons and the Buccaneers on Atlanta's side. Dirk Koetter and Raheem Morris, the Falcons' offensive coordinator and secondary coach, respectively, have each been a head coach in Tampa Bay during this decade.

Falcons president Rich McKay is the son of John McKay, the first head coach in Buccaneers history. And he was the general manager of the Buccaneers during their Super Bowl season in 2002.

Tampa Bay Times writer Rick Stroud believes those connections will provide a bit of added incentive for Atlanta against the Buccaneers.

"At 3-7, with another season circling the drain, the Bucs get to play the suddenly red-hot Falcons (3-7) twice in the final six games, beginning Sunday at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta," Stroud writes. "Waiting for them will be two former Bucs head coaches in Morris and Koetter, along with team president Rich McKay, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Bucs as their most successful general manager. Gentlemen, start your axe-grinding."

To read the rest of Stroud's piece, click here.

AJC: Matt Ryan on a historic pace

Matt Ryan surpassed Hall of Famer Warren Moon on the NFL's all-time passing yards list, moving into the top 10 with 49,383 yards in his career. Ryan has played in nine games this season, missing Atlanta's game against Seattle this year due to injury, and his 49,383 yards are more than any of the nine quarterbacks ahead of him on the all-time passing list had through nine games in their 12th NFL season, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ryan's pace for passing yards in his career is higher than any other player in the top 10. He would still need to play for a long while to make a strong push at the all-time passing yards record, or even for a spot in the top three, but he's on pace to make that push in time. Peyton Manning's pace through nine games in his 12th season is the closest to Ryan's, and the future Hall of Famer had 48,500 passing yards at that mark.

To read the rest of the AJC's stat-driven article on Ryan's historic pace, click here.

ESPN: Week 12 NFL power rankings

The Falcons climbed two spots in ESPN's latest power rankings, following their 29-3 win against the Carolina Panthers. Although they've won their last two games in decisive fashion, the Falcons sit at No. 25 in the rankings and have a 3-7 record. In addition to the rankings, ESPN writers were asked to share each team's most underrated player. For Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure, that is safety Ricardo Allen.

"Allen isn't known as a ball hawk, but he makes a tremendous impact with his football intelligence and ability to be a step ahead of the opponent," McClure writes. "Allen is the best communicator on defense and has the versatility to play both safety spots as well as cornerback in a pinch. Allen had one of the team's four interceptions in a win over Carolina after the Falcons had just four takeaways entering the game."

To read the rest of ESPN's power rankings, click here.

ESPN: Week 11 takeaways

With their 29-3 victory in Charlotte, the Falcons' post-bye dominance has become a slight trend. That's especially true of Atlanta's defense which has held opponents to under 10 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2009.

Atlanta recorded four interceptions, doubling its total from the first 10 weeks, and sacked quarterback Kyle Allen five times. After such a performance, it's easy to see why the Falcons' defense was the No. 1 takeaway for ESPN's Vaughn McClure.

"The Falcons' defense looks like a totally different unit from the one that struggled through most of the season's first half," McClure writes. "And it has sparked a dramatic turnaround, resulting in a two-game win streak and 2-0 start in the NFC South. The defense hasn't allowed a touchdown since the end of the second quarter against Seattle (Week 8), keeping both New Orleans and Carolina out of the end zone. In the past three games, the Falcons have recorded 13 sacks, 25 quarterback hits and four interceptions. 'If we keep playing the way we are as a defense, offense and special teams put together, that's the team we believe we can be,' free safety Ricardo Allen said. 'I know we've got something we can do. I know who we have. We just have to put it out there and not talk about it.'"

To read the rest of ESPN's takeaways from Sunday, click here.

NFL.com: What we learned from Week 11

In his recap of the Falcons-Panthers game, NFL.com writer Jelani Scott also mentioned Atlanta's defense. He believes it was the defense that set the tone with De’Vondre Campbell’s early interception, and the Falcons never looked back from there. But, as he writes for his third point, it wasn't just the defense that earned the victory.

"Playing well in all three phases is a weekly talking point for every coach; the Falcons completely lived up to that expectation in today's win. A 38-yard Younghoe Koo field goal closed an eight-play, 55-yard opening drive; Koo went 3-of-4 on the day. Running back Kenjon Barner, who played for the Panthers three separate times -- including a 2018 stint -- in his seven-year career, earned a measure of payback against his former team with a career-best 78-yard punt return to the house to close the first quarter. Matt Ryan (21-of-31, 311 yards, TD) did his part, connecting with Calvin Ridley eight times for a game-high 143 yards and his lone TD. Julio Jones chipped in a solid 91 yards on six catches, and RB Qadree Ollison chipped in a rushing TD to put Atlanta up 20-0 to end the first half. Not having Austin Hooper or Devonta Freeman could have proved troublesome but the load was carried well by Ryan, his wideouts, a committee of RBs and an on-point outing on special teams."

To read the rest of Scott's takeaways on NFL.com, click here.

AJC: Whoever is calling plays, Falcons defense making them

Dan Quinn has shuffled his staff around this season, and distributed the defensive play-calling duties amongst some assistant coaches, but that's a secondary story to what is happening on the field. The coaches call the plays, yes; but responsibility ultimately falls to the players to execute them. In the last two games, there's been a lot of high-level execution.

"In other words, the Falcons now are playing the fast and physical style that Quinn tried to import from Seattle but has never quite delivered," Michael Cunningham writes in his column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I'm tempted to wave it away because it's only been two-and-half games. The problem with that is I saw how bad the Falcons were over the first 7-1/2 games, and how good they've been since."

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

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