Early Bird Report: What we learned from Falcons' loss to Chiefs

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

It's been a season of improvement for Atlanta's defense, and Sunday stands out as the pinnacle of that improvement (so far). Still, it's hard to imagine the Falcons topping their most recent performance against the league's best offense.

Atlanta is the only team to hold the Kansas City Chiefs to under 20 points this season, and they forced two turnovers and nearly came away with two more. The defensive effort had the Falcons in position to tie the game late, but the outcome did not ultimately turn out in Atlanta's favor. Still, the defense caught the attention of a lot of people, including NFL.com writer Michael Baca, who praised the unit in his takeaways.

"The Falcons (4-11) gave the heralded K.C. offense fits with an assertive pass rush and a disciplined secondary," Baca writes. "Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett led the way with several pressures of Mahomes, who was often forced to throw the ball away or compelled to take dangerous chances with Falcons defenders breathing down his neck. Linebacker Foye Oluokun picked off Mahomes to end the Chiefs' opening drive of the second half, and if it wasn't for Tyreek Hill's hustle, it could've been a game-altering pick-six. Deion Jones (eight tackles) and Keanu Neal, who intercepted Sammy Watkins on a trick play, were other young Falcons who showed that the future isn't all that grim in Atlanta."

NFL Week 16 takeaways

Baca wasn't the only person to write about the Falcons' defensive outing on Sunday. That side of the ball has long been a subject of concern for many fans, but the Chiefs game provided optimism that things will be better moving forward. That's an opinion that ESPN's Harry Lyles Jr. shares, as he wrote as much in his post-game takeaways.

"The Falcons' defense is officially good," Lyles Jr. writes. "We've seen Atlanta play solid games against teams with offenses that don't necessarily strike fear in defenses, but to hold the Chiefs to just 17 points is no small accomplishment or fluke. The Chiefs' 17 points was their fewest in a win under Mahomes. If there's one positive to take not just from the game but also from Raheem Morris' tenure, it's that the defense is close to -- if not already -- where it needs to be as the Falcons move forward."

NFL Week 16 grades

Although the Falcons didn't emerge with a win, Sunday was probably one of the team's better performances all season. Very few people expected Atlanta to hang with Kansas City for even a quarter let alone the entire game. It's been a tough year for the Falcons, but Sunday showed that there are at least some things progressing in the right direction. It was a good enough outing to earn a "B" grade from CBSSports.com's John Breech, which was even higher than the "C" grade he gave the Chiefs.

"In a twist of fate that we probably all should have seen coming since this is the Falcions, Atlanta was let down by the one player who hadn't let them down all season," Breech writes. "Kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 39-yard field goal with nine seconds left that would have sent this game to overtime. It was Koo's first miss all year between 30 and 39 yards. The miss overshadowed a phenomenal performance by a Falcons defense that held the high-powered Chiefs offense to zero points in the first quarter and just seven points overall in the first half. The problem when you're playing the Chiefs is that you can't afford to make any mistakes and Atlanta made two. Besides Koo's missed field goal, there was a fumble by Brandon Powell that came in the fourth quarter after the Falcons had driven inside of Kansas City's 20-yard line."

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