Early Bird Report: What we learned from Falcons' win vs. Broncos

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

What we learned from Sunday's games

While the Falcons scored 34 points in their win against the Denver Broncos, it was the defense that emerged as a big talking point. For much of the game, Atlanta's defense locked down Denver's offense and the unit came away with a big turnover late in the action that helped clinch the win for the Falcons.

For the second-straight week, the defense provided reasons for optimism moving forward. It's a unit that has shown improvement since Raheem Morris took over as interim head coach, and something that stood out to NFL.com's Nick Shook on Sunday.

"Atlanta's defense has taken a positive turn since the firing of Quinn, which should largely be credited to the return of key players," Shook writes. "Keanu Neal's presence has helped add attitude, and the combined performances of Deion Jones and promising linebacker Foye Oluokun have made the Falcons into a legitimate group on the defensive side of the ball. That reality is what propelled the Falcons, at least early, when Atlanta harassed Drew Lock, forced multiple stops and turned them into a 27-6 lead. Denver's offense woke up in the fourth quarter, diminishing some of what had been a very positive day for the Falcons defense, but it stiffened in the key moments, forcing a turnover on downs while clinging to a one-score lead. Sunday's game was the latest in a month filled with mostly impressive defensive performances, and makes one wonder where the Falcons might be standing had they turned their early season close losses into victories. Above all, though, the unit is a great reason for optimism going forward."

Judging NFL Week 9 overreactions

Since assuming the role of interim head coach, Morris has led the Falcons to a 3-1 record with the lone loss coming on a literal last-second touchdown against the Detroit Lions. Falcons owner Arthur Blank said if Morris went 11-0 he'd get a very serious look, and while a perfect record is now out of the question, he may still be working his way into the running. In the opinion of ESPN's Dan Graziano, it's not an overreaction to think Morris might be Atlanta's head coach next season.

"Moving Morris to the offensive side of the ball for three years from 2016 to 2018 was a developmental move designed to broaden him and help prepare him if he should ever get the chance at another head-coach job," Graziano writes. "The Falcons believe they've developed Morris as a coaching prospect.

"It's not going to be easy -- Atlanta has a bye next week, and then six of its remaining seven games are against teams that currently have winning records, including one against the Chiefs and two each against the Saints and Buccaneers. But if their second half goes well, Morris should and will absolutely be a serious candidate to keep the job full-time."

Morris, Ryan lead resurgent Falcons to another win

It wasn't just the defense that looked sharp on Sunday. Matt Ryan had perhaps his best game of the season, throwing for 284 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception against the Broncos. He accomplished that without Calvin Ridley, who missed the game due to a foot injury. ESPN's Tim McManus discussed Ryan's play in greater detail after the action.

"Ryan has lifted his play, completing at least 70% of his passes in each of the past four games while throwing eight touchdowns to two interceptions," McManus writes. "His hot streak continued Sunday despite the absence of Calvin Ridley, who was sidelined with a foot injury. Second-year player Olamide Zaccheaus stepped into the starting role and posted four catches for 103 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown reception late in the first quarter that put Atlanta ahead 10-0 and in the driver's seat."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos with top photos from Week 9 | Salute to Service game

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