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Early Bird Report: Younghoe Koo's long journey to become NFL's leading kicker

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

Younghoe Koo is on a tear in 2020. He is coming off of a game in which he made five field goals, including one from 54 yards out, and all four of his extra-point opportunities. Koo is currently the leader among all kickers in field goals made, total points and field goal percentage, and he looks to be the kicker of the future for Atlanta.

Koo's journey to the Falcons as the successor of team's all-time leading scorer, Matt Bryant, is quite the story, which Nick Toney detailed for Koo is one of just four Korean-American players in NFL history, and his long road to the league began back in Seoul.

"There's a lot to unpack here," Toney writes. "In summary: Koo went from Korea to Georgia, then shot a viral kicking video that got him to California and back to Georgia in time to lead all pro kickers in made field goals (29), total points (109), and field goal percentage (96.7%) in 2020.

"An even quicker summary goes like this: There might be equally improbable NFL journeys out there, but there aren't any better than Younghoe Koo's."

Falcons defense putting it all together

While the offense has largely defined the Falcons during the Matt Ryan Era, it's the defense that has begun to win games of late. Often maligned through the years, Atlanta's defense is now receiving praise and attention. ESPN writer Paul Gutierrez wrote about how well the Falcons’ defense played on Sunday against the Raiders, a major factor in the team's decisive victory.

"I feel like everybody has taken notice," defensive lineman Jacob Tuioti-Mariner said after the game. "The defense has taken a step forward these past couple weeks. It is a good feeling. We all trust each other with our jobs. It is just a good feeling to be out there and flying around with each other."

What we learned from Sunday's Week 12 games

Atlanta's 43-6 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders was its best performance of the season by a good margin. It was similar to the Falcons' 40-23 win against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, but the defense had a complete performance throughout the entire game on Sunday, allowing just three points in each half.

Deion Jones was among the heroes of the game, coming through with a pick-six in the third quarter, which was one of five turnovers for the Falcons. Atlanta also had five sacks, including the first of Jacob Tuioti-Mariner's career. Offensively, it took a little bit of time to get things going, but Matt Ryan tossed two touchdown passes – one each to Calvin Ridley and Brandon Powell – and Ito Smith closed things off with a fourth-quarter touchdown run.

One week after a lackluster performance against the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons rebounded in a big way. This type of win is more along the lines of what fans expected from Atlanta this season, and it could once again make Raheem Morris a prime contender for the full-time coaching job, which Adam Maya writes in his recap of the Falcons-Raiders game for

"Raheem Morris is ready to be a head coach again," Maya writes. "Whether that happens with Atlanta remains to be seen, but its latest performance gives Arthur Blank, who's also looking for a new general manager, even more to consider. The Falcons have looked like a completely different team since Morris took over -- or, they've been who we thought they'd be. The offense is explosive, but not one-dimensional, the defense is opportunistic and stingy against the pass. They exhibited all of that while routing the Raiders for their fourth win in six tries under Morris. Blank intimated his interim coach might have been too young when he was hired to run the Buccaneers at 32, his tenure ending after just three seasons and a 17-31 mark. Morris, now 44, has clearly learned some things along the way and has a team that began the season 0-5 not just competitive but beating potential playoff teams. Atlanta (4-7) is a long shot to be one this year, but Morris' chances of being an NFL head coach in 2021 should be better."

Week 12 NFL grades

Atlanta's performance was made even more impressive by the fact that it came against a team right in the thick of the AFC playoff race and is the only team to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs this season. It's the type of win that garners national praise, and that's exactly what has happened. While the Raiders received an "F" grade from's John Breech for their play, the Falcons earned the highest possible grade, an "A+."

"The Falcons went into this game with one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but they're probably going to be feeling pretty good about themselves after their performance on Sunday," Breech writes. "It's hard to say what was more impressive, the fact that they forced five turnovers (including a pick-six from Deion Jones), the fact they limited Josh Jacobs to just 27 yards on the ground, the fact that they sacked Derek Carr five times or the fact that they didn't surrender a touchdown. It you can't tell by now, it was one of the most dominant performances the Falcons have had all season long."

Week 12 NFL takeaways

There was a bit of a trend among the insights gleaned from Atlanta's win on Sunday – the defense grabbed a lot of attention. Tuioti-Mariner, who had a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries to go along with his sack, was named the standout player in Harry Lyles Jr.’s takeaways for, a well-deserved honor for a young player coming into his own.

"The Falcons played their best defensive game of the season against the Raiders, forcing five turnovers and producing five sacks," Lyles writes. "It was the type of defensive effort the Falcons have been looking for over the past few seasons. If they're able to put together similar performances in the final weeks of the season, Raheem Morris has to like his chances of becoming the permanent head coach."

We're now seeing the Falcons we expected

Part of the reason Sunday's game was so noteworthy for the Falcons is because there were those who expected it to be a much more common occurrence in 2020. That there have now been two such games under Raheem Morris is a good sign for the team's interim head coach, and it showed the potential that Atlanta still has. In one of his few positive columns of the season, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mark Bradley praised the Falcons for their play Sunday.

"The Falcons stopped themselves from having a realistic chance to do anything of significance this season," Bradley writes. "They showed Sunday what can happen if they keep the pressure on an opponent and step aside as that opponent falls to pieces. They made a decent Raiders team look downright indecent. Even as the lead was mounting and we were starting to make jokes about how even the Falcons mightn't be able to blow this game, they kept building on it. They built until Jon Gruden took pity on his addled quarterback and pulled Carr with 10 minutes remaining."

More headlines for Falcons fans

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders with top photos from Week 12.

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