The Atlanta Falcons responded to a loss against the New Orleans Saints with a resounding 43-6 win against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.
It was a victory spurred on by Atlanta's defense, which has been steadily improving under interim head coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The Falcons forced a season-high five turnovers, which led to 23 points.
Atlanta held Las Vegas to just 243 total yards on offense and had a season-high five sacks. The Raiders mustered just 40 rushing yards, a season low for Las Vegas, and converted only three of their 12 third-down attempts. Las Vegas also committed 11 penalties, which accounted for 141 yards and played a big role in Sunday's game.
The defense helped keep Atlanta in the game while its offense took some time to find its footing without Julio Jones or Todd Gurley in the lineup. The Falcons had just six points in the first quarter and looked to be picking up where they left off against the Saints, but things began to turn around late in the second quarter.
A 4-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Calvin Ridley on fourth down after a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Falcons a new set of downs helped Atlanta take a 13-3 lead late in the half. A strip-sack by Jacob Tuioti-Mariner on the Raiders' following drive helped the Falcons add a field goal to their lead and head into halftime up 16-3.
The Falcons ended the game with 304 yards of offense, led by running back Ito Smith, who carried the ball 12 times for 65 yards and a touchdown. Ryan was 22-of-39 passing for 185 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, which came off a tipped pass. Ridley was his top target and finished with six catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Hayden Hurst also chipped in with four receptions for 48 yards, while Russell Gage caught three balls for 34 yards.
In the second half, Atlanta truly took control.
Deion Jones stepped in front of an off-target Derek Carr pass on the Raiders' second offense possession of the half, and he returned it 67 yards for a touchdown and a 23-3 lead for Atlanta. That touchdown was followed up with another score – this time on a 4-yard pass from Ryan to Brandon Powell – to extend the Falcons' lead to 30-6.
Back-to-back fumbles by the Raiders led to 10 more points for Atlanta, including an 8-yard touchdown run by Ito Smith. Younghoe Koo, who has been one of the best kickers in the NFL this season, provided the exclamation point for Atlanta on Sunday with a late 54-yard field goal – his 21st-straight made field goal – to give the Falcons a 43-6 lead.
Despite coming up limping after the roughing the kicker penalty, Koo remained perfect in yet another game. The Falcons kicker made field goals of 29, 30, 38, 39 and 54 yards on Sunday, and he was 4-for-4 on extra points. Defensively, the Falcons had six different players credited with the team's five sacks. Steven Means, Tuioti-Mariner, Foye Oluokun and John Cominsky each earned a full sack, while Tyeler Davison and rookie Jaylinn Hawkins each earned a half-sack. Tuioti-Mariner recovered two forced fumbles, while Keanu Neal and LaRoy Reynolds recovered another.
It was arguably the best all-around showing by the Falcons this season. The defense held Raiders stars Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs in check while forcing the most turnovers of the season, while the Falcons overcame some negative plays to stay on track and put together some long drives and finish things off in the red zone.
How much the Falcons have improved will be put to the test right away in an important rematch against the Saints this upcoming Sunday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Las Vegas Raiders with top photos from Week 12.