EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With all of the attention that's been paid to the Falcons' offense in recent weeks, the defense has been slightly overlooked. There was no overlooking Atlanta's defense on Sunday.
Going on the road in dreadful conditions, the Falcons (4-3) leaned on their defense to come away with a 25-20 victory over the New York Jets (3-5) and snap a three-game losing streak. As was expected, the unrelenting rain made it hard on both team's offenses, but it's hard to imagine the Jets would have fared much better had the weather been pristine.
Atlanta held New York to 279 yards on Sunday afternoon, including just 43 yards on the ground. Bilal Powell led the way for the Jets in run game with 33 yards, but they mustered a meager 2 yards per carry against the Falcons.
"I thought it was going to be a line of scrimmage day on both sides, and it sure way," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Defensively, to hold them to 43 yards, that was a real emphasis. The defense hadn't performed as they thought they were capable of over the last few weeks in the run game, so I thought that was significant. Especially on a day that was going to feature some weather and both teams were going to lean on their run game."
The stout performance against the run was exactly what Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel wanted to see from the unit. Entering the game, the Falcons had given up more than 100 rushing yards in each of their past three games, including 167 in a loss to the New England Patriots.
Throughout the afternoon, the Falcons' defense was placed in some difficult positions. Until the fourth quarter, the Jets' average starting field position on offense was the 44-yard line. Twice, New York gained possession deep in Atlanta territory after recovering a botched exchange between Alex Mack and Matt Ryan.
On those two drives, the Jets came away with just three points. Quinn often speaks of the three units – offense, defense and special teams – working together and stepping up if one of the others has a mishap. The Falcons' defense did that time and again on Sunday until the offense found a slight groove towards the end of the game.
Linebacker Deion Jones led the way with 11 tackles while safety Keanu Neal also chipped in with nine tackles of his own, but it was a group effort for Atlanta. Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe combined for 11 tackles, three quarterback hits, three tackles for a loss and a sack.
"Really that was a team defense," Quinn said. "We just tried to stress and make sure everybody is doing their job. It's not a time to take a shot and see if you can go make a play. Just really consistent, everybody doing their job, that was kind of their mantra this week and I thought they really nailed that."
As strong as the Falcons were against the run, they did get beaten in the passing game a few times. Robby Anderson, in particular, proved difficult for the defense. He caught all six of the passes thrown his way for 104 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown against Desmond Trufant.
Quarterback Josh McCown completed nearly 80 percent of his passes for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but outside of the plays Anderson made, most of the Jets' throws were of the short-yardage variety.
It appeared the Falcons' defense continued to get stronger as the game wore on. With more consistency on offense, the defenders had the opportunity to rest on the sidelines, and it showed in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta's pass rush became even more effective once the Falcons took control of the lead, harassing McCown with both interior and exterior pressure. Rookie Takkarist McKinley registered his second sack of the season while Trufant earned another sack and Jarrett and Poe had a half-sack each.
After allowing an eight-play, 75-yard drive to the Jets at the start of the game, the Falcons settled down and forced four three-and-outs – six, if you count the two field goals Atlanta forced after New York recovered the botched snaps. On a day when each team's offense faced not only the 11 players on the other side of the line of scrimmage but also Mother Nature, it was clear that defense would play a huge factor. Against the Jets, the Falcons' defense stood firm and helped secure an important victory.