ATLANTA – Even on the days when the Falcons’ offense scored over 30 points and gained more than 400 yards, there was always one more play or drive that needed to be made. In their nail-biting games this season, and there have been several of those already, the offense’s ability to come through in those situations played a big role in deciding the outcome.
During Sunday’s 34-29 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3), the Falcons needed something from their offense in the fourth quarter after slowly leaking away their 24-13 lead at halftime. Atlanta’s offense responded with a crucial 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Tevin Coleman and pushed the Falcons’ lead to 31-22.
“That was a critical time in the game,” Ryan said. “That drive, you have to come away with a touchdown there. You just have to have that mindset, and I thought we did. I thought we attacked really well.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn has discussed winning moments often throughout the season, and his team’s execution in such situations has been a factor in their 2-4 record.
After failing to push the ball past midfield in the third quarter, and with injuries to Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu sapping their talent pool, the Falcons were in jeopardy of letting another opportunity slip away. To their credit, they didn’t allow that to happen.
“Sometimes you can lose your momentum or something like that can happen,” Quinn said. “To see us fight back to answer in that moment I thought was critical. Those are those moments I was talking about where they test you, but they also elevate you.”
A microcosm of that mentality came on a third-down scramble by Ryan.
On that pivotal touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the Falcons faced a third-and-9 at the Buccaneers’ 42-yard line. A stop by Tampa Bay would swing momentum firmly to its side and give the Bucs the ball back down just two points.
Tampa Bay appeared to defend the third-down play well and flushed Ryan out of the pocket as he sought to find an open receiver. After a suitable option downfield never appeared, Ryan tucked the ball and ran towards the first down marker – and a number of Bucs defenders.
Weaving from the right sideline back towards the middle of the field, Ryan dove for the first down line and took a big shot from Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander. But his efforts paid off and Ryan’s 13-yard run earned the Falcons a new set of downs.
“His toughness, it shows all the time,” Quinn said. “It was just another example where he was going to go for it, he was not going to be denied the play. I think that speaks to who the competitor is. He cares so much for the team, he cares so much for how we perform that he’s willing to lay it on the line and put out for his guys in the locker room.”
Ryan was once again excellent for the Falcons, completing 31 of his 41 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. But his most important play of the game might just have been the 13-yard run – a winning moment as Quinn would call it.
“That was a great play by Matt,” Falcons receiver Julio Jones said. “I thought he was going to float it to me. Heck of a play by Matt, lowered his shoulder and went and got the first down for us.”
It remains to be seen what the injury status is for Ridley and Sanu, two important pieces of the offense. Sanu put the Falcons on the board first with a 35-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter, and Ridley was the NFL’s leader in receiving touchdowns heading into the game.
The offense managed without them for part of the game on Sunday, though, gaining 416 yards, converting 62 percent if their third downs and scoring touchdowns on all three trips to the red zone. But for a team already dealing with several key injuries, not to mention the sight of kicker Matt Bryant limping into the locker room at the end of the game, the Falcons don’t want to lose two key receivers for an extended amount of time.
Right now, the Falcons are coming off a much-needed win in which the offense came through in the clutch. This win gives Atlanta a tiny bit of momentum, and it will try to keep that momentum rolling.
“I think you’ve got to ride momentum,” Ryan said. “When you can get it, get all you can get. Winning is a good thing, we’ve just got to find more ways to do it.”