AtlantaFalcons.com contributing writer Daniel Cox takes a day-after look at the Falcons' 41-7 win over the Cardinals in which Atlanta was able to find a rhythm offensively and maintain the defensive dominance the team displayed against Pittsburgh a week earlier
ATLANTA —In wins like Sunday's mammoth 41-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, a team has to have a lot of contributions.
The quote machine was running postgame, and the Atlanta Falcons were saying all the right things about being successful in all three phases of the game, but perhaps what is overlooked is just how much of a total team victory this was.
Sure, contributions came from the usual suspects: Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Jonathan Babineaux and early on from Michael Turner.
But even the young and (semi) old did their jobs Sunday.
On offense, the ageless Brian Finneran had three catches for 31 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown catch. Ryan's touchdown to Finneran was a beauty, one that had the 34-year-old receiver covered well, but using his height, Finneran was able to snatch it out of the air.
Incidentally, it was a play the two had worked on during the week of practice leading up to the game, but had not yet connected on.
"He (Ryan) trusted in it, threw it up, and gave me a chance to go up and make a play and that's what I did," said Finneran. "He put a great ball out there. Tony (Gonzalez) and I are two big guys. We get in the red zone let's just give ourselves a chance to make plays out there."
It was Finneran's first touchdown reception since December of the 2008 season, and it was a good moment for a player who has battled back from two knee injuries. Not only does he continue to play, but each season he finds ways to contribute to the team's success.
"Every time I go to training camp, I feel like I'm good enough to be out there once I start running around with the guys and the young kids they bring in to try to take my job," Finneran said. "I just try to keep working and doing the right things. Being a vet goes a long way in this league. I try to take advantage of it with my savvy ways and just try to make plays when they ask me. I'm fortunate to play this long."
On defense, second-year cornerback Chris Owens snagged a Derek Anderson pass on third down and returned it 13 yards. Dating back to last season, it was the third interception in four games for the young nickel cornerback that the Falcons added in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Rookie corner Dominique Franks took advantage of his opportunity late in the game to build on an impressive preseason performance. Late in the fourth quarter Franks intercepted a Max Hall pass on Arizona's 45-yard line and almost took it the distance. Like so many Falcons, the 2010 fifth-round pick used his film study to make a play on the field.
"We were in a great coverage and I saw Larry Fitzgerald and I was like, 'I bet they're going to him,' " Franks said of his first career pick. "I just read my keys, did my assignment, I got my head around and the quarterback threw the ball. I had a chance to make a play on it. I just didn't want to drop it. It was a good experience for me to go out there in my first game and get my first pick."
One of the biggest storylines of the week was the injury to starting strong safety Erik Coleman and the insertion into the starting lineup of second-year safety William Moore. Moore, a 2009 second-round pick has struggled with injuries but has enormous potential as a hard-hitting, playmaking safety.
On Sunday, he began to show some glimpses of what he's capable of. While he did make some mistakes (a late-hit penalty), he was around the ball often. In addition to his two tackles, he had a bone-crunching hit on Anderson in the fourth quarter that forced an errant incomplete pass.
He also hauled in his first career interception in the third quarter on the second play to open the half. Asked after the game how that one felt, he was more focused on the one earlier in the game that he had in his grasp but couldn't hang on to. He vowed to make it happen again.
"I'm more disappointed missing that other one," Moore said of his interception. "It would have been better to get two of them. You've got to take it and I'm going to go get some more."
It was a much-needed win for the 1-1 Falcons in their home opener against a team that's been to the playoffs for the last two seasons. But how they arrived at the outcome is almost as important as the final score itself. At times it appeared all 45 men on the sidelines were playing a role in some way or another.
And we haven't even mentioned Mister-Next-Man-Up himself, .
Behind Enemy Lines:There were some mixed signals coming from the Cardinals' locker after Sunday's win. On the one hand, the Cardinals said they beat themselves, especially due to the 10 penalties for 109 yards they amassed.
"We had the opportunity to make plays on both sides of the ball and didn't them," running back Tim Hightower said. "Anytime you have all of those penalties on the road, you make it tough on yourself."
Arizona's quarterback would have nothing of letting on that he was sore after the game, a contest that saw him get sacked twice and officially hit twice.
"I surprisingly feel nice," the quarterback said.
But two of Arizona's biggest stars gave Atlanta a little credit.
"We knew what type of team we were playing," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said of Atlanta. "Atlanta made plays and we didn't."
And from a guy who knows a thing or two about being one of the best around in the playoffs, Fitzgerald:
"That's one thing you can't do is beat yourself on the road, especially against a playoff caliber team like Atlanta is."
From the FanCast:Some fans present during Sunday's Falcons FanCast live chat couldn't help but monitor the performance of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Following last week's physical battle and low-scoring affair with the Steelers, some in the media and even in the fan base wondered aloud if the Falcons were still not quite ready for prime time.
Unable to do much on the ground against Pittsburgh, Atlanta's offense looked anemic at times, but Sunday showed just how tough of a defense that Week 1 challenge truly was. Pittsburgh won another defensive struggle, but the eye-popping stat of the day came in what the Steelers accomplished against what is arguably the best running back in the NFL, Tennessee's Chris Johnson.
"The Steelers are beating the Titans 14-3 and CJK (Johnson) has only 24 yards rushing ... I want to hear what they say now," said a fan in the chat.
Johnson finished with 34 yards rushing and the point the fan was trying to make is that the Steelers are more than a little dominant.
The Falcons lost that game, but they showed grit and hung in there against what could be the best defense in the NFL this season. Then, they turned around and laid a 41 spot on the Cardinals on Sunday.
There was talk of a chip on the shoulder of Atlanta heading into Sunday's game and they proved they didn't take the loss and the ensuing commentary well.
"Yeah, I think we did (come in with a chip)," wide receiver Roddy White said. "All through practice, you could see it. Everybody was kind of upset that we lost to the Steelers last week. We had opportunities to win that game, but we didn't get it done. We wanted to come out here and get off to a fast start and score some points early in the game."
Pivotal Play:Finding a key play in a 34-point blowout can be challenging. Lots of big plays on Sunday mean lots of choices, but instead there may have been a key drive in the game that completely turned the tables on the Cardinals.
After the Falcons scored on the game's first possession, they went on a scorless drought that lasted into the second quarter. Kicker Matt Bryant capped a six-play drive with a field goal to give the Falcons a 10-0 advantage in the second quarter.
On the Cardinals' first play from scrimmage on the next possession, they gave up the lone big play of the day to Arizona.
Reminiscent of Rashard Mendenhall's game-winning 50-yarder last week in overtime, Arizona running back Tim Hightower zoomed around the right end for an 80-yard touchdown. The word "mis-fit" hug in the air.
"Again, we had an eight-man spacing issue," Smith said of the Hightower touchdown. "When you give up an 80-yard run, it just absolutely chaps you."
Faced with a three-point lead, the Falcons shook it off and answered the call. Ryan pieced together a nine-play drive that ended with a Snelling touchdown reception for 19 yards, his first of three touchdowns on the day.
The Cardinals didn't score again for the remainder of the day and Atlanta began their run right there.
Statistically Speaking:When considering just how effective Atlanta's offense was Sunday, two stats jump off the page.
In the first half, the Falcons collected a whopping 21 first downs and converted 5-of-7 third down opportunities. For the game, Atlanta totaled 33 first downs, two short of the franchise record set in 1979. In total, the offense had a 65 percent success rate on third downs (11-of-17).
Even more critical is being productive inside the 20, and Atlanta had a great day in the redzone. The Falcons came away with points on five of its eight trips on that portion of the field. Take out the Falcons' victory formation to end the game and they had an impressive 71 percent success rate there.
That's A Wrap:Falcons players will certainly pay closer attention to the Monday night matchup than they normally would. After all, their Week 3 opponent will be playing, but it's not just any opponent; it's defending Super Bowl champs and NFC South rival, the New Orleans Saints.
Tempers flare and things always tend to get rowdy in what many believe is the franchise's oldest and fiercest rivalry. Considering how close the Falcons played the Saints last season and their current status as the king of the NFL's hill means Atlanta would like nothing more than to take them down, putting them right where they want to be heading into the final game of the season's first quarter.
The Falcons clearly didn't look ahead this week, but they knew when the Saints came on the schedule.
"We didn't have next week in mind playing (Sunday)," Ryan said. "I think the biggest thing was to focus on getting a win and we were able to accomplish that. We're going to enjoy it (Sunday), because wins are very difficult to come across in this league. But (Monday), it's back to work trying to improve on some of the things so that when we go down to New Orleans we can play well again."