ATLANTA – A win always feels good, but what made Sunday’s 31-24 win over the Panthers so sweet was how the Falcons did it.
First, think for a minute about all of the things that went wrong in the Falcons’ six-point loss to the Eagles in Week 1.
You know, the areas that sent Falcons fans and national writers into an all-out tizzy in the days leading up to Sunday’s home opener – and I’m not even counting the injuries to Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and Devonta Freeman.
How many times were the Falcons’ struggles in the red zone dissected following that Eagles game? And the list of grievances didn’t stop there.
The inefficiency on third down.
Matt Ryan’s forgettable night.
The lack of offensive balance.
And I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention all of the Monday morning quarterbacks who questioned the Falcons’ play-calling.
But against the Panthers, the Falcons righted the ship. And they did it without three of their best players.
Let’s talk red zone. The Falcons were 1-for-5 inside Philly’s 20-yard line in the opener. Against Carolina, the Falcons were a perfect 4-for-4. Ryan not only tossed two touchdown passes but he also ran for two – the first time he’s done that in his career.
How good were those Steve Sarkisian play calls in the red zone Sunday? Not bad, if I may say so.
And speaking of Ryan, he had a day, didn’t he? Aside from the touchdowns, No. 2 was an efficient 23 of 28 for 272 yards. He had the two scoring passes – to Calvin Ridley and Austin Hooper – but was intercepted once. It’s worth noting that Ryan wasn’t sacked at all by Carolina, a week after the Eagles got to him four times.
Ryan wasn’t the only efficient one, either.
The entire Falcons offense did a much better job on third down in Week 2, converting six of 11 attempts (55 percent). That’s a far cry from the four-of-15 effort (27 percent) from Thursday.
A big reason for that efficiency was a commitment to the running game, something Falcons coach Dan Quinn said would happen. The Falcons ran it 32 times for 170 yards against the Panthers, and Tevin Coleman, who got the start because of Freeman’s injury, rushed 16 times for 107 yards – a whopping 6.7 yards per carry.
Talk about stepping up. You remember Takk McKinley's words, right?
Quinn also promised to clean up the penalties in Week 2, too. Did they ever. In case you forgot, Atlanta was flagged a ridiculous 15 times for 135 yards against the Eagles. On Sunday the Falcons were penalized twice for 26 yards – and most of the yards came when Damontae Kazee was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on a sliding Cam Newton.
Was it a perfect game? No, not by any means.
But it was a complete turnaround from a week ago, and that’s what matters most.
It feels like this one was a long time coming, too, especially for Falcons fans who had to also endure a winless preseason.
How long? Like 253 days. That’s how long it’s been since the Falcons last tasted victory – a wild-card round win over the Rams in Los Angeles back in January.
And, more importantly, this was an all-important division win. Atlanta was 4-2 in the NFC South and finished 9-3 in the NFC in 2017 – only the Eagles and Vikings had better conference marks. That ended up being huge come January.
The ship has been righted and there was a lot to feel good about at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. But the hated Saints are coming to town, and they’re also 1-1 now.
The Falcons will enjoy this one, but not for long.