The Atlanta Falcons played some of their best football of the season in beating the Denver Broncos on Sunday. The Falcons enjoyed 21-point leads two different times during the game before walking off the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 34-27 win.
The good news is that the Falcons won and improved to 3-6 on the season.
The bad news is that the Broncos outscored Atlanta 21-7 in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie or win the game on their final possession of the game. Not again, right?
But here's where things get good again for the Falcons: Unlike previous games this season when the Falcons were in position to win games and did not, Atlanta did what it needed to secure a much-needed victory on Sunday. Players made plays when it counted.
And that's a huge step in the right direction for a team that's trying to work its way out of an 0-5 hole to start the season.
If the Falcons had made plays in crunch time against the Cowboys, Bears and Lions – all very winnable games (sorry, Falcons fans) – they very well could be sitting at 6-3 instead of 3-6. Then again ... you are what your record says you are.
But here are the facts as these Falcons head into their bye week: They are 3-1 under interim coach Raheem Morris and have outscored their opponents 121-90 over the last four games. When the defense has shown up – and finished – good things have happened. And that was again the case on Sunday against the Broncos, for the most part.
For three quarters, the Broncos were held to just two field goals and didn't even sniff the red zone until the fourth quarter. And that's when the Falcons' once-commanding 27-6 lead methodically disappeared, something Falcons fans have witnessed all too often this season.
The difference on Sunday, though, was that Falcons players made plays with the game on the line in the final quarter.
After the Broncos scored their first touchdown of the game – a 20-yard pass from Drew Lock to Jerry Jeudy with 13:15 to go – the Falcons punted seven plays later, giving Denver another chance to cut into the lead.
But on the very next play – a first-and-10 play on the Broncos' 15-yard line – Ricardo Allen picked off Lock at the Denver 31 and returned it 19 yards to the 12. Two plays later, Todd Gurley scored on a 4-yard run to put the Falcons back up, 34-13.
Big play by Allen.
Two possessions later, the Broncos scored again. Atlanta's lead was 34-20.
The Broncos attempted an onside kick and there was no indecisiveness at all as Foye Oluokun pounced on the ball at the Denver 42-yard line.
Another big play, this time by Oluokun.
Following a three-and-out by the Falcons, the Broncos scored yet again, and Atlanta's lead was down to 34-27 – a one-possession game.
The Broncos attempted another onside kick, this time in the opposite direction and towards Allen. The ball ricocheted of Allen's hands and Deion Jones recovered the ball at the Denver 44-yard line.
A clutch play by Jones.
Sure enough, the Falcons' offense was unable to put the game away and went three-and-out. More importantly, the Broncos had a chance – albeit a slim one – to tie or win the game with 44 seconds left. They also had to go 80 yards and had no timeouts.
The Falcons defense answered the bell, forcing Lock to throw three straight incompletions. On fourth down, the Broncos had a bad snap, fumbled and recovered the ball for a 1-yard loss.
Game over, as Matt Ryan came out to take a knee and run the final 23 seconds off the clock.
No, the fourth quarter wasn't pretty, but the Falcons had players step up and make plays in crunch time. And that was something that wasn't happening during an 0-5 start to the season.
Have the Falcons turned the corner? Have they learned to close out games?
We'll find out soon enough, but there are positive signs as they head into their bye week with seven games to go.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos with top photos from Week 9 | Salute to Service game