First Quarter:Atlanta's day in Houston began a little unusually and continued through the first quarter. Both teams' opening possessions netted zero yards of offense, which, while surprising, shouldn't have been unexpected considering the two tough and physical defenses represented in the contest. Matt Ryan threw two early interceptions but Houston could do little to take advantage. The first came on a flea flicker on a handoff to Michael Turner. Turner's lob backwards to Ryan was high and the resulting pass was rushed. Ryan's second came on a miscommunication between he and receiver Julio Jones. The pass went to the inside of Jones and the rookie was looking for it elsewhere. Between all of this was an Atlanta defense that held the Texans rushing attack to 20 yards and almost scored the first touchdown of the game on a head's up play by James Sanders after a forced fumble of quarterback TJ Yates. Houston only managed a field goal to make the score 3-0 in the first quarter.
Second Quarter:The second quarter didn't show anything easier for the Falcons. On Houston's first drive of the quarter, they followed up a 26-yard screen pass to Arian Foster with a 50-yard completion to Andre Johnson. Three plays later the Texans found the endzone to take a 10-0 lead. Atlanta responded with a scoring drive of their own, featuring a heavy dose of Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez. The tight end caught three passes for 49 yards and Turner added 27 yards rushing but the Falcons couldn't put a touchdown on the board, settling for a Matt Bryant 19-yard field goal. Atlanta's middle linebacker Curtis Lofton was the highlight on defense in the first half, notching 10 tackles and one sack, a second-down take down for a loss of 8 yards. The Falcons appeared to put together a late drive, but two drops by Jones and Roddy White stalled the offense. The Falcons defense allowed Houston 202 yards in the first half, 146 through the air and 56 on the ground. Rookie QB Yates looked impressive in his first full half of work, completing 10-of-18 passes with one touchdown.
Third Quarter:Compared to other games this season, Atlanta's third quarter could be defined as a success. They were granted a Texans missed field goal and put together a scoring drive. The drive was highlighted by a 26-yard completion from Ryan to Jones as Ryan back-pedaled from Houston's blitz. Throwing off his back foot, the quarterback found Jones at the Texans' 4-yard line. Ryan hit a wide-open White in the endzone for the equalizing touchdown on the next play. After a tough first half against Houston's offense, Atlanta's defense stiffened up, allowing only 65 yards. Ryan passed for 83 yards and one touchdown in the quarter.
Fourth Quarter:With the game tied entering the fourth quarter, the game figured to get wild and it did. On the second play of the quarter, linebacker took advantage of one Yates' few mistakes on the day, picking off a pass and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown. The play was negated by a defensive holding penalty on Dunta Robinson and Houston resumed their drive. The drive ended up being critical as the Texans were able to continue to move the chains, grinding out 19 plays to cover 85 yards, ending everything with a 1-yard Foster touchdown run. The Texans' drive took more than 10 minutes and depleted Atlanta's defense of late-game energy. When the Falcons resumed, they put together a valiant effort, including a catch by Tony Gonzalez that will probably not be regarded as one of his all-timers, but should be. With the drive needing to continue, Ryan zipped a pass to Gonzalez, covered by two defenders. The ball appeared to almost graze the defenders head and with one defender interfering with the catch, the tight end made the grab to move the chains. Down to the Houston 20 and facing a fourth-and-1, a delay of game penalty moved back the Falcons and that would essentially be the ball game. Atlanta held Houston to a three-and-out series and put forth one last effort, driving to Houston's 25, but couldn't come up with one final touchdown.
Play of the Game:In a game decided by inches, it's hard to pinpoint a big play that made an impact. For the Falcons, it came from their big-play rookie receiver late in the third quarter. Just before scoring a touchdown to tie the game, facing a third-and-4 from Houston's 30-yard line, Ryan stared down Houston's blitz, back-pedaling to buy some time and launched a 26-yard deep pass to Jones. The completion tied the longest of the day for the Falcons and put them in position to bring the game even.
Player of the Game:Although the score doesn't indicate it, Atlanta's defense kept the game close for most of the day, keeping a talented Houston offense under wraps. Their effort was led by Curtis Lofton who paced the team with 11 tackles, one for a loss. Lofton also added a quarterback hit and a sack.
Turning Point:When veteran Mike Peterson stepped in front of Yates' pass to begin the fourth quarter, the Falcons looked like they had the play they needed on defense to change the outcome of the game against what may be the toughest defense they've seen all season. A defensive holding penalty called the pick-six back and Houston resumed their longest drive of the game, a 19-play effort that left Atlanta's defense gasping. The Falcons defense couldn't stop the Texans as they moved down the field and the resulting touchdown on the drive was the game's difference.
Stat of the Game:162. The Falcons allowed the Texans to rush for 162 yards, including 111 from Foster, marking the first time the Falcons run defense has allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Much of that yardage came in the fourth quarter when the Texans were putting together their game-winning drive, though Houston's run game was effective for much of the game. In the end, what Houston accomplished on the ground paid big dividends in the win.
Tweet of the Game:Falcons staffer @FalconsJHicks tweeted an image that seemed to sum up the day once the game was over. It pictures a hockey player on the bench, presumably after coming in from the game. He has a water bottle in his hand and raises it to squeeze and squirt water into his mouth. He doesn't realize it, but the bottle is in his hand backwards, squirting water away from him instead of his mouth. The Falcons had their opportunities on Sunday but couldn't seem to keep things moving in the right direction enough to pull out the win.
Quote of the Day:Most games are decided by how things bounce one way or another. The Falcons on Sunday had some bad breaks and couldn't take advantage of a few breaks here and there, including the first-quarter fumble recovery touchdown called back for a penalty. Despite the misfortune, John Abraham said he liked the effort even though things didn't come out the way they wanted: "We definitely left some opportunities out there. I don't think everyone knew it was a fumble that first time so everyone kind of relaxed. It was unfortunate to miss that, but I think we played tough. Their running game came alive today and they made some runs."