November 22, 2017

Falcons Growing Up

The Falcons visited Charlotte, North Carolina Sunday for a key divisional re-match game with the Panthers. One of the things that make divisional opponents so tough is the fact that each team plays the other twice during the season.

Coordinators on both sides of the ball work tirelessly to have something different in their arsenal for re-matches. The worst thing is to be too predictable.

Back on draft day Thomas Dimitroff made an unprecedented move, advancing 26 spots in the draft order with hopes of snagging Julio Jones, a wide receiver, from the University of Alabama with the 6th overall pick.

Many sports broadcasters and fans alike thought Dimitroff had in some ways “mortgaged” the Falcons’ future when the deal was struck and Jones became part of the team.

Well, yesterday, Jones cemented his position on the current roster and in the hearts of Falcons fans everywhere (even the ones that thought Dimitroff was crazy) as he provided the dagger that put the Panthers down.

Also facing such a mortgage crisis, the Carolina Panthers “bet the farm” on college sensation Cam Newton taking him with the #1 pick of the 2011 draft out of Auburn University.

Unfortunately, memories of the crystal football and scenes of confetti from Newton’s past wouldn’t be enough to keep Jones and the Falcons from shining, in a game that clearly demonstrated just how much the Falcons have grown this year.

Sunday’s game saw the Falcons get on the board first with a touchdown strike from Matt Ryan to Roddy White. White made another one of his spectacular catches as he was falling out of the left corner of the end zone dragging his toes.

The score gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead but from that point until half-time it would be all Panthers as Newton orchestrated play after play to take a 23-7 lead into the locker room proving he was worthy of the first round draft selection.

One of the nice things about having young players on a team is that since they don’t have much experience, they don’t remember blowouts or have a history with other teams around the league.

(AP Photo by Bob Leverone)

By most standards a 23-7 lead at the half, means you can begin to pack it up and get ready from the long trip back home.

In years past this would cause the Falcons to flop down their wings and concede defeat, but not this Falcon team. Not this year.

The Falcons showed their resiliency and determination while some of the “young birds” of the team stepped up and stepped out in a big way.

In the second half, the rejuvenated Atlanta team wasted no time driving down the field and putting three on the board to begin cutting into the Panther lead.

On Carolina’s next possession, Newton was feeling the heat of the pass rush and inadvertently tossed an underhanded interception which the Falcons turned into seven quick points thanks to Jaquizz Rodgers, the phenom running back, from Oregon State.

Mike Smith had “Quizz” on the field from the very first play of the drive in which he took the handoff for a modest gain of 3 yards. Then on the very next play Ryan found Rodgers in the end zone off a play-action pass.

The play caught the Panthers completely off-guard as Ryan hit Rodgers in stride with an over-the-shoulder catch. The touchdown is the first in Rodgers’ professional career and pushed the score to 23-17 after the extra point kick.

The rest of the game belonged to the Atlanta defense and Julio Jones. Defensively, the Birds continued to apply heat on Newton and the rest of the Panther backfield.

The Panthers tried not to abandon the run game but the Falcons line backers shut them down at every corner.

It didn’t matter if they ran off tackle, ran wide, or up the middle the defense locked down and stopped their frugal attempt at a rushing game, which left them with no option but to pass the ball.

When a team becomes one-dimensional on offense, it usually spells trouble. The Bird’s defense found the will to dial-up even more heat on Newton which caused another turn over in the form interception number two. This set the stage for Jones and the Falcons comeback.

Jones would have the final two touchdowns on the day. On the first one, he found himself stretching out to break the plane of the goal line after hauling in a bullet from the hands of “Matty Ice” but what really did the Panthers in was the 75-yard reception that displayed Jones’ athleticism.

Jones caught the ball about 20 yards down field from the line of scrimmage and then broke a tackle and out ran the secondary to pay dirt. The score sealed a 31-23 victory and more importantly prevented New Orleans from clinching the division title.

Yesterday’s game saw Matt Ryan throw for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 4 touchdowns ties his personal best for a single game performance.

Julio Jones also had 2 TD catches and over 100 yards receiving to push his total to 670 yards for the season. Jones’ stellar play most likely will have him in the mix for consideration for “Rookie of the Year” honors.

The Falcons, now (8-5), are in the thick of the playoff picture as 13 of the 16 NFC teams have five or more losses. The only teams with fewer than five losses are: Green Bay at (13-0), the 49ers at (10-3), and New Orleans at (10-3).

This makes the upcoming match-up with the Saints even more exciting but first the Falcons have to get by Jacksonville on Thursday night. It will be interesting to see if the momentum Atlanta gained yesterday will continue over to Thursday.

The Birds learned how to not accept defeat and to not give up, as rookies develop, adding more diversity to an already talent laden roster. The Falcons are truly growing.
Kickoff for Thursday is scheduled for 8:20 p.m.

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