Bryant’s legs lifts Falcons over Raiders

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bryant and Bosher celebrate win

The Falcons extended their 2012 record to 6-0, the best in franchise history record, with a third consecutive comeback win in the fourth quarter over the Oakland Raiders 23-20. This time the heroics rested on the leg of Matt Bryant for the second time this season. Bryant hit a 55-yard field goal to win the game with a second left on the clock. It marked the longest kick during his stint with the Falcons.

Matt Ryan struggled early in this game, with three first half interceptions. He finished the game completing 24 of 37 passes for 249 yards with a touchdown. It snapped Ryan’s 9-game streak of having more touchdowns than interceptions in a game. On the ground, Michael Turner did not get much going finishing with 33 yards on 11 carries. Roddy White led receivers with 6 catches for 72 yards and Ryan’s only touchdown pass. Julio Jones (4 catches, 63 yards), Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 42 yards), and Harry Douglas (5 catches, 37 yards) also contributed in the air. The Falcons offense struggled throughout the game, only converting 2 of 9 third downs and 286 total yards. Bryant made 3 of 4 field goals on the day. He missed his first attempt of 43 yards, but then made kicks of 41, 20, and finally 55 yards in the second half. Matt Bosher had 4 punts for an average of 52.8 yards with 2 inside the 20 yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers returned a single kickoff for 29 yards with Dominique Franks unable to return any punts.

Defensively, the Falcons kept the game close for the most part despite a struggling offense. While they did give up 474 yards to the Raiders, they were able to generate 3 turnovers, including a pick six by Asante Samuel which gave the Falcons a 20-13 lead with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game. However, Oakland was able to respond with an 8-play, 80-yard scoring drive to tie it up with less than a minute remaining. Dunta Robinson and Sean Weatherspoon tied for the lead with 9 tackles each. John Abraham (5 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble); Jonathan Babineaux (5 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble); Kroy Biermann (3 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (5 tackles); Akeem Dent (8 tackles); Ray Edwards (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Robert McClain (2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); William Moore (6 tackles); and Asante Samuel (4 tackles, 1 interception) had notable games.

The game got off to a fairly good start for the Falcons offense, with Ryan hitting Julio Jones for a 25-yard completion on the first play from scrimmage. Turner then combined for 12 yards on the next two plays. But on the fourth play of the drive, Ryan dropped back to throw and on a short pass to Harry Douglas over the middle, Joselio Hanson jumped the throw and picked it off. He returned it to the Falcons 41-yard line to give Oakland a good start. But on their third offensive play, Babineaux burst through the middle and stripped Darren McFadden. Robert McClain scooped up the fumble and returned it 13 yards to the Raiders’ 32-yard line. But the Falcons followed it with a three-and-out, as Jacquizz Rodgers was stuffed on a 3rd & 1 for a 2-yard loss. Bryant trotted out on the field for a 43-yard field goal, but it sailed wide left just outside the uprights to give the Raiders the ball back. The Raiders were able to move the ball into Falcons territory, but ultimately had to punt. Ryan found Roddy White on their next offensive play for a 26-yard pass, with their field position bolstered by a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Matt Shaughnessy. But on the next play, Ryan took a deep shot to Julio Jones near the endzone, but it was picked off by Michael Huff at the 2-yard line. The next play, Carson Palmer hit Denarius Moore for a 49-yard gain over Asante Samuel to put the ball at midfield. The Raiders running game could not get going on the drive, as Babineaux had a pair of tackles for loss. Ultimately, Sebastian Janikowski came out and nailed a 52-yard field goal to give the Raiders a 3-0 lead with 28 seconds left in the first quarter. The Falcons offense finally got out of its funk by switching to the no huddle. Ryan was perfect on the series, completing 7 of 7 passes for 68 yards. The drive was capped off by White with a 4-yard reception in the back of the endzone. The Falcons now had a 7-3 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half. But the Raiders responded, thanks largely to a 37-yard screen pass to Mike Goodson that put the ball deep into Falcon territory. Once again, Babineaux got a stuff in the backfield at the goalline on 3rd & goal from the 1-yard line to force Janikowski’s second field goal try. Janikowski had no problem hitting the 22-yarder to cut the Falcons lead to 1 point. The Falcons offense responded poorly. Ryan was sacked by Shaughnessy on the opening play of the next rive. They were able to convert on a 3rd & 13 after a defensive holding penalty on Philip Wheeler. But on the next play, Wheeler burst up the middle and hit Ryan as he threw. His pass sailed directly into the hands of Tyvon Branch, and the Raiders started the ensuing drive on the Falcons 28-yard line. It took just two plays for Palmer to find Denarius Moore on a 25-yard catch and run to take a 13-7 lead with 2 minutes to go in the first half. The Falcons offense stagnated with a four-and-out and a punt, and the first half was over after a McFadden 1-yard run.

The defense stood tough to start the second half, forcing a Raiders three-and-out. But the Falcons followed suit with one of their own on offense. The defense once again forced a Raider punt on the next drive after six plays. The Falcons took over at their own 30 with 8:35 left in the third quarter. After hitting Douglas on a 20-yard gain, the Falcons went into the no huddle, and Ryan was able to complete 2 more passes for 20 yards to get the ball to Oakland’s 23-yard line. But pressure got to Ryan on his next three attempts as they all fell incomplete, and Bryant came out to redeem himself by making a 41-yard field goal. That drive marked the first time on the day where the Falcons were successful in converting a third down. On the second play of the Raiders next drive, Abraham burst through the line to get a sack-strip of Palmer from behind. Ray Edwards scooped up the ball and returned it 26 yards to the 2-yard line. But the Falcons offense could not score, getting stuffed on a pair of runs to Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. Bryant was forced to make a 20-yard field goal to tie the game 13-all with 2:35 left in the third. The Raiders were able to move the ball to midfield, but a holding call on right tackle Willie Smith called back a 14-yard gain and set up 2nd & 14 for the Raiders at their own 43. Two plays later Lechler was on the field again to punt. But the Falcons could not capitalize with a three-and-out. Ryan’s third down pass to Julio Jones which would have been an 18-yard was overturned off a coach’s challenge by Dennis Allen and Bosher punted again. Both offenses were unable to capitalize on their next drives, trading punts. The Raiders took over again with 6:19 at their own 10-yard line. Mike Goodson burst up the middle for a 43-yard gain to put the ball in Falcons territory. Brandon Myers caught a 14-yard pass from Palmer that put the Raiders firmly inside Janikowski’s field goal range with the potential to take the lead once more. But three plays later, Palmer’s third down pass to Denarius Moore was jumped by Asante Samuel who returned it 79 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons their first lead since the start of the second quarter. With only 2:40 left in the game, it looked like the Falcons would roll to victory. But the defense didn’t finish, as Palmer was able to complete 5 of 6 passes for 85 yards on the drive, including a 38-yarder to Derek Hagan which put the ball at the Falcons 5-yard line. McFadden finished with a 2-yard running score to tie the game 20-20 with 40 seconds left. Janikowski’s kickoff went into the endzone to force the Falcons to start from their own 20-yard line. Ryan hit Rodgers on his first two passes for a combined 16 yards. He then found Harry Douglas on the sideline for 4 yards. His next three attempts then went to Tony Gonzalez, with two of them being completions. The first was a pivotal 10-yard completion on 3rd & 6 to put the ball at midfield. Then Gonzalez got a 13-yard gain to give Bryant one more chance with 5 seconds left in the game. The Raiders tried to ice Bryant with a timeout, and his initial kick sailed wide left. But on the next attempt that counted, he nailed the 55-yarder sneaking it inside the left upright to give the Falcons the lead with a second left on the clock. On the ensuing kickoff, the Raiders laterals were ineffective and the Falcons pulled out the victory.

The Falcons will be on a bye next week, before traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. The Falcons are 3-1 coming off their bye under Mike Smith. Their only loss came in 2008 in a road game against the Eagles by a score of 27-14. Overall, Smith has only beaten the Eagles once in 4 tries. The lone victory came last year in a 35-31 nail biter in Week 2. The Falcons have not won a game in Philadelphia since 1988, losing six straight, all by at least two scores. Since Eagles coach Andy Reid took over in 1999, he has an 8-2 record against the Falcons.

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Aaron Freeman
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