Defense stymies Broncos on Monday NightThe Falcons extended their record to 2-0 with a 27-21 win over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. It marks the fifth straight season where the Falcons won their home opener under Mike Smith.
Matt Ryan had another strong performance, completing 24 of 36 passes for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also added 19 yards on 6 carries on the ground. Michael Turner led rushers with 42 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown but the Falcons ground attack was largely ineffective on the night. Roddy White had an impressive game, catching 8 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. Tony Gonzalez also added a score, finishing the night with 7 catches for 70 yards. Harry Douglas (3 catches, 27 yards) and Julio Jones (4 catches, 14 yards) also contributed. Matt Bryant connected on a pair of field goals of 37 and 42 yards. Matt Bosher punted 6 times for an average of 42 yards, with half of his punts going inside the 20-yard line. The Falcons offense was able to generate 13 points off defensive turnovers, which allowed them to build an early lead. The team only finished with 275 total yards on offense.
Defensively, the Falcons were opportunistic, forcing four turnovers on the Broncos first five drives in the first quarter. Sean Weatherspoon led defenders with 10 tackles. He also recovered a fumble. Jonathan Babineaux (1 tackle, 1 sack); Kroy Biermann (5 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (5 tackles, 1 interception); Dominique Franks (6 tackles); Robert McClain (1 interception); William Moore (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception); Stephen Nicholas (8 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Dunta Robinson (3 tackles, 2 passes defended); Asante Samuel (7 tackles); and Vance Walker (2 tackles, 1 sack) had noteworthy performances.
The defense was able to kick things off by picking off Peyton Manning on the third offensive play from scrimmage. William Moore jumped a lob down the seam and returned the ball 33 yards to the Broncos’ 1-yard line. Michael Turner punched it in on his third try to put the Falcons up 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game. On the next drive, Manning was picked off again, this time with Thomas DeCoud making a play on the ball over the middle to give the Falcons the ball back in Bronco territory. Matt Ryan found Tony Gonzalez for 15 yards on a 2nd & 14 to put the ball in the redzone. But a dropped ball in the endzone by Julio Jones led to a 37-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant, which went through the uprights to build the Falcons lead to 10 points. The Broncos on their next drive held the ball for six offensive plays before Manning through his third consecutive interception to end a drive. This time, Robert McClain jumped another throw down the seam, returning it 32 yards to put it at midfield. However, the Falcons were unable to capitalize. Broncos corner Tony Carter was flagged for defensive pass interference on a tipped ball, but the play was challenged by John Fox, and overturned. Matt Bosher came onto the field to boot his first punt of the evening, 42 yards to pin the Broncos at their own 10-yard line. The Falcons defense held for a three-and-out, but the Falcons followed with one of their own with the first quarter waning. With 13 seconds left in the first quarter, Knowshon Moreno was stripped from behind by Stephen Nicholas. The officials signaled Falcon ball, despite the fact that Broncos offensive tackle Orlando Franklin emerged from the scrum with the football. But Sean Weatherspoon was credited with the fumble recovery and the Falcons took over at the start of the second quarter. Ryan connected multiple times with both Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, helping move the ball into Broncos territory. But the drive stalled as they approached the redzone and again Bryant was sent onto the field. He hit from 42 yards on his second attempt of the night. The Falcons defense was able to hold for another three-and-out to give the Falcons the ball back with less than 9 minutes to go in the first half. Harry Douglas now got into the act on offense, catching two passes on the ensuing drive including a 10-yard play that put the Falcons at the 1-yard line. Ryan was 4 of 4 for 50 yards on the drive before finding a wide open Gonzalez in the back of the endzone on his fifth pass for a 1-yard score. The Falcons now led the game 20-0 with less than 5 minutes remaining in the half. But Peyton Manning would not be denied and helped engineer a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive for the Broncos to get them on the board before the half ended. Manning found Demaryius Thomas in the endzone on a 17-yard pass with 14 seconds left in the second quarter. Dominique Franks’ flagging for defensive holding on a 4th & 1 was a pivotal play on the drive. Manning’s pass to Brandon Stokley was overthrown, but Franks was called for the flag, giving the Broncos a new set of downs at the Falcons 32-yard line. The penalty should have been for 5 yards, but the refs mistakenly gave the Broncos 11 yards on the penalty. The half ended with the Falcons holding a 20-7 lead.
The Falcons offense was successful at moving the ball into Broncos territory at the outset of the third quarter, but they were stopped and Bosher punted. The defense followed with a three-and-out, thanks in part to a hit that John Abraham put on Manning on third down. The ensuing Falcons drive was all Matt Ryan, who hit Roddy White on three of his five completions, including a 4-yard score to cap the drive. Ryan hit White twice earlier for a combined 41 yards. The defense once again held with a four-and-out. Set up deep in their territory due to a Britton Colquitt punt being downed at the 4-yard line, the Falcons were able to move the ball closer to midfield before punting it back to the Broncos with the fourth quarter set to begin. Willis McGahee had some success moving the ball against the Falcons defense, toting the ball 6 times for 26 yards on the drive, including a 2-yard score to cap the drive. The Falcons followed things with a three-and-out of their own, giving the Broncos the ball back with 9:35 left on the game clock and down 13 points. But William Moore’s sack of Manning on third down forced a Bronco punt. But once again, the Falcons were forced to punt after three plays while backed up near their goalline. Manning and the Broncos took over in Falcon territory, and it took 9 plays before McGahee had his second touchdown run of the night from 2 yards out. The Falcons got one more opportunity to salt the game away, now with only 3:25 left on the clock. On a 3rd & 5, Ryan found an open Julio Jones crossing the defense, for a 6-yard gain to convert just before the two-minute warning. Two plays later, Michael Turner’s 15-yard gain got the Falcons another first down and victory was sealed after two kneel-downs by Ryan.
Next week the Falcons will travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers. Historically, the Falcons have never lost a road game in San Diego, and own the all-time series 7-1, including five wins on the road. Their last game against the Chargers was a road win in 2008 by a score of 22-16. Mike Smith and the Falcons are undefeated in West Coast road trips, sporting a 5-0 record in the Pacific Time Zone during the regular season.