The Atlanta Falcons stomped on the Houston Texans on their way to a 48-21 blowout win in the second home game of the 2015 season, pushing their overall record to 4-0. This is the fourth 4-0 start for the team in franchise history. The Falcons got out to a 42-0 lead before the Texans were able to score some garbage-time points to make the score more respectable. The Falcons however did score on the final play of the game with Nate Stupar’s 84-yard fumble recovery capping off a very impressive win.
Matt Ryan was impressive, completing 19 of 27 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown. He gave way to Sean Renfree in the fourth quarter, but the third-year quarterback did not attempt a single pass as the Falcons looked to run out the clock over the final 14 minutes.
Terron Ward led the team with 72 yards rushing on 19 carries, getting the bulk of the work late in the game. Ward also scored his first NFL touchdown. Devonta Freeman led the way to start with a very impressive performance, scoring three times on 14 carries for 68 yards. He also caught five passes for 81 yards.
Leonard Hankerson led receivers with six grabs for 103 yards and caught Ryan’s lone touchdown pass. Julio Jones was relatively quiet thanks to the early lead, being held to four catches and 38 yards. Roddy White finally got back into the action with a pair of receptions for eight yards.
Matt Bryant was limited to just extra-point tries all game. Matt Bosher punted six times for an average of 47.7 yards with one punt placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems returned a pair of punts for a combined 29 yards and had the same amount of yardage on his lone kickoff return.
The Falcons offense produced 378 total yards with 216 coming in the first half before they began to take their foot off the gas late in the game when backups were subbed in. They finished converting nine of 16 third-down tries (56 percent), which was eight of 12 (75 percent) before the reserves entered the game. They scored touchdowns on all four of their red-zone trips as well.
Defensively, the Texans put up 428 total yards, however much of it (257) came in the fourth quarter when their starters remained in the game against the Falcons’ backups. In the first half, the Texans had just 130 total yards, including just 13 yards on the ground. The Texans also converted six of their seven third downs in the fourth quarter, padding their total rate to seven of 15 (47 percent) overall. Prior to that, the Texans had just converted one third down on eight tries. The Falcons forced four Texans turnovers, generating 21 points off them, including two scores on fumble recoveries.
Allen Bradford and Robenson Therezie led the team with five tackles. Bradford also tallied a forced fumble, while Therezie had a pass breakup. Phillip Adams (four tackles), Robert Alford (one tackle, three pass breakups), Jonathan Babineaux (one tackle, one interception), Vic Beasley (one tackle, one quarterback hit), Ra’Shede Hageman (two tackles, one sack), Kemal Ishmael (four tackles, one pass breakup), William Moore (four tackles, one pass breakup, one forced fumble), Brooks Reed (two tackles, one tackle for loss), Nate Stupar (three tackles, one fumble recovery for touchdown), Desmond Trufant (two tackles, three pass breakups, two fumble recoveries including one for touchdown) and Paul Worrilow (four tackles) had notable games.
The Falcons did not get off to the best start on their opening series, going three and out while gaining just two yards on offense with three straight passes.
After Bosher’s punt, running back Arian Foster was able to win over the middle on a 15-yard catch to get the Texans going early. But Foster was then gobbled up on two rushes for minimal yardage to set up a 3rd-and-5. Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett then tried to force the ball to his receiver DeAndre Hopkins over the middle, but he was sandwiched in between Trufant and Worrilow, causing a ricochet which Babineaux caught. That gave the Falcons favorable field position at their 46-yard line to start the next series.
The Falcons offense once again started with piecemeal yardage on a run to Freeman for two yards and a pass to Jones for three. Then Ryan hit White on a four-yard completion as the receiver went out of bounds a yard shy of the sticks. Dan Quinn called for the team to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Texans’ 45-yard line. Despite Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus getting good push against Levine Toilolo and hitting Freeman in the hole, the running back’s momentum allowed him to fall forward for a one-yard gain to get the conversion. Three plays on another third down, Ryan rolled out of the pocket looking for Hankerson down the sideline but Freeman stepped in front of the throw and scampered for a 24-yard gain to put the ball down at the Texans’ 16-yard line. On the very next play, Freeman found a gap up the middle and scored on a 16-yard run giving the Falcons a 7-0 lead with 8:32 left in the first quarter.
The Texans looked to be moving the ball on their next series thanks to running back Alfred Blue patiently waiting for his blockers on his way to a nine-yard run on second down. However, Reed stepped up on the next play and stuffed him for a one-yard loss to force a 2nd-and-11. The Texans couldn’t converted the lost yardage as Moore put a punishing hit on running back Chris Polk to stop him after a five-yard gain on 3rd-and-11.
On the ensuing Falcons series, Watt was able to deflect Ryan’s pass on second down, but an illegal use of hands penalty on Jadeveon Clowney wiped out the play and gave the Falcons a first down. On the next play, Vince Wilfork burst up the middle to stuff Freeman for a four-yard loss. Freeman fumbled on the play, but was able to quickly recover the football. A holding call on Andy Levitre wiped out the play, pushing the Falcons back to 1st-and-20 from their 22-yard line. Jones came up with 10 yards on his next catch to make up some of the lost yardage, but that was followed by Ryan getting sacked by Jared Crick while trying to step up in the pocket to avoid outside pressure. On 3rd-and-15, an illegal contact flag on Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson gifted the Falcons another first down after Ryan overthrow a stumbling Hankerson. Then a nine-yard gain on a catch by White was wiped out due to the receiver pushing off against cornerback A.J. Bouye, finding the Falcons once again backed up for a 1st-and-20 at their 23-yard line. After a screen to Freeman got the Falcons back nine yards on the next play, on third down Ryan hit Hankerson on a corner route for 16 yards to give them their first third-down conversion of the game. The Texans sent a three-man rush on the next play, allowing Ryan the time to locate Jones for a 19-yard gain to put the ball in Texans territory. On the next play Clowney got pressure on Ryan, prompting the quarterback to throw up a prayer to Freeman, who managed to catch the ball in front of linebacker Brian Cushing for a two-yard gain. Nick Williams then powered through Kareem Jackson’s tackle on the next down to gain eight yards and a new set of downs as the first quarter came to a close. Jake Matthews was flagged for a false start on the opening play of the second quarter and Ryan was dropped for a sack by Cushing. However that play was also wiped out by a Texans penalty, this time safety Eddie Pleasant getting called for illegal use of hands, giving the Falcons a new set of downs at the 23-yard line. That’s all the break that Freeman needed, as he followed a pulling Chris Chester into the hole and then broke a pair of tackles on his way to a 23-yard touchdown. The Falcons had just pushed their lead to 14-0 with 14:39 left in the second quarter.
The Falcons defense showed up big on the next Texans series, as Trufant broke up a pass to Hopkins on first down. That was followed by Babineaux stuffing Foster’s second-down run for no yards. Mallett was decked by Beasley on third down, causing an errant pass over the head of tight end Garrett Graham, and the Texans had a quick three-and-out to respond.
The Falcons fared no better on their next series thanks to Watt breaking up Ryan’s short throw to White on second down. Then Watt sped past Ryan Schraeder for a sack on third down, forcing the Falcons to punt the ball back to the Texans with 12:40 left in the first half.
Mallett tried to dial up Hopkins again on a deep ball but Trufant was not having any of it with another breakup. Then on the next play O’Brien Schofield pushed upfield against Texas right tackle Derek Newton, who got turned around and accidentally knocked the ball out of Foster’s arms. Trufant picked up the loose ball and ran 24 yards for a touchdown to give the Falcons a 21-0 lead with 12:24 left in the half.
Robert Alford got into the mix on the next series, breaking up a deep cross to Graham. The Falcons dialed up a rare blitz on the ensuing third down, leaving Beasley isolated in coverage against Keith Mumphery, who won the matchup on a nine-yard gain to get the conversion, which amounted for the Texans’ first of the game. After a false start by Graham on the next play, the crowd noise nearly caused a delay of game penalty before the Texans called a timeout. Two plays later Mallett lasered a pass to Hopkins, who made the diving catch for 11 yards to set up a 3rd-and-3. But Alford got a good jam against Hopkins, breaking up the slant throw and forcing a Texans punt.
On Freeman’s second carry of the ensuing Falcons series, he ran eight yards off tackle to set up a 3rd-and-2. While under pressure, Ryan hit Jones for a six-yard completion to convert. Ryan connected on his next two throws on quick passes to White and Hankerson, with the latter being a seven-yard completion to convert another third down. Two plays later a breakdown in the Texans coverage allowed Freeman to get wide open in the flat and he ran 44 yards down to the Texans’ 12-yard line for a big gain. The Falcons subbed in Terron Ward to give Freeman a breather and the rookie running back gained nine yards on his two carries to get the ball down to the three-yard line. Ryan then audibled at the line of scrimmage seeing the Texans’ defensive formation, opting from a run into a pass play. He hit Hankerson on a quick slant for the three-yard score and the Falcons now held a 28-0 lead with little more than three minutes remaining in the first half.
On the very first play of the ensuing Texans series, Moore put his helmet right on the ball after tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz’s 19-yard reception, causing a fumble. Trufant once again scooped up the loose ball and the Falcons took over at the Texans’ 47-yard line.
Freeman’s first-down run was stuffed for no gain, which was followed by nearly a great play by Watt. The Texans defensive end nearly snatched a quick throw to Jones out of midair and could’ve ran it all the way for a touchdown, but dropped it. Pressure forced Ryan to get rid of the ball early on third down and Hankerson was stopped a few yards shy of the sticks. The Falcons had their third three-and-out of the game, punting it back to the Texans just after the two-minute warning hit. However Bosher nailed the coffin corner kick allowing Dezmen Southward to down the ball at the two-yard line.
The Texans dialed up Mumphery twice on the ensuing series, with the receiver catching the second throw for a 13-yard gain. Mallett tried to go again to him two plays later on a free play after Beasley was flagged for jumping offsides. That gave the Texans a new set of downs at their 28-yard line and they quickly flipped field position thanks to Hopkins beating Collins on a deep out for 25 yards. Trufant broke up Mallett’s next pass to Cecil Shorts and then two plays later Moore nearly jumped an underthrown ball to Graham down the seam with 34 seconds left on the clock. Mallett missed his next pass to Mumphery and Worrilow was able to thwart Foster on a third-down checkdown, forcing a long field goal by the Texans. Newly signed kicker Nick Novak’s 53-yard attempt was wide right and short, giving the Falcons the ball back with 12 seconds left on the first-half clock. Ryan took a knee and the Falcons were content to head into the locker room at halftime with a 28-0 lead.
To start the second half Ra’Shede Hageman blew up a run by beating left tackle Duane Brown in the backfield, but grabbed Foster’s facemask while making the stop for no gain, drawing the flag and gifting the Texans 15 yards. Foster didn’t shake off the play as he dropped a simple checkdown from Mallett on the next play. The Texans dialed up a deep shot with Mumphery slipping past Trufant for a 26-yard gain on a deep post. Therezie delivered a big shot to the receiver, initially drawing a flag for unnecessary roughness but the officials picked up the flag after a discussion and realization that the had a clean hit with his shoulder. Mallett’s next pass to Hopkins two plays later was thrown behind the receiver, allowing Alford to break it up. After a five-yard run by Foster the Texans opted to go for it on 4th-and-8 at the Falcons’ 32-yard line. Foster slipped coming out of the backfield and was unable to reel in Mallett’s checkdown in front of Bartu, giving the Falcons the ball back with a turnover on downs.
Freeman ran twice for a combined seven yards to start the Falcons’ series, giving the team a manageable 3rd-and-3. The Falcons took advantage as Hankerson got a nice rub from Toilolo over the middle and was wide open for a 55-yard play. The receiver was caught from behind by Darryl Morris before scoring at the six-yard line. Freeman then finished off the drive with a six-yard on a counter play, pushing Atlanta’s lead to 35-0 with 10:50 left in the third quarter.
Mallett tried to dial up Hopkins twice on the ensuing series, unable to connect either time. Alford broke up the second throw, but the ball ricocheted into the hands of Polk, but Bartu was there to stop him after seven yards to prevent him converting on 3rd-and-9. The Texan punted back to the Falcons and Weems returned it 18 yards to give the Falcons decent field position at their 30-yard line.
The Falcons began to rely on their backs with Ward having a nice run of nine yards on second down to give the team a fresh set of downs. Ward’s next two runs went nowhere, but the back was able to gain 18 yards on a middle screen to set up a 3rd-and-1 at midfield. A false start penalty on Toilolo backed up the Falcons five yards and on 3rd-and-6 pressure flushed Ryan out of the pocket. But the quarterback escaped the pocket and found an open Hankerson along the sideline for a 15-yard gain to get the first down. Ward then gained 13 yards on his next carry, before having another 15 yards tacked on by an unnecessary roughness flag on Pleasant after the play. With the ball now at Houston’s 13-yard line, Atlanta continued to rely on Ward, who ran the ball on the next three plays. On the third carry the Falcons offensive line was able to get push up the middle and Ward was able to pick his way for an eight-yard scoring run. The Falcons now held a 42-0 lead with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Texans had enough of Mallett, plugging former starter Brian Hoyer into the game. Shorts dropped his first pass attempt on the ensuing series. But Hopkins then beat Phillip Adams on the next play for a 16-yard gain as the Falcons finished subbing in most of their reserves over the next two plays. Hoyer hit his next four throws to move the ball into Falcons territory, before Polk was able to follow his blockers up the middle for a 17-yard gain on the final play of the third quarter. Two plays later, Polk had a nine-yard gain to put the ball at the Falcons’ five-yard line. On the next play Hoyer found an open Fiedorowicz in the back of the end zone, who managed to slip behind Dezmen Southward and Joplo Bartu for an easy five-yard score. The Texans were finally on the scoreboard, down 42-7 with 14:22 left in the game.
The Falcons put Renfree and other offensive backups into the game at this point, but the Texans left their starters out on the field. The Falcons opted for three runs to Ward, gaining no yardage before punting it back to the Texans with 11:56 left in the game.
Hoyer missed his first two throws to start the ensuing series but then hit Shorts over the middle for a 13-yard gain. Again that was followed by two missed throws before another conversion to Shorts for 13 yards, this time coming on a screen play where the Texans receiver was able to shake off a tackle by Adams. That put the ball into Falcons territory. Two plays later Adams got beat deep by Shorts, trying to trip up the receiver before he scored a touchdown and drawing a pass interference call. It was all for naught as Shorts still managed to make the diving grab but was stopped one yard shy of the end zone. Bradford delivered a big hit on Blue on the next play, stuffing him at the goal line. But Polk was able to run untouched into the end zone on the next play, cutting Atlanta’s lead to 42-14 with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons continued to try and milk clock with their running game, as Ward was stuffed for minimal gains on the first two plays of the ensuing series. but he did manage to get around the end for a 12-yard gain off a draw play on 3rd-and-9 giving the Falcons a new set of downs. After three runs by Ward failed to convert another set of downs, Bosher punted it back to the Texans as the offense had successfully milked over four minutes off the clock.
The Texans took over at their 36-yard line with 4:32 left in the game. Hoyer saw a matchup he liked on the ensuing series, targeting Hopkins on five consecutive plays as he was matched up with Falcons rookie corner Collins. Hopkins beat Collins twice for a combined 44 yards to put the ball in the red zone. On his third try, Hopkins made the nice catch in the back of the end zone on a go route but couldn’t get both feet in bounds, wiping out the touchdown. Hoyer then overthrow Hopkins on his fourth try. Then on 3rd-and-10 at the 20, Hoyer finally reconnected with Hopkins for a 12-yard gain before Therezie tackled him at the eight-yard line. Malliciah Goodman was able to collapse the pocket on the next play, but Hoyer was able to avoid the pressure and find an open Shorts in the end zone for the eight-yard score. The Texans now had cut the Falcons lead in half, down 42-21 with three minutes remaining in the game.
The Falcons continued to try and run out the clock, mixing things up a bit on second down with a designed rollout to Renfree on a keeper, but the quarterback slid down for a four-yard loss rather than taking contact from the Texans defender. Ward’s run for two yards was not anywhere close to the sticks on 3rd-and-14 and the Falcons punted it back to the Texans after the two-minute warning.
Houston took over at their 46-yard line after a 17-yard return by Shorts. Hoyer dialed up Hopkins for another deep shot, but Therezie was there to break up the pass. However two plays later Hoyer would connect with Hopkins on a back-shoulder throw against Adams for a 28-yard gain. With the ball at the Falcons’ 20-yard line, Hoyer overthrew his next two passes leading to a 3rd-and-10. Once again, he found Hopkins for an 11-yard gain to convert. Ishmael then stepped up and broke up a pass to Graham in the end zone. That was followed by an eight-yard sack by Hageman, finishing off the play after heavy pressure from other Falcons defenders. With six seconds left in the game, Hopkins got behind Southward in the back of the end zone to make a 17-yard scoring grab on the next play, but upon review it was shown that he stepped out of bounds on his route, nullifying the score. With a single second left on the clock the Texans tried a screen to Shorts, who reserved field and avoided Southward but was decked by Bradford, causing him to fumble it. Stupar scooped up the loose ball and ran 84 yards for the touchdown and the Falcons definitely put the period on the game with a 48-21 win.
Next week the Falcons face the Washington Redskins (2-2) again at home in the Georgia Dome. The Redskins will be looking for their first road win of the season while the Falcons hope to extend their home winning streak to three games.
The Falcons have defeated the Redskins four consecutive times dating back to 2006, and are 5-1 going back to 1994. Those four consecutive wins include two at home, including their most recent win back in 2013 by a score of 27-26. That game also saw the Falcons matched up against Kirk Cousins, who will be making his fifth start of the 2015 season on Sunday. Their previous 24-17 comeback win over the Redskins in 2012 also saw Cousins get some action after replacing starter Robert Griffin III midway through the third quarter. Under current Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, the team is 1-2 in road games following home wins. If the Falcons win against Redskins next week, it will mark the team’s second 5-0 start in franchise history, having done so previously in 2012.