Falcons handle Titans, 23-17

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Abraham sacks Locker

The Falcons rebounded from last week’s tough loss with a strong 23-17 win over the Tennessee Titans at home. The Falcons record moves to 6-4, as they attempt to keep pace down the stretch in the NFC playoff race.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 22 of 32 passes for 316 yards and a touchdown. Michael Turner had 100 yards on the ground on 21 carries (4.8 avg) and a touchdown. In the air, Roddy White led receivers with 7 catches for 147 yards. Tony Gonzalez caught 5 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. Harry Douglas added 4 catches for 51 yards. Matt Bryant connected on 3 field goals of 19, 33, and 24 yards on the day. Matt Bosher punted twice for an average of 33 yards with both kicks placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems returned a pair of punts for 27 yards. The offense was not at its most crisp on the day, only converting 4 of 12 third down attempts and scoring only 2 touchdowns in 6 redzone trips. Turner also had the team’s lone turnover with a fumble near the goalline.

Defensively, the Falcons handled the Titans much better, particularly early in the game. They gave up only 298 total yards and forced a turnover with a Dunta Robinson interception. Chris Johnson was shut down with only 13 yards on 12 carries. Chris Owens led defenders with 7 tackles on the day, he replaced Kelvin Hayden, who left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury. John Abraham (3 tackles, 1 sack), Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 2 passes defended), Ray Edwards (1 tackle, 1 pass defended), Brent Grimes (1 tackle, 2 passes defended), Curtis Lofton (6 tackles, 1 pass defended), Robinson (3 tackles, 3 passes defended), James Sanders 94 tackles), and Sean Weatherspoon (3 tackles) had noteworthy games.

The Falcons defense made its presence known early in the game by forcing a three-and-out by the Titans on the opening possession. The Falcons struck back, going 44 yards on 5 plays before Ryan found Gonzalez in the endzone on a 17-yard pass. It was the final of three consecutive passes from Ryan to Gonzalez, totaling 39 yards. On the next series, the Titans began to move the ball somewhat before Dunta Robinson scooped an interception to give the Falcons the ball back at the Titans 44-yard line. The Falcons then milked clock, going on a 12-play drive. But Michael Turner was stuffed for no gain on a 3rd & 1 at the 1-yard line, and the Falcons settled for a 19-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to take a 10-0 lead with 14 minutes left in the second quarter. The Falcons were able to hold the Titans on their next series. A big 21-yard pass to Harry Douglas on first down, and a 35-yard run by Turner two plays later helped set up the Falcons in the redzone. An offensive pass interference call on Eric Weems set them back on a 3rd & 15, which they did not convert. And once again Bryant trotted out to make the 33-yard field goal. The Titans found some success on the ensuing drive, converted two third downs before their drive stalled at their own 34-yard line resulting in a punt. The Falcons tried to add some more points on the board before the first half came to a close, but opted to punt the ball on a 4th & 2 at the Titans own 37-yard line. Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans then showed their first real signs of life and he was able to move them to the Falcons 28 on five passes under a minute. But with 7 seconds remaining on the clock, the Rob Bironas kicked a 46-yarder to put the Titans on the board.

In the second half, the Falcons showed promise with a 7-play, 80-yard drive ending with a Michael Turner plunge into the endzone on a 4-yard score. The Falcons were aided on the drive by an illegal contact penalty on Cortland Finnegan to help convert a 3rd & 10. And then on the next play, Ryan hit White deep on a 43-yard strike that set up Turner’s touchdown run three plays later. THe Falcons defense held once more and the offense took over. Douglas’ 20-yard catch on second down and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Finnegan got the Falcons in Titans territory. Six plays later, White had another big play grab for 32 yards. The Falcons couldn’t convert now that they were in the redzone, and Bryant hit his third and final field goal of the night with a 24-yarder. The Titans substituted Jake Locker in at quarterback, as Hasselbeck was out with an elbow injury. His drive was set up by a 49-yard punt return by Marc Mariani. And three plays later, he found Nate Washington deep for a 40-yard touchdown thanks to missed tackles by Chris Owens and Thomas DeCoud. The Falcons could not answer back on their next drive with the fourth quarter upcoming. But they would get the ball back from the Titans for their next series with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. And with this drive they began to milk some clock. Ryan found White and Gonzalez on passes of 24 and 19 yards, respectively. A few plays later, they were in a 4th & 1 situation from the Titans 13 yard line, and Ryan was able to draw the defense offsides to convert for a first down. Unfortunately on the ensuing second down, Turner tried to rumble up the middle but the ball came loose and the Titans recovered at their own 16-yard line. They were able to capitalize with just over 6 minutes left int he game. Locker was able to use his legs to convert a 3rd & 10 on an 11-yard run. Then four plays later, Jared Cook was open for 22 yards on a 4th & 17. Then Locker found Lavelle Hawkins on a deep jump ball over Robinson for 32 yards to put the Titans at the Falcons 4-yard line. It ended three plays later with Locker hitting Washington on a 4-yard pass for a touchdown, to cut the Falcons lead 23-17 with 3 minutes remaining in the game. But the Falcons were able to respond with a 27-yard run by Turner on first down. Two runs later the Titans had used up their timeouts, hoping to get a stop on a 3rd & 6. But Ryan found an open Douglas over the middle for a 6-yard gain to convert just before the two minute warning. Then Ryan knelt on the ball three straight times, and the Falcons came away with their sixth win of the season.

Next week, the Falcons will host the Minnesota Vikings (2-8) on the final of three-game home stand. The Falcons last played the Vikings in 2008, with a 24-17 win in which they forced 4 Vikings turnovers. Prior to that, they had split their previous six games with the Vikings dating back to their NFC Championship Game win in January 1999. Their last home game against the Vikings was a 30-10 win in 2005. Prior to that, they had lost three previous home games against them in the Georgia Dome. This year’s Vikings team is 0-4 on the road, and 2-14 in their last 16 road games.

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Aaron Freeman
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