The Atlanta Falcons got off to a fast start with a big early lead against the visiting St. Louis Rams. But a fourth quarter comeback made a lot of Falcon fans nervous, but the Falcons put together two good drives at the end to prevail and get their first win of 2013. The Falcons’ record moves to 1-1.
Matt Ryan led the way, completing 33 of 43 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, the Falcons could not get much of anything going as they accumulated a total of 36 rushing yards. Steven Jackson started the game and gained no yards on three carries before exiting with an injury. Jason Snelling led the team with 19 yards on a pair of attempts. Julio Jones led receivers with 11 catches for 182 yards (16.5 avg) and a touchdown. Jackson added the team’s other score on his lone catch for eight yards. Harry Douglas, Snelling, Tony Gonzalez, and Jacquizz Rodgers each caught 4 passes for 43, 41, 33, and 28 yards respectively. Matt Bryant hit on his lone field goal attempt from 38 yards. Matt Bosher punted six times for an average of 53 yards, with two placed inside the 20-yard line. Douglas added a pair of punt returns for four yards, while Rodgers returned a single kickoff for 17 yards. The Falcons’ offense was much more efficient this week than a week ago. They converted seven of 13 (54-percent) third down attempts, and scored touchdowns on two of three red zone trips. They accumulated 393 total yards despite their one-dimensionality on offense. But the offense did grow stagnant in the third quarter as they totaled only 7 total yards on four drives.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up a lot of yards as the Rams were in comeback mode for much of the game. Sam Bradford’s 352 yards contributed to the Rams’ 421-yard total for the game. But they bottled up the Rams’ ground attack, which only gained 69 yards on 18 carries (3.8 avg). The defense even scored a touchdown of its own on a pick six by Osi Umenyiora, the lone turnover the game. Umenyiora returned the interception 68 yards untouched for a score. Umenyiora also added a pair of batted passes and a quarterback hit in the game. Robert McClain led the defense in tackles with 9, and he also added a quarterback hit and a pass defended. Robert Alford (2 tackles, 1 QB hit); Joplo Bartu (6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB hit); Kroy Biermann (2 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (3 tackles, 1 pass defended); Akeem Dent (4 tackles, 1 pass defended); Jonathan Massaquoi (2 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 QB hit); William Moore (7 tackles); Desmond Trufant (3 tackles, 1 pass defended); and Sean Weatherspoon (3 tackles) had noteworthy performances. The unit got lax at the end, allowing Rams’ touchdowns on each of their three final possessions to put the game’s outcome at risk.
The Falcons’ opening offensive series did not get off to a promising start with Steven Jackson being wrapped up in the backfield by Chris Long for a two-yard loss. Two players later, an offside penalty on Long gave the Falcons more favorable field position on a 3rd-and-7. Ryan found Gonzalez on an 11-yard completion to give the offense a new set of downs. Bradie Ewing went down with a shoulder injury on the next play after catching a 14-yard pass from Ryan. The next third down opportunity, Douglas stepped up for a 20-yard completion to get the ball into Rams’ territory. After a 16-yard screen to Rodgers put the Falcons in the red zone, two plays later Ryan found Jackson on a swing pass. He broke a tackle and was able to reach the ball across the goalline for a score. But he too was injured on the play, leaving the game with a thigh bruise. The Falcons took an early 7-0 lead.
The defense responded by forcing a Ram’s three-and-out. Joplo Bartu set the tone for the series, hitting Daryl Richardson on a swing pass for a three-yard loss on the opening play from scrimmage for the Rams. On third down, Asante Samuel wrapped up Richardson three yards shy of the stick to force a Jon Hekker punt.
The Falcons took over that own 22-yard line but proved unsuccessful in moving the ball out of their own territory. Ryan saw pressure and missed on a throw to Jones out of bounds to force Bosher’s first punt of the game.
The defense however stepped up again. Pressure from Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora on third down force Bradford to throw the ball away, giving the Falcons the ball back once more after a Hekker punt.
On the third play from scrimmage, Ryan hit Julio Jones deep down the seam over the top of Janoris Jenkins. Jones broke a tackle and sprinted the rest of the way for an 81-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 14-0 lead with little more than a minute remaining in the first quarter.
To close out the first quarter, Bradford found receiver Chris Givens on a crossing pattern for 13 yards as he beat rookie Robert Alford. The Rams proceeded to continue driving but came upon a 3rd-and-1 situation a several plays later at the Falcons’ 34-yard line. Kroy Biermann clogged the hole, and Sean Weatherspoon and Bartu tag-teamed to wrap up running back Bennie Cunningham to force the 4th-and-inches. But Richardson was able to convert on a two-yard run. But on the very next play, Bradford tried to throw to Richardson in the flat, and the ball bounced off his hands into the waiting arms of Umenyiora, who sprinted 68 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Falcons a 21-0 lead with 11:25 remaining on the first half clock.
The Rams finally then mounted their first successful drive of the game thanks in part to a deep pass from Bradford to Givens. On the second play of the drive, McClain broke up a deep pass to Tavon Austin. But then on the next play Givens beat McClain for a 47-yard gain to put the ball in Falcons’ territory. Several plays later on 3rd-and-5 at the Falcons’ 11-yard line, Bradford threw an out pattern to Givens. But Desmond Trufant jumped the route and nearly picked off another Bradford pass. That forced the Rams’ field goal unit to come onto the field, and Greg Zuerlein hit a 29-yard field goal to put the Rams finally on the scoreboard with 6:29 left in the second quarter.
The Falcons offense stagnated on their next drive with a three-and-out as Jones was stopped a yard shy of the sticks by Jenkins on 3rd-and-8. That forced a Bosher punt, but an illegal blocking penalty on Stedman Bailey backed the Rams up at the 11-yard line. The Rams barely moved the ball on five plays before having to punt it back to Atlanta with three minutes remaining in the half.
Ryan and the Falcons go their act together as he completed his first four passes on the drive for a combined 29 yards to get the ball into Rams territory with 1:19 left on the clock. But Rodgers was swallowed up on a run for a one-yard loss. After Ryan hit White on a six-yard pass on 3rd-and-5, the Falcons had a new set of downs with 29 seconds left on the clock at the Rams’ 26-yard line. Ryan would connect with Gonzalez for 11 yards two plays later and the team would burn their final timeout. Pressure from Robert Quinn got to Ryan on the next play and he was forced to throw it away on first down. He would injure his ribs with 14 ticks left on the clock on second down. Mike Smith would elect to get the sure three points rather than risk coming away with nothing, and elected to kick a field goal. Bryant hit from 38 yards to give the Falcons a 24-3 lead with nine seconds left in the half. After a Rams’ kneel-down, the half would end.
The defense was raring to go in the second half, as they forced a Rams’ three-and-out due to pressure on a third down blitz forcing an errant throw by Bradford to Austin. But the Falcons’ offense failed to respond. Rodgers was bottled up for a four-yard loss on first down. He did get some yardage back on a seven-yard carry on second down. But on third down, Quinn found Ryan again for a sack forcing a Bosher punt and a three-and-out.
But again the Falcons’ defense stepped up. After a holding penalty on Scott Wells backed up the Rams on 1st-and-20, the Falcons defense held. Richardson broke a tackle, but William Moore wrapped up him a yard shy of the sticks on 3rd-and-20 and Hekker punted once more.
The Falcons took over at their own 24-yard line with 9:49 left in the third quarter. Ryan completed his first two passes for a combined 18 yards. But the running game failed on the third play from scrimmage, as Rodgers was again hit behind the line of scrimmage for a one-yard loss. Two plays later, pressure from Chris Long and Michael Brockers caused Ryan to throw behind Gonzalez on third down. Bosher punted again. But another penalty by the Rams on special teams backed them up once more, as they started their drive at their own five-yard line.. The Falcons defense forced another three-and-out after Bradford missed on a throw to Jared Cook. After Hekker’s punt, the Falcons had the ball back with 5:37 left in the quarter at their own 33-yard line.
The running game finally showed some signs of life with Jason Snelling rushing for eight yards on the opening play. But Rodgers got the handle on the next play, and was bottled up for one yard. Ryan would connect with Gonzalez on 3rd-and-1 for 13 yards, but the veteran tight end was flagged for offensive pass interference after throwing down the defender. On the very next play, Eugene Sims got to Ryan and sacked him to force a Bosher punt.
The Rams’ offense got their act together. Bradford would connect with his receivers on four of five passes to get the ball to the Falcons’ 6-yard line. He then found an open Tavon Austin in the front corner of the endzone on a 6-yard touchdown pass. All in all, the Rams put together a six-play, 74-yard drive for their first touchdown of the game. The score was now 24-10 Falcons with 1:30 to go in the quarter.
The Falcons answered with nothing. After Rodgers finally got going with a nine-yard run on 2nd-and-1, the play was called back by a holding penalty on Garrett Reynolds. The Falcons failed to convert on their next two opportunities, and Bosher punted to end the quarter.
Bradford again proved effective moving the ball through the air, completing his first two passes for a combined 33 yards to get the ball into Falcons’ territory. He then found no receivers and scrambled 23 yards to get the ball in the red zone. Two plays later, he was decked by William Moore on a three-yard scramble to set up a 2nd-and-goal at the Falcons’ three-yard line. After Thomas DeCoud batted down Bradford’s pass, he found Austin Pettis on an out pattern for a three-yard score. McClain was picked by a receiver, preventing him from getting to Pettis in time to prevent the score. The Rams had now cut the lead to seven points with just under 12 minutes to play in the game.
The Falcons, realizing they were about to let the game slip away put forth their best drive of the game. They spurned the non-existent rushing attack and let Matt Ryan drop back and throw. He hit Jason Snelling on his first two passes for a combined 16 yards. Then a false start on Lamar Holmes backed them up on a 2nd-and-10. But Ryan then found an open Jones for 22 yards. He hit Jones on two of his next three passes for a combined 25 yards to get the ball to the Rams’ 22-yard line. After a 4-yard completion to Levine Toilolo, Ryan found an open Gonzalez on an 11-yard out. He then handed off to Snelling, who burst up the middle, breaking a tackle and scoring from 11 yards out to give the Falcons a 31-17 lead with 6:12 to go in the game.
But the defense couldn’t stop the Rams. Bradford connected on three passes, including a 10-yard throw to Givens to convert on 3rd-and-1. He would find Austin for another third down conversion later in the drive. The Falcons’ defense got stingy on their next third down attempt, as Bradford missed to Givens on 3rd-and-1. But then he hit tight end Cory Harkey on a 6-yard gain on 4th-and-1. That put the ball at Atlanta’s 26-yard line with 3:03 left in the game. Four plays later, the Rams would have another fourth down opportunity, this time a 4th-and-2 at the Falcons’ 18. A pass interference call on Trufant gave the Rams a new set of downs at the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Bradford found Austin for a score to cut the lead once more to seven points with 2:09 on the clock. Rather than going for the onside, the Rams elected to kick it deep with only a pair of timeouts.
After a one-yard run by Rodgers on the opening play, Ryan hit Jones for an 8-yard at the two-minute warning to set up a pivotal 3rd-and-1. Ryan found Snelling for a 22-yard gain on a play-action pass, forcing the Rams to burn their final timeout with 1:44 left in the game. Rodgers finally got his act together, rushing for 12 yards on his next three carries to burn out the clock.
Next week, the Falcons head back on the road to take on the Miami Dolphins (2-0).