The third edition of The Battle of the Birds brought more late-game dramatics when the Falcons and Eagles squared off in Atlanta on Sunday Night Football. The slugfest ended with the Falcons finally reciprocating some of the red-zone heartache that plagued them for the last two seasons.
The Falcons escaped with a crucial win, but the theatrics of Sunday deserve a deeper dive to really understand what it all meant.
Calvin Ridley also had himself a day with a highlight-worthy touchdown of his own. His 34-yard circus-catch for a touchdown helped the Falcons recapture the lead in the second quarter.
The dynamic duo finished the day combining for 13 receptions, 211 yards, and three touchdowns. With these two on the outside, highlight plays can be expected on a weekly basis.
In a game that produced dozens of highlights from Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones, the most promising performance of the night came from the defensive line. Dalvin Cook gashed the unit last week to the tune of 172 yards, but that was far from the case on Sunday.
With a consistent pass rush never letting Carson Wentz get comfortable, Desmond Trufant was the one to really profit. After a year in which he notched zero interceptions, he finished Sunday with two that proved to be critical. He likely took points off the board with his first interception, but his second set the Falcons up for Calvin Ridley’s highlight reel touchdown in the second quarter.
On the Falcon’s final drive of the first half, Matt Ryan threw his first of his three ill-advised interceptions (more on that later). The defense held the Eagles to three points, but the momentum felt like it had shifted going into the break. That is until the opening kickoff when rookie Kendall Sheffield punched the ball away from Corey Clement. Sharrod Neasman was able to pounce on the ball and momentum shot back. The Falcons were in the end zone three plays later.
Coach Quinn spent much of the offseason putting an emphasis on this and we finally saw it pay off on Sunday.
Speaking of turnovers that shift momentum, Matt Ryan did not do the Falcons any favors with his three interceptions. His first interception came in the final minute of the first half. He had a relatively clean pocket, but the ball was delivered behind Mohammed Sanu. The Eagles took advantage and put three points on the board to go into the break, erasing much of the Falcons’ positive momentum from the half.
Backed up in the shadow of his end zone, Ryan threw his second interception of the day. The Eagles had a free runner that didn’t allow him to step up in the pocket, but he has to recognize the open space in the middle of the field and check it down. Without the ability to step into his throw, the ball floated up for an easy interception that set the Eagles offense up to score seven a few plays later.
His third interception was likely the most gut wrenching. After putting together a solid drive to answer the aforementioned Eagles touchdown, the Falcons had pushed their way to the Eagles’ seven-yard line. On second down, Ryan forced a pass between two defenders to Austin Hooper and took a likely score away from Atlanta.
Matt Ryan now has five interceptions on the season, two away from matching his total from the entire 2018 season. In the end, he made the plays that mattered and the Falcons won, but those mistakes have to be cleaned up.
I have to start this by saying the Falcons came up when it mattered most. On the final defensive play of the game, Isaiah Oliver came up huge. He wrapped up Zach Ertz to secure the win.
Before that huge play, the Falcons struggled to get off the field on third and fourth down. They allowed the Eagles to convert two of three fourth down plays, including one for a touchdown and the other to extend the final drive of the game. On third down, the Eagles converted 50%, including multiple of five or more yards.
Some of this came down to ill-timed penalties, for which the team committed 10. In one instance in the first half, the Falcons had set up a third and very long. That is until Kendall Sheffield was called for a defensive holding that gave them a new set of downs. These are mental mistakes that can be coached up, but they must improve here.
The Eagles didn’t have a great day running the football, but neither did the Falcons. As a unit, the Falcons rushed for a paltry 57 yards on 17 carries. Devonta Freeman had another rough outing and finished with only 22 yards on 11 carries. Ito Smith did have a run of 28 yards, but didn’t do anything outside of that.
This likely has more to do with the two formidable defensive fronts that Atlanta has faced over the last two weeks, but they must improve here. The defense cannot be afforded the opportunity to pin its ears back each time the Falcons snap the ball. If they don’t respect the Atlanta’s ability to run the football, the offense won’t take off in 2019. This is an area in which the Falcons must improve, and in a hurry.
Yes, the Eagles were beat up, but the Falcons showed an unbelievable amount of resilience on Sunday. They bounced back in a major way. Dan Quinn was quick to point this out in his post-game conference, “We were going to find out a lot about who we are after such a difficult performance… to come out and put up the game-winning touchdown and get a game winning stop for the win showed a lot of toughness.”