Falcons pound Saints, take sole possession of NFC South lead

The Falcons have won back-to-back road games as underdogs to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

The Falcons have won back-to-back road games as underdogs to take sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Published on Tuesday, 9/27/16, at 2:05 p.m. Eastern.

In January of 2013, the Atlanta Falcons raced out to a 17-0 lead over San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game at the Ga. Dome. Since then, not much has gone right for Arthur Blank’s franchise.

The lead against the 49ers evaporated and a crushing 28-24 loss was the result. Then in 2013, the Falcons lost four one-possession games and Julio Jones to a season-ending injury by early October. That nightmare campaign ended with a 4-12 record. A 6-10 record would follow in ’14 and result in the dismissal of Mike Smith, who had been the franchise’s most successful coach ever.

Dan Quinn took over last season and led Atlanta to a 5-0 start. However, the Falcons would lose seven of their next eight games and finish 8-8, missing the postseason for a third straight year.

Therefore, when Tampa Bay came into the Ga. Dome and beat Atlanta 31-24 in Week 1, the outlook for the 2016 Falcons wasn’t bright. But in the NFL, the course of a season can change on any given play, day or game.

When Atlanta returns home this Sunday to take on Carolina, the defending NFC champs, it will do so with sole possession of first place in the NFC South. Who in the hell saw that coming?

Nobody. I mean NOBODY.

It started with a 35-28 win at Oakland as a four-point underdog. Then on Sunday when Tampa Bay and Carolina both lost, Atlanta went into the Superdome last night with a chance to take the division lead and avenge a pair of losses to the hated Saints from last season.

The Falcons did just that, coasting to a 45-32 win as 2.5-point underdogs. The 77 combined points soared ‘over’ the 54-point total to improve to 3-0 in Atlanta games.

Matt Ryan’s struggles from last year? Those are in the rearview mirror. The immense criticism of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan? You won’t hear anyone speak to that today.

Atlanta leads the NFL in total offense, averaging 448 yards per game. Ryan is fourth in the NFL in passing yards (970), third in TD passes (7) and in a first-place tie in QB Rating (119.0).

Ryan was on fire last night, completing 20-of-30 throws for 240 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Hell, he even scrambled 18 yards for a first down on a third-and-long play when the outcome wasn’t quite settled.

The Atlanta offense had great balance. Devonta Freeman exploded for 152 rushing yards on just 14 carries, while Tevin Coleman rushed for 42 yards and three TDs on 12 totes. Freeman also had five receptions for 55 yards and one TD, while Coleman had three catches for 47 yards.

Justin Hardy, the second-year WR out of East Carolina, had his first career TD grab. Deion Jones, the rookie LB out of LSU who grew up in New Orleans but had never once stepped foot in the Superdome, had a team-best nine tackles and put the game on ice with a 90-yard pick-six on Monday Night Football.

The Falcons had lost 12 consecutive road games on MNF, but they ended that streak of futility. Nearly 10 years to the day that the Superdome opened up for the first time since Hurricane Katrina and the Saints dealt the Falcons a pimpslap sparked by Steve Gleason’s blocked punt, it was a different story in the The Big Easy.

This night belonged to the Falcons, who I’m not hyping as a Super Bowl contender. In fact, I’m not even saying Atlanta looks like a quality pick to make the playoffs.

But after 3.5 years of mediocrity since coming so close to making the Super Bowl for just the second time in franchise history, fans of the Atlanta Falcons can enjoy today.

The Dirty Birds are in first place and the Who Dat’s are in the cellar. Those are the sort of circumstances people in The ATL always enjoy in late September.

 

 

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