The Falcons have started a new trend.
It may not be a great trend or a trend they will like to continue moving forward. But if they have to come from behind and win in the last minute to stay undefeated, then that’s what they have to do.
On Sunday at the Georgia Dome as Matt Bryant kicked a 55-yard field goal with six seconds left to give the Falcons the 23-20 win over the Oakland Raiders.
“Our goal all week was to get to the bye week 6-0,” head coach Mike Smith said. “We didn’t want to make it hard as we did. We made a lot of mistakes in the ball game.”
Smith was right about the mistakes as the Falcons made them on offense, defense and special teams.
The offense could only score one touchdown, which came early in the second quarter when Matt Ryan found Roddy White on a 4-yard touchdown pass to give them the 7-3 lead.
But before that, Ryan threw two interceptions in the first quarter, one on the opening drive of the series and one with 4:56 left. The first pick was intended for Harry Douglas but Raiders cornerback Joselio Hanson undercut the route. The other intercepted pass was intended for Julio Jones, but Raiders cornerback Michael Huff was with Jones step-for-step and picked it off at the Raiders 2-yard line.
Ryan also threw another interception late in the second quarter, and that was caused when Raiders linebacker Phillip Wheeler hit Ryan as he was throwing and the ball landed in the hands of Tyvon Branch. That led to a Carson Palmer 25-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore and gave the Falcons the 13-lead going into halftime.
“All three were on me,” Ryan said taking the blame for all three interceptions. “I didn’t do a good job of ball security today.”
The Falcons defense struggled to make tackles in the first half as well as putting pressure on Palmer, especially in the second quarter as he went 5-of-6 for 92 yards and a rating of 158.3. But the defense picked it up in the third quarter, forcing the Raiders to punt on their first two drives and forcing a Palmer fumble after an John Abraham sack on the third series, which was recovered by Ray Edwards and returned to the Raiders 2-yard line. However, the Falcons offense could only manage six points in the third quarter because of lack of execution on third down and the game was tied at 13 going into the fourth quarter.
“Their defense was playing faster than us,” said Michael Turner who had only 11 carries for 33 yards. “They were making plays early and it got them pumped up. We just need to relax and play our football.”
The fourth quarter is where things got real interesting. After both teams exchanging punts twice, Oakland got a drive going. The Raiders started at their own 10 and got to the Falcons 28-yard line. But Palmer would make a costly mistake as Asante Samuel jumped a route ran by Moore and returned it 77-yards for a score to give the Falcons the 20-13 lead.
“That’s what he’s known for,” Smith said. “He’s a ball hawk and he’s an athletic guy that can return it. He’s got great skills once the ball is in his hands.”
Oakland would not take that sitting down was they put together another drive that led to a McFadden 2-yard score, which tied the game at 20 with 40 seconds left in the game.
But that was too much time for Ryan and company. The offense started at their 20 and thanks to some key catches by Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons got to the Raiders 37 yard line with five seconds left to set up the game winning field goal.
“I said it many times, he got ice water in his veins,” Smith said. “He’s an integral part of our football team and the success we’ve had so far.”
This was not a pretty game by any means for the Falcons, the offense committed three turnovers, the defense allowed Palmer to have a rating of over 100 and he team left too many plays on the field on both sides of the ball. But the important thing is they are 6-0 and will work even harder to make it 7-0 in the next couple of weeks when they face the Philadelphia Eagles.
“You just have to find a way to win,” said Julio Jones. It wasn’t pretty today, but at the end of the day we won. I don’t care it was by a half point, a win is a win.”