By Allison Smith @FalconAlley
Saints 32 Falcons 38
As my loyal readers know, I am a huge Clemson fan. So, after spending New Year’s Eve watching my Tigers move on to the NCAA National Championship game, I changed into my Falcon pajama gear to ring in the New Year with Pitbull’s televised celebration. Then on New Year’s Day, I headed to The Atl to watch my Atlanta Falcons clinch 2nd place in the NFC and lock down the first round playoff bye. Is there a better way to end one year and begin another?
The previous week, the Falcons had clinched the NFC South Championship therefore guaranteeing a playoff spot, so just waiting on the final week of games to confirm our position in the NFC.
The Falcons came out strong on Sunday. New Orleans started the game with the ball, but after a 3 and out, Eric Weems returned the punt 15 yards setting up the electric offense with good field position. After 3 first downs, for 13, 13, and 35 yards, Matt Ryan passed short to Tevin Coleman for a 7-yard touchdown. The Saints answered with an 8-minute drive ending in a big stop by the defense, holding the Saints on the Atlanta 1 and forcing a field goal. Then, one play later, Devonta Freeman ran for a 75-yard touchdown, to a roar of “FREE.” With nearly 4 minutes left in the first quarter, the Falcons were up 14/3.
Since the defense was off the field for about 30 seconds, they were a little sluggish and did give up a New Orleans touchdown on the next drive, but the Falcons offense continued to answer and scored on their first 5 possessions of the game. By half time, the Falcons lead 35/13. At this point, the fans were already celebrating and knowing they were going to get that 2nd position in the playoffs and a little rest for ourselves the next weekend.
As this was the last regular season game in the Georgia Dome, Mercedes-Benz Stadium opens next season, the half time show rolled in 20 Falcons legends from the 1980’s to Roddy White. Look for a special article next week recapping the Legends in attendance. Possibly the best part of this half time presentation, was the Legends walking back in the tunnel as our 2016 team was coming back out at the end of half and many of them getting to chat, congratulate, and encourage our young team.
Once again, Ryan threw to 8 receivers, including his 4 passing touchdowns going to 4 different receivers. Note that Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper were not even active due to injuries. Ryan completed 36 passes for 331 yards, finishing the regular season with 4,944 passing yards. Much of that success is not only due to this awesome pack of receivers, but also to the offensive line, that is the only O Line in the NFL that played a complete season together.
Julio Jones led receivers this week with 7 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Freeman had 5 receptions for 81 yards and 96 on the ground. Justin Hardy got some good playing time due to injuries, and hauled in 4 receptions for 43 yards, a touchdown, and several other targets where he was just out of bounds, but made some awesome catches and was fighting hard for YAC. Mohamed Sanu had the other receiving touchdown on the day as well as 3 additional catches and was running through people to get extra yards.
Justin Hardy Scoring a Touchdown Near the End of the First Half courtesy: Allison Smith
With the midseason loss of Desmond Trufant, many were concerned on how Jalen Collins would perform. Well, this week, Collins had 5 solo tackles and his 2nd interception in as many games. This interception was especially crucial, as it was in the end zone, therefore stopping a scoring drive. Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen both had 6 total tackles a piece, followed by Paul Worrilow and Keanu Neal with 5 solo tackles each and Neal a forced fumble on the sideline that was heard throughout the Dome. The Saints pushed the ball out of bounds, so retained possession, but you have to love that intensity and power. The defense also stopped the Saints on two 2-point conversion attempts.
My Tiger boys did well, I am sure being inspired by their college team doing so well the previous night helped. Vic Beasley, Jr. had a shoulder injury and was “probable” to return early in the game. Not only did he return, but continued his quarterback pressure and sacked the elusive Drew Brees. The first person to congratulate him was Grady Jarrett, likewise when Jarrett had a sack for a loss of 8 yards on the next possession; Beasley was the first there to congratulate him.
Head Coach Dan Quinn was enthusiastic this week. Said the team will practice Wednesday and Thursday, then have a few days off and he is sure many guys will hang out together as the Brothership. The team continues to play for each other, to not let a teammate down. DQ did start this week’s Monday presser by first thanking the fans for their support, being ready at kickoff, and being loud. Matt Ryan also mentioned his appreciation for the fan support and noise levels in our Dome….our Home.
Injury Report: Everyone will practice this week! Gabriel and Hooper will return to practice on Wednesday. Beasley will tough it out and not be limited. Brian Poole and Neal were dinged up, but will also be fine.
Golden Talon: Jalen Collins for his ever improving coverage, growing number of tackles, and key interception. Alex Mack, for being the leader on the offensive line, mentoring the young guys, recognizing defenses, and coming in at guard on a PAT. What a Free Agent pick up!
#RiseUp @FalconAlley Owt
Featured image courtesy: Allison Smith/nflfemale
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