Atlanta Falcons chasing New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers in NFC South race

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 21, 2017 at 8:04 PM
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons, who stumbled through the first half of the season, finally are showing a pulse after reaching the Super Bowl last season.

The Falcons (6-4) have posted wins over Dallas and Seattle to remain within striking distance of the New Orleans Saints (8-2) and Carolina Panthers (7-3) in the NFC South race.

"If we want to go where we want to go, we have got to start stringing some wins together," defensive end Derrick Shelby said. "This was definitely a good step in the right direction getting two in a row. We just have to come back next week with the same hunger to fight."

The Falcons are trailing the Saints by two games with six to play. The Falcons are also one game behind Carolina, which is 7-3.

If the playoffs started today, the Falcons would be the sixth seed.

The Falcons needed the win over the Seahawks in order to gain the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker for possible wild-card scenarios. The Falcons also have the tiebreaker over Detroit, Dallas and Green Bay.

"It was big," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "They are a great team. They are very resilient. They never give up."

The Falcons, who are set to host 4-6 Tampa Bay on Sunday, know the race in the NFC South is heating up.

"All the games are important, but these division games are big," said Trufant, who had a big first-quarter interception against the Seahawks. "We just have to keep preparing, keep working and we'll be good."

The Falcons wanted to build on their 27-7 win over a Dallas team that was playing without running back Ezekiel Elliott and left tackle Tyron Smith.

The Seahawks were without cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor, but nobody is going to remember that come playoff time.

The Falcons knew quarterback Russell Wilson was going to make his share of plays. He rushed seven times for 86 yards and put some open-field moves on Vic Beasley Jr. and De'Vondre Campbell among others.

"That guy is kind of a magician back there," Shelby said. "But for the most part, we held him under wraps. He still had his plays, but for the most part we executed the game plan."

The Falcons, the defending NFC champs, believe they have indeed turned the corner and are set to move on to bigger and better things with three straight home games.

After the Bucs, they host the Minnesota Vikings followed by their first meeting with the Saints on Thursday, Dec. 7.

But the win over Seattle on the road served notice to the rest of the NFC South that they don't plan to give up their title without a major rumble.

"That we can play with anybody," Clayborn said the win of Seattle shows to the rest of the league. "We can stop guys. We can get stops and we can hold our own."

REPORT CARD VS. SEATTLE

--PASSING OFFENSE: B - The Seahawks were determined to defend Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones and that left things open for Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy to do some damage early. Sanu drew a pass interference call on cornerback Jeremy Lane to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Tevin Coleman on the opening drive. It was just the third time this season the Falcons scored on their opening drive and first time since the third game of the season against the Lions. After cornerback Desmond Trufant intercepted Russell Wilson, Ryan tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Sanu. It became the first time this season the Falcons scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game. Tight end Levine Toilolo made a nice catch for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Ryan completed 19 of 27 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Jones had five catches for 71 yards.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus - Running backs Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward were stuffed for most of the game, but came up with some tough yards in the fourth quarter. Ward had a dazzling 17-yard run and Coleman nearly scored from three yards out to ice the game. He was ruled stopped at the half-yard line and Matt Bryant followed with a 19-yard field goal to make it a two-score game with under four minutes to play. Early, the Falcons kept running toss sweeps, but Seattle's defense slipped the cut blocks and pummeled the ball carriers. Coleman, who was making his fourth NFL start, was held to nine yards on 10 carries in the first half. Ward had two carries for one yard. It was only the 10th time in 35 NFL games that Coleman carried the ball 10 or more times in a game. In the end, Coleman rushed 20 times for 43 yards. Ward rushed six times for 31 yards.

--PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - The Falcons had two big turnovers in the first half from their pass defense. CB Desmond Trufant intercepted a wild pass from Russell Wilson on the Seahawks' first possession. Early in the second quarter, rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley sacked Wilson, defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw popped him to force a fumble and Adrian Clayborn scooped it up and raced in for a 10-yard touchdown. While playing a dime defense, defensive back C.J. Goodwin was called for tripping on third down to keep Seattle's first touchdown drive alive. Robert Alford was called for a pass interference call in the third quarter. The Falcons gave up a five-play, 75-yard drive and two-point conversion. Doug Baldwin was wide open on a 29-yard touchdown pass. Baldwin caught the touchdown between Alford and Neal.

--RUSH DEFENSE: B - The run defense was stout, but received a scare when safety Keanu Neal temporarily left the game in the first quarter. He returned on the following series. The Seahawks used Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic to run the ball. Davis had a 13-yard gain before leaving with a groin injury. Russell Wilson did some damage on his scrambles.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - With the score 21-10, Andre Roberts muffed the kickoff and it was recovered by Seattle's Tedric Thompson at Atlanta's 11-yard line. The Seahawks turned the miscue into a touchdown to make it 21-17. Matt Bryant added a 44-yard field. Grady Jarrett sniffed out a fake field goal with seven seconds left in the first half. The kickoff coverage unit had a hard time with Tyler Lockett. He had kickoff returns of 57, 37, 39, 39 and 25 yards.

--COACHING: A - For a key game, the Falcons came out on fire. The offense scored on its first two drives for the first time this season. They scored on their first drive of the third quarter for the second week in a row. The defense created two turnovers and scored on one. The Falcons didn't adjust quickly enough in the run game and kept running toss sweeps that they were not able to execute the blocking. Also, the specials teams knew Lockett was perhaps the most dangerous returner in the league, but they kept kicking the ball to him.

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