This was a game that the Atlanta Falcons knew they needed to win. Not that they were in any danger of slipping out of playoff contention at 9-1, but with the team’s performance over the past few weeks, they needed a signature win to boost their confidence.
Atlanta may have gotten their win by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-23, but the cost may have been a bit steep. Several injuries to key defensive players occurred during the game, and the Falcons have a date in just four days with the New Orleans Saints. Defense is one area you can’t be shorthanded when facing the Saints.
In the glass half full department, the Falcons put together their most complete team effort in weeks. The key performers on offense–Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Jacquizz Rodgers–all played up to normal levels, and looked closer to the offense Falcons fans had become accustomed to seeing.
The Atlanta defense shut down rookie running back sensation Doug Martin, who had been running rampant on the rest of the league, and held him to only 50 yards on 21 carries. Coming into Sunday’s game, Martin had rushed for 1,000 yards on 197 carries with a 5.1 yard per carry average. They also kept Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman and his favorite connection Vincent Jackson in check just enough, despite two defensive backs and one defensive lineman going out with injuries at different points in the game.
The big question now for the Falcons is can everyone get healthy enough in time for a huge meeting with the Saints at the Georgia Dome on Thursday. Starters Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson and Corey Peters all had to leave the game at least temporarily, with Samuel looking the worst for wear by the time he intercepted Freeman’s final pass of the game.
Atlanta did answer a lot of questions about their legitimacy as one of the top teams in the league. The Buccaneers had won three straight games, and their offense had been rolling over opposing defenses. Critics can now point to this as a signature win for a team struggling with getting some respect.