After yesterday’s thrilling 22-20 home win against the 3-3 Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons (4-2) find themselves in a three way tie for the first seed in the NFC South. 

Best Performance in a Losing Effort: The Bears run defense. They looked amazing, holding the the best running back in the NFL, Michael Turner, to a mere 54 yards on the ground. By the end of the day, the Bears defensive unit had allowed a total of only 75 yards rushing. That’s impressive considering how Atlanta prides themselves on being a rushing team.

Most Affectionate Award: When Matt Ryan leapt into the arms of head coach Mike Smith after the victory, straddling him with all his might… yep.

Biggest Head Scratcher: Why Falcons offensive coordinator, Mike Mularkey, called a bunched slant route to WR Roddy White twice in a row. The first time the call worked but there was a penalty that negated the play, which was unfortunate as White had nothing but daylight in front of him. Still, I disagree with the call to run the exact same play again, especially after showing the defense where the ball was most likely going to go. Come on Mike, enough with the silly mularkey.

Most Drunk Award: All the Chicago Bears fans who made it out to the Georgia Dome. On TV it sounded like the 12th man were all from Chicago as the Falcons faced a lot of noise on 3rd down in their home dome. Plus, when Chicago scored the cheers echoed throughout the space. Nice showing Bears fans, and enjoy the flight back home!

Pat on the Back Award: This one goes to Falcons WR Brian Finneran. At one time he was one of Atlanta’s top receivers, but injuries over the past two seasons have kept him out of the lineup. So far this year Finneran has essentially been a non factor with only five catches (three of them in this game), but I liked the guy when he was healthy and it’s nice to see him back on the field. Besides, I missed the color guys not being able to pronounce his name. To quote one of Fox’s announcers during the game, “Brian Finnenan, Finneran, making the catch.” Hilarious.

-Performance Grades:

A+: QB Matt Ryan. The guy looked like a verteran out there, calling audibles and vocally leading his team on drives. The rookie’s stats were 22/30 for 301 yards and a TD, marking this Ryan’s first career 300+ yard game. The guy is a class act, showing poise and confidence in the pocket. With six seconds left on the game clock, his 26 yard pass to Michael Jenkins which set up the game winning field goal was one of the most brilliant plays I’ve seen come out of Atlanta in over a year. Here’s an interesting fact; since 1998 Ryan is the only rookie QB to go 4-2. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Kyle Orton.

A-: The Atlanta wide receivers. I suppose the critics were right; Mike Vick could run all day long, but couldn’t throw an accurate pass worth betting a dog on (yeah, I went there). In his last season with the Falcons in 2006 Vick had a total of 2,474 yards passing whereas Ryan has amassed 1,164 passing yards in a mere six games this season. Ryan is producing where Mike Vick couldn’t with essentially the same wide receiving core in Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, and even Brian Finneran. Add to the fact that TE Alge Crumpler is no longer part of the team, and it goes to show how the Falcons WR’s have stepped up their game. They’re making themselves look good by coming up with the big plays and by doing something as simple as holding onto the ball. Drops plagued both White and Jenkins early on in their careers, but it seems like that may be a thing of the past. 

B+: Jamaal Anderson. The Falcons first round draft choice of last season was all over the Chicago offense, making plays in the backfield, batting balls, netting four tackles and the first sack of his career. You have to love his name too as there’s a lot of history there. If he ever returns a fumble or a pick for a TD, he’d better dance ‘The Dirty Bird’.

B: The rest of the Falcons defense. Talk about bend but don’t break. While giving up a total of 365 yards, the Falcons defense allowed only 79 yards rushing and held the Bears from scoring on three of their four first half possessions. While slipping in the second half of the game, they stood tall when they needed to, stopping the Bears on a 4th and goal with 8 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. Rookie rusher Matt Forte tried to jump over the pile for the score, but the Falcons D held their ground, stuffing Forte before he could propel himself forward. The fans in the Dome went nuts, and so did I.

C: The Falcons red zone offense. The offense would make awesome plays and long drives to march down field into scoring range but were unable to come away with 7 points until the fourth quarter. This nearly came back to bite the young Falcons squad, and their lack of productivity in the red zone needs to change if Atlanta wants to make a serious run at post season play.

NOOOOO!! Moment: When (usually) money kicker Jason Elam shanked a 33 yard field goal try with 2:50 left in the game, which would have put the Falcons up by two scores. Atlanta then had to turn the ball over to the Bears who scored a TD, taking the lead 20-19 with a mere 11 ticks of the clock remaining. Luckily though, Elam redeemed himself by making the game winning 48 yard kick with one second remaining. Make no doubt about it, Elam needs to buy Matt Ryan, Michael Jenkins, and the clock operator drinks for the rest of the season. 

Coolest Stat: The Falcons are 4-2 and have already matched their number of wins from last season when they went 4-12.

Biggest Hit: When Atlanta’s Jason Snelling nailed Devin Hester flat on his ass on the opening kickoff of the second half. The dude literally took a seat and it was awesome.

Bet You Didn’t Know: That six Falcons rookies started in today’s game and all of them contributed to the teams win. They are: 1) QB Matt Ryan. 2) OT Sam Baker who did an excellent job protecting Ryan. 3) WR Harry Douglas (sporting Alge Crumpler’s #83) who had 5 receptions for 96 yards. 4) MLB Curtis Lofton who had 6 solo tackles and 1 assisted tackle. 5) CB Chevis Jackson who registered 3 tackles. 6) DE Kroy Biermann who made a tackle. Nice work rookies.

So That’s Weird: One of the Falcons fight songs is the same that is played when the Minnesota Wild score a goal.

Most Useless Fact of the Day: Falcons coach Mike Smith is the brother in law of one of the Fox color guys as they are both married to sisters. What’s that? You could give a crap? Yeah, so could I yet they wouldn’t stop talking about it all afternoon. My ears are still bleeding.

Most Quotable: “Warner very nearly, got it from behind.” – Fox sports color guy. I know, I know; this quote isn’t from the Falcons/Bears game, but from the Dallas Cowboys/Arizona Cardinals game. Even so, it was too hilarious to leave unmentioned.

The Final Word: The Falcons have found themselves to be in a great spot at this point in the season with a 4-2 record, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers for first place in the NFC South. They remind me of this years Buffalo Bills team in that they are young squad with even younger starting QBs, nobody predicted them to go anywhere, and they are finding ways to win. Critics were unsure about the Falcons as their first two victories were against weak opponents (Lions, Chiefs), but after solid wins against two of the NFC’s elite in the Packers and Bears, the Atlanta Falcons should be taken seriously. Next up Atlanta travels to Philadelphia, taking on the Eagles in week eight. With a bye this coming week, the Dirty Birds need to ride out their current high and continue to erase memories of a time before Matt Ryan.