Thursday heroics just another leap forward for Falcons' Ryan, White
Year 3 QBs Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are clear-cut franchise quarterbacks
Roddy White has set a pace that cannot be touched by any other NFC receiver
The 7-2 Falcons remain one game ahead of the Saints in the NFC South
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ATLANTA -- Here are five things we learned from the Falcons' pulsating 26-21 win over the Ravens at the Georgia Dome.
1. Round 1 of the Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco debate goes to Ryan -- barely. Both Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, and both have had almost identical, impressive starts to their careers. On Thursday night, both quarterbacks put on a show in the fourth quarter, with Ryan coming out on top. The Falcons QB was 32 of 50 for 316 yards and three touchdowns, controlling the game in the first half before winning it in the final minute. Ryan helped the Falcons convert seven third-and-five or longer situations in the first half, repeatedly keeping the Ravens defense on the field, as Atlanta built a 10-0 lead. And when the Ravens grabbed a 21-20 lead late, Ryan drove his team 80 yards in 45 seconds for the winning score. "I'm honored to have him on my team," said Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann. "He takes control of that offense and makes it go." Flacco, meanwhile, came to life in the second half and nearly stole the game. Flacco finished 22 for 34 for 215 yards and three touchdowns, including a dart to Todd Heap with 1:05 left, giving his team a significant, but short-lived lead. The Falcons bothered Flacco with pressure in the first half, but he was more effective on the move in the second half and was at his best in the fourth quarter -- the surest sign of a franchise quarterback. It's a shame these two don't square off more often.
2. Roddy White's knee didn't look very sore. The NFC's leading receiver was questionable all week after banging up his knee against the Bucs, but he sure looked 100 percent against the Ravens, finishing with 12 catches for 138 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the final one with 20 seconds left. "Once I got going, I didn't have any pain out there," White said. On White's 33-yard game-winning catch, he made contact with corner Josh Wilson, who fell down on the play and left White open for the score. "He was flat-footed," White said. "I was just trying to get by him." His other touchdown came on third and less than a yard from the 4-yard line, with White as the lone receiver. Rather than try to pound the ball up the middle with 247-pound Michael Turner, Ryan rolled out and found White outsprinting Ravens safety Dawan Landry to the corner. Ryan looked White's way all game, and the Ravens simply could not stop him (though White stopped himself with a few drops). Even though teams continue to game plan for White, Ryan still finds a way to get his No. 1 target the ball.
3. The Falcons are still looking to develop a killer instinct. One week after dominating the Bucs for the majority of the afternoon, only to be forced to hold on in the final seconds, the Falcons again let a teetering opponent survive. The Falcons led 7-0 near the end of the second quarter, but failed to capitalize following a Ravens' fumbled punt and settled for a field goal. Ditto at the start of the third quarter, when Flacco was picked off on the third play after halftime. With a chance to take a 17-0 lead, the Falcons ran three plays and kicked a field goal, keeping the Ravens in the game. "We get lacksidasical on offense," White said. "We get points, and then put it in cruise control. We have to go out and finish games." When the Falcons learn to deliver a knockout punch, this team will be scary.
4. This was a timely win for the Falcons. Atlanta has a good shot at winning its division for the first time since 2004. The Falcons (7-2) have a one-game lead on the Saints and already own a win at New Orleans. Things tend to get steeper from here, however. Four of the Falcons' next six games are away from the Georgia Dome, and the two home games are against likely playoff participants Green Bay and New Orleans. The Falcons are not nearly as fearsome on the road (2-2), and Ryan's unfathomable 18-1 record at the Dome is going to have to come down at some point, right?
The Falcons have given themselves just a little wiggle room, however, with a win over a team that should land in the AFC playoffs. The Ravens (6-3) should be able to bounce back with games against the Panthers and Bucs the next two weeks before a critical showdown with the Steelers in Week 13.
"It's always difficult when you play a team in their place, on their turf, with the crowd noise," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "I think being in this kind of environment this early in the season is going to pay off for us later on down the road."
5. Atlanta still adores Deion Sanders. Prime Time was inducted into the Falcons' Ring of Honor at halftime, and the Georgia Dome exploded after his entrance. "I would have never been the Prime, if you hadn't given me the time," Sanders said during his speech. Sanders told the adoring crowd that although he played for five teams in his career, "This is home." In typical Sanders fashion, he had more to say to his fans, but his mic cut off, Oscars-style, as the ceremony had to move on due to the NFL's 12-minute halftime. Still, the highlights on the scoreboard of his dynamic punt and interception returns served as a reminder just how electric a player he was.