All season long, fans have been hearing that the Falcons were lucky, flawed and overrated. Vegas reinforced these stigmas by listing Atlanta as a 1.5-point underdog against Philadelphia this week. Mike Smith and the gang proved them wrong.
The Atlanta Falcons have taken a big step forward in shedding the notion that the team is somehow undeserving of their undefeated mark, flexing their muscles against a talented but inconsistent Eagles team to earn their seventh win of the season.
The journey is far from over. The Falcons have yet to show that flight form we saw against the Chargers earlier in the year. The defense stumbled a few times in the fourth quarter and allowed the Eagles to pick up some easy yards as they became more passive.
But those are minor grievances compared to the weaknesses the Falcons managed to correct following their much-needed bye week.
Mike Smith rightfully became the winningest coach in Atlanta history, the Falcons won in Philly for the first time in over a decade, and team improved to a first-ever 7-0 start to the season. Can we really complain?
The big men showed up
When you look at what went right on Sunday, you have to start up front on both sides of the ball. The Falcons offensive line had a dominant performance against what is a talented but inefficiently used Eagles d-line.
Matt Ryan was only sacked twice, and Sam Baker had a commendable game against the always dangerous Trent Cole. And though guys like Fletcher Cox did manage respectable pressure at times, Ryan has shown a much improved ability to remain calm escape the pocket when needed.
On the other side, the Falcons took advantage of what has been a thoroughly unimpressive offensive line, sacking Michael Vick three times and knocking him down many, many more. Kroy Biermann had a particularly impressive day working on Todd Herremans.
And even when the Falcons didn't actually get to Vick, they forced him to escape the pocket and throw incomplete or out of bounds several times on Sunday.
The secondary had a solid day against a strong receiving corps, and Atlanta continued their tremendous defensive success against the pass under Mike Nolan. Limiting Vick to 191 yards in a must-win home game for Philly cannot be praised enough.
The Duece bounces back
Most of all, however, Matt Ryan came to play against his hometown team.
His last outing, a three-interception mistake-fest against the Raiders, was easily his worst of the season. Ryan responded to that setback by completing 22 of 29 pass attempts for 262 yards and three touchdowns against a team he has struggled against time and again.
Not only that, but he led the offense to a fast start that quieted Lincoln Financial for the entire game. 12-of-13 and three TDs before the end of the first half says it all.
End of an era
I think I can say with some delight that the Falcons effectively ended the Michael Vick era in Philadelphia today, and perhaps the Andy Reid one was well when all is said and done.
Sure, the Eagles managed to neither turn the ball over nor was the offense shut out in any definition of the word. However, the Falcons defense exposed Vick and the struggling Philly offense for exactly what they are: mediocre, and completely deserving of a 3-4 record.
That's what good teams do, and that's what the Falcons did this season. Atlanta has much left to accomplish, but at this point, a convincing win over the Eagles has served as an excellent litmus test for fans and the rest of the league.
The target on their backs is even bigger than before, but for now the Dirty Birds are still flawless.