Matt Ryan has always been the answer, but unlikely help got the Falcons over the top
Against the Arizona Cardinals, Matt Ryan was about as bad as he's ever going to be. Five interceptions in a single game is shocking, for a quarterback typically so careful with the football. However, it's this factor-- the Falcons succeeding while Ryan fails that sets them apart, and makes this iteration of the team so special.
The Atlanta Falcons are accustomed to thriving when Matt Ryan is succeeding, but what separates the 2012 team from those past seasons is their ability to continue to play at a high level, even when they need to rally around their quarterback. Okay, so perhaps John Skelton and Ryan Lindley aren't world-beaters, but the ability for the defense to rally around the offense and hold the Cardinals to field goals in short-field drives really set yesterday's victory apart.
Did they allow too many rushing yards? Yes. An average of 5.8 is bad, especially against the Cardinals offensive line-- but remember, all Arizona needed to do was play the short field well, and there was nothing the Falcons could do with five interceptions thrown by Ryan. Taking the pressure off the offense is something Mike Nolan has brought to this team, and while they're allowing those yards, they're not allowing points.
This is where an important distinction needs to be made. Sure, the Falcons are ranked 21st in yards allowed, but that improves to 9th when we look at points. Compare this to last year, where the Falcons gave up less yards (12th), but couldn't keep teams out of the end zone (18th). This one simple flip has changed the complexion of the 2012 season, and bodes well for the Falcons moving forward.
When the playoffs roll around football gets simple: Can your QB score, and can your defense stop them from scoring? Yards allowed become meaningless. Provided Matt Ryan can play mistake-free football, this is an almost perfect team-- and that puts them in good stead for the future.