Kevin C. Cox
The Falcons improved to 8-0 following a close, tough win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. Fans know this team is for real, but will Atlanta finally command respect among fellow teams and the media? Can they stay undefeated going forward?
To be fair, Atlanta's matchup with the Cowboys had "upset special" written all over it.
Dallas looked pretty mediocre at 3-4 following an embarrassing four-INT performance by Tony Romo against the Giants in week eight. The Cowboys have traditionally played the Falcons well, and have masqueraded as "undefeated-killers" throughout the decade. They were a team with their backs against the wall, fighting irrelevancy yet again.
By halftime, Atlanta's winning streak appeared dangerously close to ending on the national stage. And yet it didn't.
Despite the Falcons once again not playing a perfect or even complete game - the defense didn't even force any Tony Romo turnovers, though they came very close - the birds in red and black managed to dig deep and tear an upset attempt away from the Cowboys at home.
But what, exactly, has been that special X factor keeping the Falcons winning week after week?
Two for one: Atlanta finds its old tailback and a new spark plug
But by game's end, Turner had eclipsed the century mark with 102 yards rushing, and Rodgers had four catches out of the backfield for 53 yards.
And let's not forget that each made an absolutely back-breaking play in the process. Turner's 43 yard sprint down the sideline - bringing back memories of his 2008 heyday - set up his three-yard score that broke the scoring deadlock early in the fourth.
On the ensuing possession, Rodgers chipped in with two key receptions in the open field that his shiftiness turned into big plays, including one for 31 yards that set up another Matt Bryant field goal. Somewhere in Dallas, Orlando Scandrick is nursing his broken ankles.
Who do we credit? Dirk Koetter's the easy choice. He's shown the propensity to make great half-time adjustments week after week, something Mike Mularkey never really could do (though I heard the Jaguars doing alright this sea- LOL just kidding).
Look at it this way: the Falcons only managed 45 rushing yards in their near-loss against the Raiders.
In the two games since - both starts by Konz - the Falcons have compiled 269 rushing yards. Keep in mind that the Cowboys are still top five in the league in total defense.
Konz's impact has been immediate and easily noticeable. Perhaps the Falcons have finally found a suitable replacement to fill the void Harvey Dahl left.
Pass rushers should be blocked, in theory
This applies to both teams, actually.
Time and again, he was forced outside of the pocket. A couple of times that resulted in a big play. But more often than not, it resulted in an incompletion. Twice it resulted in a near-interception (Asante Samuel dropped his, and Thomas DeCoud's was called back due to defensive holding).
On the other side, the Falcons had pass-blocking miscues of their own. Matt Ryan was sacked twice, but the way he was being hit in the pocket was more troubling.
On one play, Demarcus Ware came in from Ryan's blindside completely unblocked and absolutely nailed Atlanta's franchise QB (a mental error by Sam Baker).
On a couple of other plays, though they didn't end with sacks, Ryan was being hit by Ware after letting go of the ball.
That should never happen. Ware is easily the top pass rusher in this league, and to forget where he is on the field or not double him is dangerous at best and potentially season-killing at worst.
If anyone's willing to donate, I'm starting the "Keep Matty Ice Upright" campaign any day now.
Dangerous duo of the NFC
Despite some spotty offensive line and secondary play, the Falcons really put forth a solid game. They limited Dallas to 65 yards on the ground, and stepped up on defense in the red zone by allowing just one TD all game.
But the guys who really lit up the national stage were Matt Ryan's top two targets.
I'll remind fans that even after last night's 342-yard passing total, the Cowboys still have the No. 5 pass defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed. White and Jones are just that good.
That showed when White passed Terence Mathis to become the Falcons all-time reception leader. This is one game after Mike Smith became the Falcons all-time win leader.
All of this comes as part of a historic 8-0 start to the Falcons' 2012 season. This team is dangerous, resilient, and in the words of Kendrick Lamar "really, really real."