With the Falcons, no lead is too big and no lead is ever, ever safe.

The Falcons needed middle linebacker Deion Jones to recover an onside kick late and stop a drive in the final minute to secure a 34-27 victory over the Denver Broncos before 7,665 fans Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“All these games do down to the wire,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “Everybody has got fight. Everybody has dog in them. These guys, we knew they were going to come out fighting. Come out slinging that ball around. There are only a few games a week that don’t go down to the wire.”

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After leading 27-6, Atlanta’s defense started playing soft and the offense stalled. The combination allowed the Broncos to get within one score.

The Falcons have blown fourth-quarter leads in three games this season — against Dallas, Chicago and Detroit.

Playing without leading receiver Calvin Ridley, quarterback Matt Ryan tossed touchdown passes to three receivers, while running back Todd Gurley scored his ninth rushing touchdown of the season as the Falcons improved to 3-6. Denver dropped to 3-5.

Ryan completed 25 of 35 passes for 284 yards and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 112.1.

After the earlier collapses this season, the Falcons were elated to hold on for a victory.

“Just a finishing mindset and getting over that hump to where we had not been able to finish the games on defense,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “For us, to have these big step-ups like Deebo (Deion Jones) did at the end of the game, or whoever it may be, it’s good and we want to be able to build off of that.”

Here are the five things we learned from the Falcons’ win:

1. Big lead: The Falcons scored on their first four possessions of the game and ran out the clock on the fifth possession with a kneel down.

Younghoe Koo made a 52-yard field goal to cap the opening drive which covered 10 plays, 41 yards and took 5:09 off the clock.

On the second possession, Ryan connected with speedy wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus for a 51-yard touchdown. Koo’s extra point made it 10-0. It was an 11-play scoring drive that covered 85 yards and took 5:36 off the clock.

Denver added a 43-yard field to make it 10-3.

Ryan used a 42-yard pass to Zaccheaus to set up the second touchdown. Two plays later, he connected with Brandon Powell for a 9-yard touchdown. It was Powell’s first NFL touchdown reception. Koo’s extra point put the Falcons up 17-0.

Falcons wide receiver Brandon Powell (15) crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons wide receiver Brandon Powell (15) crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

After forcing a punt, the Falcons put together a 12-play, 67-yard drive. Koo added a 35-yard field goal to make it 20-3.

The Falcons’ defense, which has struggled in the final minutes of the halves and at the end of games, stopped the Broncos’ two-minute offense with 1:37 to play in the second quarter. The defense got the ball back to the offense with 26 seconds left.

Denver added a 41-yard field to start the third quarter.

Julio Jones caught a 21-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons up 27-6.

Broncos quarterback Drew Lock tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to rookie Jerry Jeudy to make it 27-13 with 13:15 left in the game.

After scoring on 5 of their first 6 possessions (excluding the kneel down), the Falcons were forced into back-to-back punts.

But Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen intercepted a Lock pass and set up the offense at the Broncos’ 12-yard line.

After an 8-yard completion to tight end Hayden Hurst, Gurley had a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 34-13.

Denver added a 9-yard touchdown pass from Lock to Tim Patrick. After forcing another punt, Lock scored on a 10-yard scramble to make it a one-score game.

After Jones recovered the onside kick, the offense couldn’t run out the clock and punted to Denver. The Broncos had the ball at their 20 with 44 seconds to score, but couldn’t move the ball.

“When a team is down like that, you know exactly what they are coming out to do," Allen said. "You know, they hadn’t been scoring all night and they weren’t scoring fast, they had to go for big shots. It’s really just mental. They tried to take shots early in the game.

"Our corners and everybody that was matched up on the person they were throwing the deep balls to did a really good job. We just have to make sure that transitions all the way through the end of the game.”

2. Deep threat: With Ridley out with a mid-foot sprain, Zaccheaus had a superb first half.

He caught a 51-yard touchdown in the first quarter and had a 42-yard gain, when he broke deep to help out Ryan who was out of the pocket and scrambling.

Zaccheaus had four catches for 103 yards in the first half.

On the Falcons’ first possession of the third quarter, Ryan tried to hit Zaccheaus deep again, but his pass was intercepted by Broncos safety Justin Simmons.

The Falcons had to punt on three of their last four possessions, which let Denver hang around.

“We definitely have to do better as an offense,” Gurley said.

3. Defensive ends: With Dante Fowler (hamstring) and Takk McKinley (groin) out, Steven Means and Allen Bailey started at the defensive end spots for the Falcons.

Charles Harris and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner backed them up.

“They went out there and played hard and played tough and stopped the run,” Morris said. “Obviously, you don’t get the sack numbers when you go with the heavier guys, we had some bigger, thick guys out there rushing for us.”

The Falcons had one sack and nine quarterback hits.

Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun (54) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

4. Cornerback shuffle. With Darqueze Dennard back from his hamstring injury, the Falcons juggled cornerbacks throughout the game.

Kendall Sheffield started at right cornerback, but was replaced in the second quarter by Dennard. Sheffield went back to right cornerback at the start of the third quarter.

Isaiah Oliver started at nickel back, but Blidi Wreh-Wilson took over in the second quarter.

While the Falcons juggled the right cornerback and nickel back spots, rookie A.J. Terrell held down the left cornerback position.

“When you get a guy back as talented as (Dennard), you want to find roles for him,” Morris said. “You want to get him going because you know you’re going to need him down the stretch. You get those guys in the rotation. Blidi is leading our team in interceptions. I think that’s still the case. All he does is make plays.”

Sheffield struggled some against the Broncos.

“You want to get Sheff up and running,” Morris said. “He had a tough day today. He gave up a couple of plays. One down the stretch that was arguable.”

Oliver, who struggled as the starting right cornerback, performed better at nickel back.

“You want to get those guys going,” Morris said. “(Oliver) has been having a nice time inside playing nickel for us. (Terrell) has just been a stud outside the whole time. I want to get everybody going, everybody playing and everybody playing fast. You can’t have enough corners.”

Sheffield had a tough time with Denver rookie Jeudy, who caught seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Morris was asked if Sheffield had any lingering issues from a foot injury.

“You don’t make up excuses,” Morris said. “He gave up a couple of catches. He played against some really good players. The Alabama guy (Jeudy) is a pretty good player. That stuff happens when you play against those type of guys ... you have to keep fighting.”

5. Third-down wins. The Falcons' defense needed to continue to play well on third downs to prevent one of their late-game collapses.

The Falcons' defense held the Broncos to 2 of 8 on third downs as the offense built a 27-6 lead with 6:20 left in the third quarter.

Last week against the Chargers, however, the Broncos were down 24-3 with about 6:00 left in the third quarter. They stormed back for a 31-30 victory.

Allen’s interception helped to close things out heading into the team’s bye week.

Falcons' next four games

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

Bye week

Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22

Raiders at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29

Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6

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