Falcons get a rare laugher — so the panic stops for a week

Games like this don’t prove a team is on the way to something special. But games like this, maulings like the one the Falcons subjected Los Angeles to Sunday, at least affirm a team’s potential playoff season is not about to unravel … and doesn’t it seem that’s always the Atlanta sports expectation the week after a defeat?

The Falcons dumped the remains of the Rams 42-14 at the Coliseum.

It was 42-0 in the third quarter when everybody, including the Falcons, stopped paying attention.

So exhale.

The Falcons did this without a great offense (286 total yards), a performance punctuated by the absence of starting wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. But they didn’t turn the ball over, which was five less turnovers than L.A. had (two interceptions and three fumbles, including the opening kickoff) and they had a remarkable performance from their rapidly developing beast at outside linebacker, Vic Beasley (three sacks, two coming one-handed, and a 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown).

They did this the week after a home loss to Kansas City, which was was gift-wrapped for the Chiefs on the bizarre ending of a pick-2 thrown by Matt Ryan.

Losses like that leave hangovers. But the Falcons, while coming into Sunday only 3-4 since a four-game winning streak, have generally seemed immune from to prolonged funks this season.

“I said we’re going to have a chance to put our resiliency on display and I meant that, in terms of our intent, our attitude to keep going and knowing games like that will happen,” coach Dan Quinn said. “We really had a mindset about traveling out here and being ready.

“I recognize why the question would be asked: ‘Are you worried about a hangover?’ I was worried about it until we stepped onto then field for practice Wednesday. Then I recognized that we would be ready to play.”

Unlike the Rams, who are ready for this season to be over.

That became apparent when Michael Thomas fumbled the opening kickoff. He wasn’t even touched. Nor was there a Falcon near him.

The Falcons accepted this welcome gift, like a chocolate left on their hotel pillow. Paul Worrilow pounced on the loose ball at the Rams’ three-yard line. Then, on the game’s first play from scrimmage, Ryan fired a dart to Justin Hardy into the end zone for a touchdown.

It was 7-0 10 seconds into the team. Yeah — Julio, you just stay over there with your foot propped up.

“It was a pleasant surprise,” Ryan said. “Obviously we’re kicking off and it’s, ‘OK, normal routine, get ready.’ And then we get the turnover. It was a good way to start the game, with a little back-shoulder fade to Justin Hardy, who made a great catch.”

It was not a good day to be Rams rookie quarterback Jared Goff, who was sacked three times, threw two interceptions, fumbled once and finished with a quarterback rating of 54.4.

But credit Goff for this analysis: “It’s a learning experience. But obviously we got our ass kicked.”

If this game didn’t quite kill the NFL’s return to Los Angeles, there were at least some people wondering, “Is it too late to pull a shovel out of the ground for that new stadium? Wouldn’t some pansies look nice in that big hole in Inglewood?”

This was ugly — rare, Falcons’ one-sided ugly. It was so lopsided that the team rolled Ryan in bubble wrap after three quarters and put in backup Matt Schaub, just like Alabama does in non-conference games.

This was the kind of loss by the Rams that sometimes gets a coach (Jeff Fisher) or general manager (Les Snead) fired. That could happen. It could lead a franchise legend to hammer his former team. (Eric Dickerson has been doing that for two weeks). It could lead to angry, drunk, brain cell-challenged fans jumping out of the stands to run onto the field (That also happened at least twice Sunday, although many seemed to enjoy the diversion).

But back to the Falcons: They’re not dead again.

This win, as much of a gimme as it may have seemed against a miserable opponent, was needed after last week’s loss. It enabled the Falcons to move to 8-5 and keep pace with Tampa Bay in the NFC South, with next week’s game coming at home against cellar-dwelling San Francisco.

The view is significantly better now.

“We aren’t even worried about the playoffs right now,” said Ricardo Allen. “We just have to worry about next week. You start looking ahead and then you start looking over people, you might not make it.”

The Rams returned to the L.A. area for the first time since 1994 and hadn’t played a season in the Coliseum since 1979. But the Love Train left town weeks ago. There were several thousand empty seats in the stadium. The Rams (5-9) are awful on the field and they have devolved into a Hollywood-level reality show off of it.

Quinn came out early before the game to do his usual pre-game run up the Coliseum stadium stairs and also watch Jones in the pre-game. The Falcons’ receiver suffered turf toe in last week’s game and wasn’t fit to go. It wouldn’t be shocking to see he and Sanu miss another week.

The 49ers shouldn’t pose a challenge, although it would be difficult to match the ease of this win. The fumbled kickoff return led to one touchdown. Ryan’s six-yard toss to Tevin Coleman capped a 54-yard drive to make it 14-0. A 33-yard interception return by rookie Deion Jones brought it to 21-0 before halftime. Ryan connected with Taylor Gabriel for a 64-yard bomb for another score and a 28-0 lead early in the second half.

And it was over.

The Falcons didn’t need much against the Rams, who own the league’s worst offense. Their eight first-half possessions resulted in two interceptions and six punts. They were shut out until the fourth quarter.

“It felt good as a defense to have a game like this,” Beasley said.

Panic over, at least for a week.

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