Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is not one for hyperbole.
He tends to lean toward the side of understating things.
But when asked if things were starting to click for his unit under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, he discussed trending and reflected on some of his other offenses, including last season’s, which led the NFL with 540 points and carried the franchise to its second Super Bowl appearance.
“I think one of the things that good teams do is they get better as the year goes on,” Ryan said. “The teams that I’ve been on in the past that have been successful and then once they got better, they kept going.”
The Falcons are coming off two big wins after Dallas (27-7) and Seattle (34-31) and have clawed their way back into the playoff picture, as the sixth seed with six games to play. The Falcons (6-4) are set to play the Tampa Bay Bucs (4-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We are trending in that direction, and hopefully out best football is still in front of us,” Ryan said. “It certainly important this time of the year to play better.”
The Falcons have started moving forward with running back Devonta Freeman, whom they made the highest paid running back in the league in August.
They also haven’t needed any 300-yard games from mercurial wide receiver Julio Jones, who has scored one touchdown.
It has been a collection of all of the team’s offensive parts – the role players – who have stepped forward to help carry the offense.
Against Dallas, wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and Justin Hardy came through with big plays.
Against Seattle, Hardy had two big third-down catches, tight end Levine Toilolo came up with a big 25-yard touchdown catch and third-string running back Terron Ward had a spectacular 17-yard fourth-quarter run.
“I think our guys have done a great job,” Ryan said. “I do think that we are toughest to defend when we’ve got multiple people involved. That puts a lot of stress on the defense to be able to pinpoint where the ball is going to go.”
Toilolo is the blocking tight end. His touchdown catch was only the seventh of his career.
“Levine did a great job creating an explosive passing touchdown for us by getting vertical down the field,” Ryan said. “It’s different guys every week, and we have faith in all of our guys.”
Toilolo, who dropped passes earlier in his career, said Ryan’s pass was special.
“He was right on the money,” Tolilolo said. “Right between two defenders. He had some pressure and put it right on the money. He’s been doing that for years. That’s why he’s the great player that he is.”
Ryan didn’t hesitate on the through.
“I have a real trust in those guys when their number is called and the coverage dictates us to go to those spots that we are going to make plays, and we’ve been able to do that,” Ryan said. “We need to be able to continue to do that in order to be successful moving forward.”
Against the Seahawks, the run blocking was porous. Running back Tevin Coleman was getting hit before he could take two steps on some plays. He somehow managed 43 yards on 20 carries.
But when the Falcons had to run the ball late to run the clock and preserve their lead, Ward, on second-and-8 from Seattle’s 22, broke over left tackle and powered his way to a 17-yard gain to set up what would become the game-winning field goal.
With Freeman in the concussion protocol, Ward was pressed into duty. He’s normally a maven on the special-team units.
“That role is critical because backs take such a pounding in this league,” Ryan said. “We rely so much of Tevin and Devonta. There are going to be times when Terron has to go in.”
Ward was ready when his number was called.
“He’s done an exceptional job for us really the entire time that he’s been here,” Ryan said. “He’s filled in at certain times and played at a high level. We can trust him in pass protection. We can trust him running between the tackles. He gets outside the tackles well.
“He takes care of the football, and he’s physical. It’s a nice a nice trio of backs to have, and you can trust them to execute and go out there and get the job done.”
Ward, who’s in his third season in the league, wasn’t drafted coming out of Oregon State.
“It felt good,” Ward said of his key run. “That game meant a lot, and it felt good to be in there making things happen.”
He’s the younger brother of Bucs’ safety T.J. Ward. They two have never played against one another.
“I have a cousin that’s the same age and another cousin his same age, so it used to be like the two older cousins and the two younger cousins, and we’d duke it out,” Ward said. “It would go back and forth, but it was always fun.”
Ward wasn’t supposed to make the team this season. The Falcons drafted Brian Hill in the fifth round out of Wyoming, but he couldn’t beat out Ward.
Ward, who has a strong work ethic, just kept plugging away.
“From my mom and dad and my school,” Ward said about where he gets his values. “I just think my upbringing, that tough environment instilled that in my body, mind and soul. I try to carry that every day.”
With everyone seemingly pitching in, the Falcons’ key stats are starting to look better. The Falcons wanted to improve on third downs and in the red zone.
The Falcons were 6-of-14 (64 percent) against Seattle and scored on two of three trips inside of the Seahawks’ 20-yard line.
For the season, the Falcons have converted on 52 of 117 third downs (44.4 percent), which ranks sixth in the league. Carolina ranks first in the league at 46.85 percent.
The Falcons have scored touchdowns on 58.8 percent on their trips (19 of 34) inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, which ranks 13th in the league. The team has scored 162 points overall on red-zone trips, which ranks eighth in the league.
“I feel like we’ve been close throughout the year, but haven’t been able to really put it all together,” Ryan said. “The last couple of weeks we have been better.
“It starts for me with third-down conversions. I think that was key last week against Seattle, we converted third downs at a high level, which kept us on the field and kept us moving the ball. It gave us some more opportunities to create some explosive plays.”
Coleman scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, and Mohamed Sanu made a one-handed catch on 4-yard touchdown.
“I also think we’ve done a good job in the red area,” Ryan said. “We’ve been down there a bunch, and we’ve been coming away with touchdowns. ... When we put seven up on the board that’s critical. So, we’ve done a good job in those two areas.”
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.