The Falcons now have a signature win — with an asterisk — under second-year coach Dan Quinn.
Behind the fine pass-catching of running back Tevin Coleman, who played at the high altitude with the sickle cell trait that caused some concern last week, the Falcons defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos 23-16 on Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium.
Coleman set up the first touchdown with a 48-yard reception and had a 31-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. The Falcons weren’t in the clear until tight end Levin Toilolo recovered a onside kick with 13 seconds to play.
The Falcons improved to 4-1, while the Broncos, who were playing with rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch making his first NFL start (the asterisk), dropped to 4-1.
The defense, playing without two starting linebackers, was solid and even mounted a pass rush with defensive end Vic Beasley leading the charge with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Here are the five things we learned from the victory:
1. Coleman is just fine. Coleman had four catches for career-high 132 yards receiving as the Falcons liked the mismatch because the Denver linebackers couldn't cover him.
Coleman had a 48-yard reception in the first quarter to help set up the Falcons’ first touchdown.
He caught a 31-yard touchdown pass to put the Falcons 20-3 in the third quarter.
“When the linebacker came up on me, that’s when I knew,” Coleman said. “I was like ‘oh yeah, I’m getting this ball.’ I knew I was getting the ball.”
He later added a 49-yard catch up the right sideline in fourth quarter.
2. Beasley makes an impact. Beasley surpassed his rookie total of four sacks against the Broncos.
He had one sack entering the game and now has 4.5 on the season.
“Today was a breakout game,” Beasley said. “It felt great. I was due for it. I was just continuously working hard at practice. I put my team first. Today, I reaped what I sowed.”
3. Fourth Down Dan. Quinn didn't hesitate when he wanted to go for it on fourth down.
On the Falcons’ opening possession, the offense stayed on the field and went for it on a fourth-and-1 from the 1. Devonta Freeman scored.
In the second quarter, on a fourth-and-1 from Denver’s 36 the Falcons used a timeout to make the decision. They went for it and Ryan ran a sneak to pick up the first down. The Falcons went on to get a 33-yard field goal drive on a 17-play, 77-yard drive to take a 13-3 lead.
“The quarterback sneak was a short one, but for us to be able to get that and keep going, was really important,” Ryan said. “That changed the game. When you are talking about plays that (add) points, those were really important. I thought those conversions were big.”
4. Ishmael starts at linebacker. The Falcons started strong safety Kemal Ishmael at weakside linebacker.
“He’s one of our very best tacklers,” Quinn said. “We love to play zone because we can put him in different spots.”
Ishmael impressed the coaches with his play at strong safety when Keanu Neal missed the first three games with a knee injury.
With De’Vondre Campbell, Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow and Deion Jones all out because of injuries, the Falcons were thin at linebacker.
Ishmael for Weatherspoon/Campbell and LaRoy Reynolds started at middle linebacker.
The Falcons were pressing all of the buttons to spark their pass rush.
They used offensive guard Ben Garland in the first half at defensive tackle and he got a sack. The play was nullified because of penalties on Robert Alford and Tyson Jackson.
5. Ryan enters the No Fly Zone. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu taken away by Denver's fine secondary, Ryan had to rely on his running backs in the passing game.
Ryan completed 15 of 28 passes for 267 yards and had a passer rating of 98.4.
Julio Jones, a week after catching 12 passes for 300 yards, was held to two catches for 29 yards. Sanu had three catches for 43 yards and had the ball taken away by Denver safety T.J. Ward.
“We felt our best matchup was getting our backs out of the backfield; we’ve got two really talented guys,” Ryan said.