We need to be careful. The Falcons are 2-0, but they haven’t played a road game. They’re 2-0, having faced no quarterback with as many NFL starts as Desmond Ridder.
Then again, they’re 2-0. Know how many times since 2012 the Falcons had been 2-0? Twice, both times under Dan Quinn. In 2015, they got to 5-0 – and still missed the playoffs. In 2017, the post-Super Bowl season, they slid from 3-0 to 3-3. They still made the playoffs and upset the Rams out there; then they lost as a road favorite to Philly and Nick Foles. The date was Jan. 13, 2018. This franchise hasn’t graced the postseason since.
But here this team is, 2-0 having stayed unbeaten – still early, but still – by outscoring Green Bay 13-0 in the fourth quarter to win by a skinny point. Know when last the Falcons overcame a double-figure fourth-quarter deficit? Sept. 20, 2015. That was against the Giants of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham – anybody remember Odell Beckham? – in New Jersey.
(Devonta Freeman scored the winner. Leonard Hankerson caught the touchdown that made it close. Even I don’t remember Leonard Hankerson.)
It’s early, but Ridder is 4-2 as a starter. With the Falcons trailing by 12 points Sunday, he oversaw drives of 75, 44 and 66 yards. His team almost doubled the Packers in yards – 446 to 224 – and it struck a lovely balance: 211 yards rushing, 235 passing. Tyler Allgeier rushed for 75 yards against Carolina; Bijan Robinson had 124 against Green Bay.
This offense looks like we figured it would, which is to say balanced and capable of being ball-hoggish. Time of possession Sunday: Falcons 36:15, GB 23:45. Kyle Pitts has caught only four passes over two games, but that’s OK. The 2023 Falcons have scored 49 points; the mighty Chiefs have mustered 37.
In Week 1, the 32 teams averaged fewer than 200 yards passing. As Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal noted, the last time the league’s average-yards-passing was under 200 over a full season was in 1992. Tom Brady was a sophomore at Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif. Patrick Mahomes’ career yards-per-pass average is 8.1; through two games in 2023, it’s 6.6.
Defenses have begun to get a handle on runaway offenses. As fate would have it, the Falcons might – have we mentioned that it’s early? – have a defense. Opponents have managed 505 yards and 34 points, which used to be a typical Sunday yield. This time it’s a two-week total. The Falcons have scored 27 fourth-quarter points; the opposition has managed zero.
Two weeks do not a trend make, but it’s possible the NFL is changing to a more measured approach. It’s also possible the Falcons have become the sort of efficient-without-being-spectacular team that can flourish in such a season.
Their next two games – Detroit on the road, Jacksonville in London – could be their two toughest, and we say that one day after the Lions and Jags lost at home. Beyond September, this schedule looks softer than it did two weeks ago. The Vikings are 0-2. The Jets are without Aaron Rodgers. Unless these first two games were red herrings to beat all red herrings, there’s no reason this team can’t win 10-plus games.
So this is me trying to be cautious, but it’s also me saying, “This is how I expected the Falcons to look.” And – not that I’m smart or anything – I did pick them to win the NFC South. On a morning when Atlantans are asking, “Is this team for real?”, this is me saying …
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