The Falcons win. Says Raheem Morris: ‘The Dirty Birds are back’

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris discusses the 34-27 win over the Broncos.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

We’ve arrived at that part of the season when the Falcons make us ponder the eternal stumper, “What is truth?” The team that lost five of its first five games has won three of the past four, again prompting all manner of questions. To wit:

Are the past four games — three of them, anyway — indicative of anything more than a bad team running across even lesser opposition, or is this a signal of a playoff drive aborning? (Remember, the field has expanded by one team per conference.) Is Raheem Morris that adept, or was Dan Quinn that ham-handed? And this above all: What would the 2020 record be had Arthur Blank done as good sense demanded and fired Quinn last December?

Better than 3-6, surely, and maybe a lot better. Simply flip the back-to-back giveaways against Dallas and Chicago and they’re 5-4 headed to their bye week. We stipulate that the Falcons’ post-break schedule includes six games against teams at/above .500, so a rise to viable playoff contention remains unlikely if not unthinkable.

Just don’t say that around Morris. After Sunday’s 34-27 victory, their interim coach bordered spoke of what beating Denver — and improving their home record to 1-4 — “meant to this city.” Then Morris said: “The Dirty Birds are back.”

We won’t go that far. We will concede that they’re among the best 3-6 crews around. Certainly they’re light years ahead of Denver, which entered Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 3-4 and was so overmatched that at no point did this game seem losable, even by the acknowledged masters of the art form.

Denver’s first touchdown brought it within 14 points with 13:15 remaining. The Broncos then induced a punt. Theoretically, they had a chance. Realistically, nah. Grady Jarrett blew up the middle and forced a terrible throw from Drew Lock, whose rough day then got worse. Ricardo Allen intercepted the pass. Two snaps later, Todd Gurley scored to make it 34-13.

Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) finds a hole on a four-yard touchdown run during the second half Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons won 34-27. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons running back Todd Gurley (21) finds a hole on a four-yard touchdown run during the second half Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons won 34-27. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

The Falcons would hold on after — stop the presses! — fielding two onside kicks. The Broncos’ final play was, dare we say, Falconesque. On fourth down inside the final 30 seconds, a shotgun snap never got to Lock. It hit receiver Tim Patrick, who was in motion, on the thigh. Sometimes the other guy messes up even worse than you do.

We’ve seen such results in each of the past three seasons, when the difference between a lousy team and a gifted team with a lousy record is made evident. The Falcons didn’t punt until 2:27 remained in the third quarter. By then, Denver had punted five times. They scored on four of their first five possessions.

Asked why his team scored only once thereafter, Morris said: “Why are you guys so negative? That’s what I’ve got to ask. Don’t be so greedy.”

Alrighty then. Let’s accentuate more positives. The Falcons’ defense, which not long ago seemed beyond all hope, didn’t yield a touchdown until 13:15 remained. Denver’s first snap inside the Falcons’ 20 came with 4:10 to play. The final score barely represents the game itself. The Broncos finished with 405 total yards.

Minus the estimable Calvin Ridley, the offense still played pitch-and-catch to its heart’s content. Matt Ryan completed 25 of 35 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns. Julio Jones did his usual bit, but so hapless was the Denver secondary — which, to be fair, was missing its starting cornerbacks — made every Falcon wideout resemble the great Julio. Olamide Zaccheaus had his first 100-yard game. Brandon Powell scored his first NFL touchdown. Christian Blake caught three passes.

Falcons wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (17) catches the ball in the end zone for a touchdown during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Zacchaeus made the catch despite being fouled on the play. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Falcons wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus (17) catches the ball in the end zone for a touchdown during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Zacchaeus made the catch despite being fouled on the play. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Thus did the Falcons win again in what began as another lost season. Apologies if this sounds, ahem, negative, but the memory of last year, when a 6-2 second half led the high-profile owner to believe the men of Quinn had Turned The Corner, hangs heavy over this mini-surge. As we know too well, that cosmetic finish bought Quinn the chance to lose five more games before being relieved of his command.

Reasonably speaking, a team this talented was never going to go 0-16. That it’s 3-6 can only be deemed a success if you’re grading on a post-Quinn curve. (And lest we forget: The Falcons under Morris blew the Detroit game.) Said Morris: “When you go 0-5, (confidence is) going to be an issue. When you win (a few), that’s what you call a streak. Let’s see how long we can keep the streak going.”

Said Allen: “Winning at home, going into a bye week, finally starting to put it together as a team — I’m feeling good.”

Reality check: The Falcons' next game is against their ancient enemy in the Superdome. Trips to Tampa and Kansas City also remain. And if you’re asking, a la Morris, “Why so negative?” the answer is that we’ve seen these in-season upticks before. Let’s not go crazy just yet.

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