We’re now seeing the Falcons we expected to see all along

If you care about the Falcons, Sunday’s was a game that made you laugh — and maybe cry. They were without two of their biggest names. They were coming off a loss in which they didn’t manage a touchdown. They were home underdogs against an opponent fighting to make the playoffs. They won 43-6.

You laughed because this was among the Falcons’ finest performances of their post-Super Bowl seasons. You wept, or maybe you just shook your head, because … well, where has this been? In the any-given-Sunday NFL, why did this team squander so many Sundays that it’s operating under an interim coach and minus a general manager?

Two of the the highest-salaried Falcons were ruled inactive Sunday. Without Julio Jones and Todd Gurley, the Falcons blended a measured offensive plan with a defensive effort that rendered an above-average offense null and void. Twice this season, the Raiders’ Derek Carr has matched the incomparable Patrick Mahomes almost pass for pass. On this day, the same Carr resembled former Falcons backup Tony Graziani — known in franchise lore as “Deer-in-the-Headlights-Graziani” — in his utter ineptitude.

“If I were in another stadium and saw this score on the board,” announcer Kevin Harlan informed his CBS audience, just as Younghoe Koo was about to add the Falcons’ 40th point, “I’d be stunned.”

Lest we forget, these Falcons started 0-5. In the any-given-Sunday league, they managed to lose every given Sunday — until Arthur Blank had mercy on all concerned and fired Dan Quinn. They’re 4-2 since. Their first three victories under Raheem Morris came against teams that are below .500. The Raiders were 6-4. Now they’re 6-5, although this egregious defeat had to feel like three L’s rolled (or rollled) into one.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Over their past three games, the Raiders averaged 33 points. Against the league’s 29th-ranked defense, they were held to two field goals, one per half. On the season, the Raiders averaged 369.4 yards per game. They had 243 on Sunday — 122 in the first half, 121 in the second. They were overwhelmed — yes, overwhelmed — from start to finish. The Falcons induced five turnovers, four by Carr. He was sacked three times. He lost three fumbles and dealt a pick-6 to Deion Jones.

The only way the Falcons could win this game, or so we figured, was if their quarterback banished the memory of his Sunday in the Superdome and conjured a vintage Matt Ryan performance. Turned out Matty Ice needed only to be Matty the Game Manager. He passed for 185 yards, a season low. The Falcons managed but 304 yards, 77.9 below their average.

And yet: 43 to 6! See what can happen if you just do the basics — play defense, move the chains, make your field goals, fall on the ball when the other guy lets it slip? Forty-three points on a day when J. Jones and T. Gurley do nothing but watch, letting lesser lights like Brandon Powell and Christian Blake and Ito Smith do the lifting. See what can happen if you play smart, as opposed to the often out-of-control fast & furious ways of DQ?

Said Morris: “This is how games should end when you’ve got control of them.”

Yes indeed. Even the historically ham-handed Falcons had to strain to blow the Dallas and Chicago games, not to mention the one against Detroit, which happened under Morris. Flip two of those three losses and this team — this team of not inconsiderable talent, we stress — would be 6-5 and very much in playoff contention. We’re not saying these Falcons would have been in the class of the Steelers or Chiefs, but there was no way this team should have been in the conversation regarding Trevor Lawrence’s next home.

“We can be a great defense,” Deion Jones said. “We can be a great team.”

The Falcons stopped themselves from having a realistic chance to do anything of significance this season. They showed Sunday what can happen if they keep the pressure on an opponent and step aside as that opponent falls to pieces. They made a decent Raiders team look downright indecent. Even as the lead was mounting and we were starting to make jokes about how even the Falcons mightn’t be able to blow this game, they kept building on it. They built until Jon Gruden took pity on his addled quarterback and pulled Carr with 10 minutes remaining.

“Someone told me we’re 4-0 after we miss practices because of crazy circumstances,” Ryan said, meaning COVID-driven facility closures. In the final days of Quinn — sorry for belaboring this point, but the point does need making — this team seemed incapable of dealing with anything. Ergo, 0-5.

But under Morris, 4-2. This time it was Raiders who kept tripping themselves, turning first-and-goal from the 3 into second-and-goal from the 23, three times extending Falcons drives with roughing penalties – twice on Ryan, once on Koo after he finally missed a kick. Those three possessions culminated in 17 points. How much fun was it, just this once, to see to the other team doing all the silly stuff?

Yes, the Falcons would almost surely have to win out to have even a sniff at the playoffs, and that’s too much to ask. But it is heartening to see that we weren’t completely crazy in believing this team coulda/shoulda been a contender. A month ago, if someone had said a team would break 40 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Nov. 29, we’d never have guessed it would be the home side. But that just happened. Two or three more wins and it’ll be tough not to see what this team under Morris could do in 2021.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS