The Atlanta Falcons teased us in 2015 when they opened the year with five consecutive victories under new head coach Dan Quinn.
Then reality set in and the team that missed the playoffs the previous two seasons dropped eight of his final 11 games to finish 8-8. Atlanta opened the year with a 31-24 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and there were a few different kinds of birds circling the Georgia Dome.
But it’s been smooth flying ever since thanks to a more balanced attack and a hot hand by a veteran quarterback.
Now in his ninth season, Matt Ryan is off to an amazing start. He leads the league in completion percentage (72.1) and passing yards (1,473) and is tied with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with an NFL-high 11 touchdown passes. Ryan has thrown for 330-plus yards in three of his four games and at least two scores in each contest while being picked off only twice.
Now compare those numbers to his disappointing showing a year ago. Under a new head coach (Quinn) and a new offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan), he finished with 21 scores and 16 interceptions in 16 contests. This season, the Falcons have totaled a league-best 152 points. Keep in mind that this was a team that scored just 156 points in its final 10 games a year ago. Since that loss to the Bucs, Quinn and company have won three straight games and amassed 35-plus points in each outing.
No team in football has gained more total yards and passing yards per game while the running back combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have the Atlanta Falcons averaging 124.5 yards per game on the ground (sixth in the NFL). That balance and better offensive line play from a unit that now includes three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack have combined to make wideout Julio Jones and the passing attack even more dangerous.
Now this is a team not without flaws. Atlanta is giving up 31 points per game and already surrendered 13 touchdown passes in four games. The lack of a pass rush (4 sacks) remains a major concern.
Obviously, it’s early in the season and we are determined not to get fooled again. That 3-8 finish after a 5-0 start a year ago is tough to forget. But right now the Atlanta Falcons and their red-hot quarterback are on a roll and we will just have to wait and see just how long it can sustain success. But a convincing 48-33 win over the defending NFC champions Carolina Panthers will do wonders for any club.