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Matt Ryan, Undefeated Falcons Believe, But Can Be Even Better


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Matt Ryan, undefeated Falcons believe, but can be even better
Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Atlanta Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews paid close attention when quarterback Matt Ryan decided to deliver an impromptu sermon in the locker room during Sunday's halftime.

The Falcons were down 11 points on the road to the undermanned Dallas Cowboys, who were playing without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The defense was getting dominated by the Cowboys' vaunted offensive line. Regardless, Ryan's confidence never wavered.

"He's going around at halftime saying, 'We're going to win this game,' and everyone was fired up," Matthews said. "He said, 'Let's just keep doing what we're doing offensively, and we're going to win.' And we did. So it was exciting."

Ryan's speech, which helped lead to a 39-28 victory, symbolized the manner in which these 3-0 Falcons are supporting each other. It's a product of a coach, Dan Quinn, who is intent on making the struggles of the past two seasons a distant memory. And it's a reflection of a quarterback who is a respected leader as one of the team's captain.

Ryan, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, downplayed the significance of his locker room pep talk.

"It's just my message to those guys was, 'Hey listen, we're going to do this,'" Ryan said. "'We're going to go out there and play the way that we're capable of. We just have to take it one play at a time and just do your job. You don't have to do any more.' And I thought guys did a great job with that in the second half."

The Falcons are starting to develop a reputation as the comeback kids. They have overcome fourth-quarter deficits in each of their first three games. So imagine what could happen if they put it all together, particularly with what is, on paper, the league's weakest schedule.

Sunday was another step. The Falcons sought offensive balance going into the game and got it with 36 passes and 32 rushing attempts -- including Ryan's key, 18-yard scramble to preserve a scoring drive. Ryan targeted Julio Jones 20 times, and Jones responded with 12 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns, his third consecutive 100-yard game. But more importantly, second-year running back Devonta Freeman had a breakout performance with a career-high 141 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on 30 carries.

"He's just one of the most relentless competitors that's on our club," Quinn said of Freeman. "He just wants to battle for it. The toughness just comes through.

"For us to get that run game going today, more time together with the line and more time together with the whole group, it's a real style about how we want to play. And one that's going to be really important moving forward. It opens up so many of the key versions of play action, which is such a big important part of what we do. So for that to come alive today, I thought the offense just kept attacking."

Now the defense needs to learn how to do the same with consistency. Sure, there were some signature moments, such as linebacker Nate Stupar's key tackle for loss on the Cowboys' second drive of the second half that essentially forced a punt. Rookie Vic Beasley's sack of Brandon Weeden in the fourth quarter that kept the Cowboys from responding to the go-ahead touchdown run also was key. But the defense still missed too many tackles and gave up 131 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns before halftime.

Once the defense comes around and plays the fast and physical style of football Quinn desires without the mental mistakes, the rest of the league might be in trouble.

"We haven't reached our potential yet; that's what the mindset is," veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "We know what type of team we are. We're a finishing team. Obviously, we didn't finish the first half like we wanted to or start the first half like we wanted to. They got 131 yards in the first half and minus [four yards] in the second half, so we came out and played Falcon ball in the second half."

The last two times the Falcons started the season 3-0 (2004, 2011), they ended up going to the NFC Championship Game. Does that carry any significance?

"Not at all," Babineaux said. "We're taking it one week at a time. All we can do now is look back at the things that we did wrong in the first half, correct them, and get ready for Houston next Sunday."

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This team has yet to reach its potential but every week we see improvements as the units gel and every time they stumble they reach down for that fire that was lacking over the past few years to will themselves to victory.

by literally punching people in the mouth. I counted 2 bloody lips and a bloody nose yesterday. that ain't willing yourself to victory that's imposing your will to victory lol

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This team has yet to reach its potential but every week we see improvements as the units gel and every time they stumble they reach down for that fire that was lacking over the past few years to will themselves to victory.

One thing that I was saying after watching yesterday's game was how much better the OL is doing, and how much better they are getting at knowing their assignments in the ZBS.

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One thing that I was saying after watching yesterday's game was how much better the OL is doing, and how much better they are getting at knowing their assignments in the ZBS.

when Tamme got hurt we had to go away from so much max protecting and Toilolo actually went downfield on a few plays. I think they are there to where we can open up the playbook to include a few 4WR or 5WR sets.

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This team has yet to reach its potential but every week we see improvements as the units gel and every time they stumble they reach down for that fire that was lacking over the past few years to will themselves to victory.

Exactly. I cant wait to see a complete game too. It could be an ugly one for some unfortunate team out there.

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by literally punching people in the mouth. I counted 2 bloody lips and a bloody nose yesterday. that ain't willing yourself to victory that's imposing your will to victory lol

From a Rick Gosselin article:

"ARLINGTON -- Barry Church sat at his locker with a bandage under his nose the length of his upper lip, covering a six-stitch gash.

Sean Lee stood at his locker with a cut of his own on a very thick lower lip that also required stitches.

Yes, the Cowboys got smacked in the face Sunday.

That's what happens when the Dallas defense gets overexposed -- the Atlanta Falcons did the overexposing on this day, slapping the Cowboys around for five touchdowns and 438 yards in a 39-28 triumph."

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Exactly. I cant wait to see a complete game too. It could be an ugly one for some unfortunate team out there.

Yep, Atlanta has not had a complete game where the Offense and Defense have played well each quarter. In every game thus far, there has been one to two quarters each game where BOTH the Offense and Defense have played poorly.

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Yep, Atlanta has not had a complete game where the Offense and Defense have played well each quarter. In every game thus far, there has been one to two quarters each game where BOTH the Offense and Defense have played poorly.

Imagine the first half of the Eagles game paired with the second half of the Cowboys game...all they have to do is put it all together.

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