For the first time in a while, the NFC South is the Atlanta Falcons’ division to lose.
Following a 43-28 road victory Thursday over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – a game in which the Falcons led 40-14 early in the fourth quarter – Atlanta has built a comfortable 2 1/2 game lead over the second-place New Orleans Saints at the season’s halfway point. At 6-3, the Falcons are the only team in the NFC South with a winning record.
Atlanta has built its lead with offense. In three of the Falcons’ nine games, they’ve scored at least 43 points. If you add up every other game played in the NFL so far this season, that same point total has only been reached three times by the other 31 teams combined.
(Also read: Hawks make big announcement regarding Philips Arena)
But we saw something different out of the Falcons on Thursday night – we saw defense. After quickly falling behind 7-0 in the first drive of the game, the Falcons’ defense would hold the Bucs to just seven points on their next seven drives. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s offense was posting score after score, running away with the victory.
On those seven drives, the Bucs averaged just under 17 yards a drive, proving that the Falcons weren’t doing their usual “bend but don’t break” dance with danger – they weren’t bending at all. And when your offense is putting up 34 points per game, having a defense that can get off the field quickly makes you downright scary.
Even better is how this defense has improved. They’re doing it through their youngest players, with guys like Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley Jr., Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, all of whom are rookies or sophomores. Jarrett remarked during a postgame interview that this was the first time he or Beasley – both former Clemson Tigers – had ever beaten Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston at any level, going 0-5 in their first five tries.
See, they’re figuring it out.
The Falcons have scored 305 points so far this season. When Week 9 ends, there’s a chance no other NFL team will even have 250. If the defense can continue on its current upward trend, this is going to be a frightening team to deal with in the season’s second half.Follow @Sean_Breslin