Matty Ice. The nickname that the Falcons quarterback has carried since his arrival in the NFL was cemented this afternoon in Atlanta as he led the Falcons to a come from behind victory against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers 30-28.
Carolina had the lead and the ball late when the Falcons defense forced a punt. The Panthers special teams did their jobs to help seal the win, by downing the punt at Atlanta's one-yard line with 0:59 seconds left. The Falcons had no timeouts remaining.
Sweat dripped as the offensive lineman took their marks, their heels against the chalk of their own goal line. Ryan took the snap and dropped to the backline of the endzone, while Roddy White streaked down the sideline to Ryan's left. Ryan stepped up into the pocket, and from seven yards deep in his own endzone the fifth-year quarterback let loose an absolute bomb in White's direction.
The veteran receiver drew double coverage as he ran his go route, and as Ryan released the ball, the defenders closed in on White. The six-foot receiver out jumped both defenders to come down with the ball on the Carolina 40 yard line, for a gain of 59 yards. Four plays later, Matt Bryant would kick the game winner with five seconds remaining.
Ryan, who passed for 369 yards and three scores, has led the Falcons to their best start (4-0) since 2004, when the team fell in the NFC Championship game. Atlanta's offensive line struggled against the Panther defense, as Ryan was sacked a career high seven times.
Cam Newton rebounded nicely from his performance against the Giants, as the young quarterback threw for 215 yards, while adding 86 yards on the ground. Newton's three scores on the day (two passing, one rushing) kept Carolina in the game late, but the defense was again unable to get a crucial stop when needed.
Newton managed to not turn the ball over, despite fumbling twice. Turnovers have been a focus for Newton and the Panthers, as Carolina's record in games where Newton turns the ball over is a horrid 1-12.
Newton's favorite target was tight end Greg Olsen. The former Chicago Bear hauled in six passes for 89 yards and a score. The Panther's two headed monster in the backfield, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, again failed to impress, with Williams totalling 49 yards on eleven carries, and Stewart 40 on ten attempts. Williams did have a rushing touchdown, his first of the year.
Atlanta running back Michael Turner led all rushers with 103 yards, and added three catches for 68 yards, including a rumbling 60 yard touchdown on a screen in the first half.
The Falcons win runs their record to a perfect 4-0, and gives them a three game lead in their division, the largest in the NFL, heading into October. Carolina hosts Seattle (2-2) next week, while the Falcons host the Redskins, who face their third NFC south opponent in the first weeks.
Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22
Robert Griffin III led the visiting Redskins to his first ever fourth-quarter-comeback, as the Redskins won on a last second field goal by Billy Cundiff. The Buccaneer pass defense was porous again, allowing Griffin to throw for 323 yards. He added 41 on the ground, including a five yard score in the second quarter. The win snapped a two game losing streak for Washington, and was the third straight loss for the reeling Buccaneers, who have the leagues worst pass defense.
It did not help matters that quarterback Josh Freeman's play was pedestrian, completing 24 of 39 for 299 yards, with one touchdown and an interception. Despite posting a rating of 83.2 on Sunday, Freeman's pass rating on the year is an atrocious 71.4. The fourth year signal caller has completed just 51% of his passes (41 of 80) on the year, and has shown clear signs of regression under first year coach Greg Schiano.
Rookie running back Doug Martin made the most of his limited carries, as he ran eight times for 33 yards. The Tampa offense ran the ball 19 times against Washington, compared to 40 pass plays. The Bucs were playing from behind through a large part of the game, but their offense must find some balance in both play calling and production before they can begin to truly move forward in the NFL.
While all three of the Bucs losses have come at the hands of NFC East teams (they have yet to play the Eagles), only one defense that they Freeman has faced has even been ranked in the top half of the league. Dallas has the number two pass defense while Carolina, New York, and Washington rank 18th, 23rd, and 31st respectively.
The fact that Freeman was unable to break 300 yards against the leagues second worst pass defense, speaks volumes. Coming into the bye next week, Freeman is going to have a lot to prove if he wants to hold onto his starting job. Currently free agent quarterbacks with starting experience are Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, David Garrard and Seneca Wallace.
Dan Orlovsky is the only other quarterback on the Bucs roster, and in eight games last year for the Colts, he completed 63% of his passes for 1201 yards, six touchdown and four interceptions. While those numbers may not jump off the page, they should be enough to warrant Schiano and staff to at least give Orlovsky a few first team reps in practice over their break. Where it goes from their is up to Josh Freeman.
Saints 27, Packers 28
The Saints are thiiiiis close to being eliminated from the playoffs by the end of September. While this is something that is not entirely new to Saints fans, 2012 has been by far their worst season since acquiring Drew Brees and Coach of the Year Sean Payton following the '05 campaign.
Sunday's game was especially tough for New Orleans, as they had a six point lead in the fourth quarter at 27-21. The Saints failed to hold on to the ball, going three and out on a critical possession in the fourth quarter, with three straight incompletions. The possession lasted all of :21 seconds. Following the Saints' three and out, the Packers drove down the field for what would be the winning score.
The Saints had a chance to take the lead late, but a holding penalty nullified a Garret Hartley field goal, and when the Saints attempted a 48 yarder after the penalty was assessed, Hartley's kick sailed wide left.
The last team to qualify for the postseason following an 0-4 start was the 1992 San Diego Chargers. That 1992 squad is in fact the ONLY team to ever make the playoffs following an 0-4 start. Does that mean that New Orleans is done? Not necessarily. The Saints do have the players and talent on the offensive side of the ball, and despite their 0-4 start, New Orleans has lost its games by differences of 8 8, 3, and 1 point respectively. Simply getting one additional defensive stop in those games would have given the Saints a chance to win all of them.
New Orleans offense has been sound, if unbalanced this season, with Drew BRees leading the league's third best passing attack. The rushing game needs work and is currently ranked 26th. With talented backs like Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and former first round pick Mark Ingram on the Saints roster, New Orleans needs to focus more on their ground game. An increased emphasis on the rush would limit opposing offenses time on the field as well as open up the vertical passing game that the Saints have so sorely missed.
Earlier this season I discussed how the lack of a vertical passing attack has hurt the Saints, and on Sunday, Brees and company again set aside the vertical attack, attempting only six passes beyond 15 yards. On those six attempts though, Brees was 5-6 for 169 and two touchdowns. Another deep incompletion was nullified by penalty.
Under interim-interim-head-coach Aaron Kromer, The Saints have become a predictable team offensively, with Brees rarely looking to stretch the field, relying instead on short dump off and crossing routes. This has allowed defenses to load up in the box and limit yards after the catch for the Saints.
New Orleans has one game left before their bye, and the return of Joe Vitt to their sidelines, who the Saints hope can stabilize the free fall that the 2012 NFL season has become in New Orleans. The Saints host the Chargers in week five.
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