What We Learned: Bears-Falcons
Against Chicago, the Falcons punted the first four times they had the ball, and it wasn't until the middle of the second quarter that Ryan and Co. made any plays of which to speak. In the meantime, Atlanta's defense held Chicago in check, allowing an early second-quarter touchdown, but not letting the Bears establish any real dominance.
The Falcons defense was stout in the red zone all night, turning away three potential Bears scoring chances. Free safety
All told, Atlanta picked off Cutler twice (both by DeCoud, his first two career interceptions), and forced two Bears fumbles (recovering one).
"We did a good job of sticking in the game,'' said Falcons defensive end
Ryan was a decent 19 of 33 for 185 yards, but he had those two interceptions to go with his two scoring passes, and finished with a below-average 68.4 passer rating. Turner went nowhere most of the night, gaining just 30 yards on 13 carries, with the highlight exception being his game-winning 5-yard touchdown run with 3:06 remaining. White had four catches for a team-best 56 yards, but 40 of those came on his lone big play, a second-quarter touchdown catch that tied the game 7-7.
"Our offense wasn't really clicking on all cylinders,'' DeCoud said. "So it was kind of up to us as a defense and on special teams to pick up the slack and make the plays they were leaving out there, and get the ball back in their hands, so they could get into a rhythm.''
"You've got to win the home games,'' Falcons veteran linebacker
Atlanta has one of the weirdest schedules I can ever recall in covering the NFL, and it's going to test the Falcons at times over and above what a team normally goes through. Atlanta started the season with consecutive home games, then drew just two more games at the Georgia Dome in the span of next nine weeks. Sunday night's game against the Bears was the first, and a Week 9 home date with the Redskins is the other.
Sandwiched around those two, Atlanta has six road games and a bye in that nine-week span. Games at Dallas (Week 7), at New Orleans (Week 8), at Carolina (Week 10) and the Giants (Week 11) still loom. Once they're through that, the Falcons get to play four times at home in the regular season's final six weeks, including a three-week homestand in Weeks 12-14.
With both Tampa Bay (0-6) and Carolina (2-3) not a factor in the division race, for the Falcons (4-1) it's going to come down to how they fare in their two-game series with NFC South-leading Saints (5-0). Atlanta plays a Monday-nighter at New Orleans in Week 8, then gets a home rematch in Week 14.
"You just look at them and keep trying to chase them,'' Peterson said. "That's pretty much it. You don't want to put too much into that, but you notice where they are and just keep chasing. The good thing about it is we get a chance to play them twice. Me personally, I think it's in our hands.''
Oh, and if you're wondering, the only visitor to beat Atlanta since Smith became head coach was Denver last season. The Broncos were then quarterbacked by Cutler, and suffice to say, the Falcons settled that score Sunday night.
Not so fast, No. 22. Against the Falcons, Forte had another low-impact game, and when he did make an impact, it was the wrong kind. The Bears ran Forte 15 times, but he gained just 23 yards (1.5 average), with a long gain of five. He also caught five passes for 37 yards, but it was his shaky play around the goal line that he'll remember about this one.
With the Falcons up 14-7 and the Bears facing a 2nd-and-goal from the Atlanta 1 late in the third quarter, Forte fumbled when he tried to dive over the Falcons line and into the end zone. He somehow recovered his own fumble when his back landed on the ball, securing it with his body more than his hands.
On the very next play, 3rd-and-goal from the 1, the Bears tried Forte again, and he fumbled once more, letting Atlanta defensive tackle
Forte was instant offense last season for the Bears, with 1,238 yards rushing and another 477 yards receiving on 63 catches. He scored a combined 12 touchdowns in 2008, 11 more than he has through five games this year.
Forte fumbled just once last season, but he already has three this year. His rushing total is just 294 yards on 86 carries (3.4), and his 18 catches have produced 129 yards (7.2), with a long gain of 13. It's hard to see Chicago (3-2) really challenging to overtake Minnesota (6-0) in the NFC North if Forte continues his sophomore slump.
The former Buffalo head coach (2004-2005) generated a sense of momentum for himself with his role in Atlanta's surprising success last season, and he has kept it going nicely this year. I was impressed Sunday night with how Mularkey quickly adapted to the reality that Atlanta's Turner-led running game wasn't working against the Bears in the early going, reacting with a deft switch to the no-huddle offense and a quick jump-start for the Falcons.
"It wasn't going the way we expected, but we're lucky in that we have an offense we can go to that kind of disrupts what they're trying to do on defense,'' Falcons tight end
It's pertinent to remember that Mularkey wasn't fired from the Bills job, he resigned rather than accept owner
Gonzalez caught four passes for 52 yards in Sunday's win -- all big yards. Gonzalez's first catch went for 10 yards and the 79th touchdown catch of his career, furthering his own record for NFL tight ends. It gave Atlanta its first lead of the game, at 14-7, with just four seconds left in the half.
On the play, Gonzalez put an out-and-up move on Bears linebacker
With the game tied at 14-14 in the fourth quarter, Ryan looked Gonzalez's way again. First, he hit No. 88 for 16 yards on a key third-and-6 from the Bears' 37, with Gonzalez losing rookie strong safety
At 33, and in his 13th NFL season, Gonzalez might rate as one of the best acquisitions of last offseason. In the five games he has played as a Falcon, he has 23 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns, posting four or more receptions for 50 or more yards in four of his five appearances.
"Getting it into Tony's hands a couple times was big,'' said Ryan, who targeted Gonzalez a team-high nine times against the Bears.
Get ready to hear a version of that same quote many times this season. Ryan can't seem to look Gonzalez's way enough.