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Fighting Falcons Finish with Flurry, Keep Season Alive vs. Bears

The Atlanta Falcons' 27-24 victory over the Chicago Bears wasn't easy, but it was never going to be - and the fight and finish showed as they scratched their way to the win column keeps them right in the mix as December nears.

With 4:31 remaining in the first half of Sunday's game, the Atlanta Falcons had just allowed a touchdown to Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields.

It was the Bears' second consecutive scoring drive and gave the team 17 unanswered points. In that time, the Falcons offense punted twice, fumbled another and combined the two by fumbling on a punt return.

Better yet, Chicago was set to receive the ball to begin the second half, and with the way Atlanta's offense looked after a dominant first drive, the game - and season - was quickly reaching a make-or-break point.

"That game could've gone another way," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "But it says a lot about our guys."

Rather than letting everything slip away, the Falcons responded immediately, as star running back Cordarrelle Patterson took the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown, setting the NFL record for career kick return scores with nine.

It was a play that Falcons All-Pro cornerback A.J. Terrell said provided a spark to the sideline - and the effort to close the half only further cemented that.

After allowing a pair of third down conversions on the Bears' following drive, Atlanta's defense stood tall and forced a career-long field goal try from Chicago's Cairo Santos.

The kick clanked off the bottom base of the upright ... and 70 seconds later, Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo's 41-yard field goal slid right next to the upright but through nonetheless, drawing Atlanta even to end the half after a hectic final five minutes.

The furious finish erased the two fumbles and overall offensive ineptitude displayed for much of the first 30 minutes. With the score tied at 17 all, the biggest plays of the game were still there to be made.

And with the Falcons' backs against the wall, a game out of both the NFC South lead and final wildcard spot after losing two straight, they managed to make just enough to plays to come out with a season-saving win ... because they found a way to finish.

Still tied at 17 with five minutes to go in the third quarter, quarterback Marcus Mariota led a six-play, 61-yard touchdown drive capped off by a physical finish on a run from the veteran signal caller.

Punch, counter punch.

The Bears put together a drive that took over eight and a half minutes off the clock, converting four third downs along the way before a two-yard rushing touchdown from David Montgomery brought the game even.

"It was a heavyweight fight," Smith said. "You've got two teams that are physical, and thankfully we were able to grind them out."

The Falcons did precisely that; after getting the ball with just over eight minutes to play, Atlanta pieced together a ground-centric 12-play drive that took almost six and a half minutes, ending in a 53-yard field goal from Koo to take a 27-24 lead just after the two-minute warning.

But still, Atlanta's defense had to hold up its end of the bargain ... and it did. A pair of runs by Fields, who was clearly playing through pain, set up 3rd and 5. Under pressure as he'd been for much of the day, Fields attempted a jump pass - which sailed high, into the waiting arms of Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins.

Still with 1:10 on the clock and the Bears possessing two timeouts, the game wasn't over yet - the Week 8 home game vs. the Carolina Panthers, headlined by the DJ Moore Hail Mary, certainly assures this.

But the Falcons weren't going to be denied this time, as rookie running back Tyler Allgeier ripped off a 26-yard run to put the game on ice. It was a fitting way to end, as Atlanta's offense pieced together three consecutive effective drives to walk away with a hard-fought 27-24 victory.

While not technically a must-win game, the Falcons truly had to have Sunday's game. Entering with a 4-6 record and playing 3-7 Chicago, Atlanta could overcome being two games below .500, but stretching to three after losing to a team that had dropped three straight would've been close to a dagger.

"This is a big win for us," Smith said. "Keeps us in it."

"It," of course, is the playoff race, where the Falcons now sit just half a game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were idle. Despite entering the season with little outside expectations, Atlanta's managed to persevere through some rocky times, and perhaps nothing highlighted that more than Sunday.

Trailing by 10 in the second quarter with momentum squarely on the other sideline, things appeared bleak ... but the NFL's second-youngest team received a significant boost from two of its top veteran leaders, Patterson and Mariota.

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While certainly significant for this year's Falcons, being able to win a "have to have it" game is also important for the confidence and mindset of Atlanta's young players moving forward - and they're set to get many more opportunities ahead.

"Huge win," Mariota said. "It's nice to do it at home in front of our fans. When you're playing games like this and they're meaningful this time of year, the games will continue to get bigger and bigger. It's fun to be around these young guys to help them understand what's going on. We're excited about what's next."

One of those "young guys" is Allgeier, who was Atlanta's leading rusher with eight carries for 55 yards while adding one reception for nine yards. In late-game scenarios where the Falcons value ball security and toughness, it's been the fifth-round pick out of BYU who's gotten the nod, and he delivered Sunday, right when his team "needed it" the most.

"We needed it, we needed it," Allgeier stressed. "It's a good step forward toward what we want to do. (We were) in a hole with two losses in a row. Especially with the division up in the air, we needed this win if we wanted to have that still in our goal."

Allgeier's finish was matched by the Falcons defense, which made its third game-winning interception of the season, with the other two coming against the Seattle Seahawks and Cleveland Browns.

For years, the inability to put games away late has haunted Atlanta, and the problem has reappeared at times this year, including Week 1 vs. the New Orleans Saints and just two games ago vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.

But with the game firmly in the balance Sunday, the unit rose to the occasion, rewarding the work that's put in throughout the week and delivering through on the words stressed within the locker room.

"It's just the message," inside linebacker Mykal Walker said. "It's something that we preach now. It's going to be on us - we've got to end it. We got to go out there again, and we got the W."

It was a collective effort, with all three phases have highs and lows, but in the end, Atlanta defended its home turf - and the players made sure they emphasized how significant of a win it was.

"We lost two games back-to-back," Terrell began. "We needed this. We came, played together and got the job done."

On the surface, it's a win over the now-3-8 Bears, who were reeling going in and failed to capitalize on various opportunities throughout the game. But underneath, there's the same re-occurring qualities that powered this victory and several others: fight and finish.

Smith arrived in Atlanta trying to create a new culture, and between the players brought in and wins like this, is slowly but surely building in the right direction.

"We just don't quit," Walker said. "It's the same thing after every week. This team doesn't quit - it doesn't matter what the score is, we're going to fight to the very end. Defense came through, we were put in some tough situations early, fought our way in, offense came back, put us in a position to win, so we just had to go out there and end it."

No quit. Fight. End it.

Each are key aspects in culture building, and so is winning games - the Falcons accomplished all four Sunday. NFL contests are decided by many things, one of which is the ability to finish both halves.

By all accounts, the Falcons were phenomenal in that area Sunday.

The reward?

Atlanta lives to fight another day, with the playoffs still well within reach.


You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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