The post-Dan Quinn era began with a bang Sunday with the Atlanta Falcons defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 40-23. The Falcons dominated the first half, but that's happened before this season. This time, Atlanta played well in the third and fourth quarters as well, and even increased their lead in the final 15 minutes.
With the win, the Falcons snapped a four-game losing streak against the Vikings and won in Minnesota for the first time since 2008.
Here's what we observed from the Week 6 victory:
1. Julio Jones Makes Huge Impact in Return
With a healthy Jones back on the field, Matt Ryan suddenly didn't look washed up and the rest of the offense appeared to be a well-oiled machine. Jones posted a great stat line with eight catches, 137 receiving yards and two touchdowns, but his impact went far beyond those numbers.
He hauled in a 20-yard touchdown on third-and-11 during Atlanta's first possession. The big play enabled the Falcons to jump out to a 7-0 lead and ended Ryan's touchdown-less streak at 11 quarters.
Jones caught another third-down pass late in the second quarter, keeping a drive going in the red zone. The Falcons went back into the end zone two plays later.
The play of the game, though, came on fourth-and-3 at the Vikings 40-yard line late in the third quarter. Minnesota had just scored to cut the lead to 16. Going for it on fourth down, Ryan scrambled to his left and found an open Jones up the sideline. The All-Pro receiver easily ran to the end zone to give the Falcons back a three-possession lead.
If the Falcons failed to convert that fourth down, who knows if the Vikings would have used that opportunity to mount a comeback.
2. Falcons Dominate Third Down & Time of Possession
Jones was the player of the game, but with his return, every other Atlanta playmaker returned to his usual role. As a result, the entire offense looked comfortable.
Ryan completed 30 of 40 attempts for 371 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who briefly left with an injury, caught a touchdown, and Hayden Hurst posted 57 receiving yards with a score. Russell Gage Jr. was second on the team with 65 receiving yards.
This explosion of offense could be explained by the Vikings' poor secondary play this season, but with Jones back, Ridley, Gage and Hurst didn't have to deal with double teams or the opponent's best coverage.
The Falcons weren't efficient on the ground, but Dirk Koetter stuck with it. Atlanta rushed for 99 yards on 37 attempts while averaging 8.6 yards per pass.
A week after the Vikings held the Seattle Seahawks to 0-for-7 on third down and controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes, the Falcons converted 9 of 17 third-down attempts and possessed the ball for 40:07.
3. Atlanta Run Defense Completely Stuffs Vikings Ground Attack
Despite missing defensive linemen Takk McKinley and John Cominsky, the Falcons played very well up front. Sure, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook sat out with a groin injury, but many expected backup Alexander Mattison to step in and play well.
But Mattison only rushed for 26 yards while the Vikings averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. The Falcons also recorded two sacks, as they pushed around the Minnesota offensive line all afternoon.
Early in the second quarter, the Vikings faced a first-and-goal from the Falcons 2-yard line. Minnesota elected to call four straight runs and gained a net of zero yards, as the Falcons made a terrific goal-line stand. That effort preserved a 10-0 Atlanta lead at the time.
4. Falcons Secondary Improving
While the pressure on Kirk Cousins was solid throughout the game, fans reviewing the game's recording (it's technically not film anymore!) are going to see the Falcons defensive backs plastered to Vikings pass catchers for almost the entire game. The improvements in coverage contributed to the Falcons intercepting three passes, which led to 17 points.
Remember Week 1 last year when the Falcons turned it over three times in the first half, leading to the Vikings blowing out Atlanta early? The teams pretty much switched roles in Sunday's contest.
The first Cousins' interception was a very poor throw, but it was still good zone coverage from linebacker Deion Jones. Rookie A.J. Terrell jumped a route for his first career pick on the second interception, and a tipped pass from the rush led to the third Cousins' mistake.
Cousins finished with 343 passing yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, but those numbers are misleading. He threw two of those scores in the fourth quarter, including one for 49 yards, when the game was already decided.
5. Smiles All Over the Sideline After Win
It shouldn't be surprising that winning their first game of 2020 made the Falcons players happy, but the smiles seemed to be more than that Sunday.
It appeared as though there was a sigh of relief midway through the fourth quarter when the team realized it was going to win. At least for a week, they wouldn't have to hear about blown fourth-quarter leads, and the zero was going to disappear in the win column.
It's too early to say the Falcons have turned the corner without Quinn, but maybe without him on the sideline, the pressure of needing to win to save his job is gone. Whether it was that or something else, the team seemed to play a littler looser and made the big plays when needed. Until Sunday, that had eluded them all season.
We'll see if this is something the team can build upon under the new coaching regime.