Don't Look Past the Atlanta Falcons

Don't Look Past the Atlanta Falcons

While the Eagles stormed through St. Louis with relative ease, another post-season favorite from the NFC got their butts kicked on Sunday. The Atlanta Falcons failed spectacularly in a 30-12 road loss against the Chicago Bears, a game summed up quite succinctly in one awful play where quarterback Matt Ryan dropped back to pass, desperately ran around in a circle to escape the pressure, then inexplicably fumbled the ball before anybody even touched him.

It just so happens the Falcons are this Sunday's opponent, in a Sunday Night game where Michael Vick will make his triumphant return to Atlanta. Considering how far on either side of the spectrum both teams fell in Week 1, it might be tempting to write off the Falcons and crown the Eagles as a sure thing to reach 2-0. That would be a mistake.

I was a little perplexed as to how the Bears could so thoroughly embarrass a team that went 13-3 last season, then made significant improvements over the off-season. Funny little aside, it turns out there is a learning curve to watching eight televisions. Last year, I could comfortably tune in to four or more games at a time, but on Sunday I focused on the Birds, a little overwhelmed in my first trip back to Football Central.

In short, I didn't see much of the Falcons at all. However, Bill Barnwell summed up their effort pretty well in his Week 1 Review for Grantland:

The game turned on fumbles. There were five of them, and wouldn't you know — Chicago recovered all five. These weren't meaningless fumbles at the end of the game, either. Devin Hester fumbled on his own 25-yard line during the second play from scrimmage and recovered it. Hester then muffed a punt in the second quarter that would have given the Falcons the ball at midfield. After a Falcons drive at the end of the first quarter was ended in Bears territory by a Michael Turner fumble, the Bears broke the game open with a stripsack of Matt Ryan on Atlanta's second drive of the second half. Brian Urlacher picked up the fumble and took it to the house for a 30-6 lead. The only fumble that really came in garbage time was when Jay Cutler dropped one on his own 22-yard line with 5:31 left, and even that would have given the Falcons a faint glimmer of hope.

If the Falcons recover even one of the first three fumbles, the entire complexion of the game changes. The Falcons were forced to throw for most of the second half and faced an excellent Bears pass rush that teed off on Ryan. The Falcons star was sacked five times on Sunday after taking just 23 sacks during the entire 2010 season, and four of those sacks came during the second half, when there was no threat of a run game. Atlanta was also without center Todd McClure, who makes the line calls and adjusts the protections along with Ryan, and right guard Garrett Reynolds was making both his first NFL start and his first NFL appearance since December 2009.

So in other words, everything that could have gone wrong, did. Any club could have taken advantage in a similar situation. The fact that it was the opportunistic Bears didn't help matters.

Chances are Atlanta won't gift-wrap two in a row, and there are plenty of reasons to believe they can compete with the Birds.

1. The Georgia Dome
Over the past three seasons, including playoffs, the Falcons are 20-5 in their home building. They went 7-1 in the regular season in '08 and 2010. Even though there will be a large contingent of fans who are there to cheer on Vick, who is still considered a hero by many in that region, I don't foresee this swinging the home field advantage in the Eagles' favor.

2. Running Game
The Eagles were ripped for 169 yards by backs on Sunday, good for 4.8 yards per carry. In Chicago, Michael Turner made the most of his limited opportunities, rushing for 100 yards on 10 attempts. He's one of the toughest players to bring down in the league, and has big play potential once he gets to the second level, which the Rams were able to do with some frequency.

3. Passing Game
Unlike St. Louis, even if the Falcons fall behind, they have comeback ability. The Rams receivers looked completely inept, but Atlanta has one of the most complete groups in the NFL, a collection of reliable veterans who won't likely drop every pass thrown their way, a promising speedster who can stretch the field, and a Pro Bowl quarterback who can make all the throws. (We'll go more in-depth on this group in our upcoming Opposition Reports)

There's one more factor I'm not sure how you would classify or quantify, but Atlanta has something to prove on Sunday. The fact that the Bears beat them so handily does not make the Eagles' job any easier. They will be dealing with an angry, focused bunch who are determined to erase the memory of the Week 1 debacle, and know a win against Philadelphia will put them right back on the map.

Yep, this is the first big game of the young 2011 season, and you better believe it's gonna be a test.

Watch: Travis Konecny scores his 1st NHL goal, joyfully hugs Ivan Provorov

Watch: Travis Konecny scores his 1st NHL goal, joyfully hugs Ivan Provorov

The first of many for the kid.

Travis Konecny on Tuesday night scored goal No. 1 of what should be an exciting and promising career in orange and black.

Not only was it the 19-year-old's first NHL marker, but it ignited a third-period comeback from three goals down as the Flyers stunned the Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center with a 4-3 shootout win when they looked dead in the water at second intermission.

"Obviously, it makes it 3-1," Brayden Schenn said of Konecny's special moment. "It gets the crowd going a bit. It gets us going. Any time a guy scores a first goal, like I said, it gets a little more excitement through the building and through our team."

The goal wasn't of the flashy variety, but it epitomized the youngster's complete game. Teammates have routinely praised Konecny for his willingness to score ugly by finding the greasy areas — as we so love to call them — and doing work, despite his a not-so-intimidating frame.

So skillfully, Konecny deflected a power-play point drive by the other 19-year-old Ivan Provorov. Like a little kid — then again, he is a teenager — Konecny leapt into the boards in celebration, smiling ear to ear. In came Provorov for a big hug. Watching those two have fun is fun.

Flyers fans, frame this screenshot and hang it somewhere (and don't you dare cut out Matt Read). Meanwhile, for Konecny's goal and the celebration, watch the video above.

Instant Replay: Flyers 4, Sabres 3 (SO)

Instant Replay: Flyers 4, Sabres 3 (SO)


A very tired Flyers squad came back with a vengeance against the well-rested Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night to win, 4-3, in a shootout at the Wells Fargo Center.
Claude Giroux got the shootout winner.

It was an ugly affair for 40 minutes, starting with goalie Michal Neuvirth, who allowed three goals on 17 shots before being lifted in the second period for the second time in two weeks. The Flyers trailed 3-0 going into the third period.
Whatever energy the Flyers had coming back from Montreal on Monday was saved for the third period when they got three power-play goals from Travis Konecny, Brayden Schenn and Mark Streit to make it 3-3.
The Sabres had not played a game in five days while the Flyers are in the midst of six games in nine days and it showed.
The rookie Konecny scored his first NHL goal in the third period, tipping home Ivan Provorov’s point drive during a power play.
Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas returned after serving a six-game suspension to begin the season.
New lines
In an effort to get Schenn going — scoreless in three games coming in — coach Dave Hakstol dropped him to the third line with Nick Cousins and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Matt Read, the club’s top goal scorer, moved into Schenn’s spot on the top line with Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.
Boyd Gordon played his 700th NHL game.
Notable goals
Konecny’s first NHL marker.
Goalie report
There was probably not much Neuvirth could do on the Sabres' first goal. Zemgus Girgensons shot from a hard angle in the corner to the net and the puck jumped, hitting Tyler Ennis for a 1-0 lead in the second period. That said, he wasn’t very good on the next two goals. Neuvirth has been pulled twice in just three starts.
Power play
The Flyers' power play awakened. Konecny's goal, plus Schenn's and Streit's. That marked a season high, too.
Penalty kill
Chris VandeVelde overskated the puck during a shorthanded two-on-one for what would have been a goal in the first period. Gordon lost a draw to Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Moulson jumped on it, went to the net with purpose for a quick backhander to make it 2-0 3:56 into the second period. Moulson had two power-play goals. The Flyers' PK units were poor.
Simmonds avoided a hearing and possible suspension for his cross check from behind to Montreal’s Andrei Markov on Monday night that jolted the Canadiens defenseman into the boards face-first. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety reviewed the hit and saw no cause for action.
Dale Weise (suspended), Scott Laughton (knee), Michael Del Zotto (knee), Michael Raffl (abdominal pull) and Nick Schultz (healthy). 
Up next
The Flyers will be off on Wednesday. They are in the midst of six games in nine days and will host Arizona on Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center.