1) Not Going Out Without a Fight: After falling behind in the first quarter 14-0, Sunday’s game looked like one of a series of games the Falcons have played this season on their way to 2-9. But Sunday wasn’t a different game day just because it was in Toronto, it was different because the Falcons dug out of that hole and repeatedly found ways to win against the Bills. It took overtime, but the Falcons used a turnover on defense to put Matt Bryant in position to hit a 36-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 34-31 victory.
With no playoffs to fight for, the Falcons put their pride on the line and didn’t allow Buffalo’s early momentum to give them a runaway win. After the Bills’ early lead, the Falcons began playing their best football of the season. On four of the following five possessions following their opening drive, the Falcons scored three touchdowns. The Falcons took the lead in the third quarter with an 11-yard catch from Tony Gonzalez. The score came after the Falcons defense held the Bills to a three-and-out series to open the second half. The resiliency Atlanta displayed wasn’t just in coming back from a two-score deficit. Before the Gonzalez score, Harry Douglas had what initially looked to be a 14-yard touchdown, but was overturned when Douglas was ruled down at the 1-yard line. A sack and a penalty put the Falcons at third-and-goal from the 11-yard line, but they managed to put it in the end zone.
An exhilarating back-and-forth game continued all the way to the end of the game. A 36-yard TD run by Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller put the home team back on top, but Ryan and the offense answered once again, putting together 11 plays covering 55 yards and a touchdown. But like everything in Sunday’s game, it didn’t come easy. The Falcons had to overcome a 15-yard penalty that set up a third-and-goal from the Buffalo 16 and with the aid of a Buffalo penalty, found themselves at the Buffalo 1-yard line with a fresh set of downs. Steven Jackson punched it in to give the Falcons a tied game. The Bills began putting what had the makings of a game-winning drive together, but a Robert McClain forced fumble and William Moore recovery ended regulation. Moore was on the end of another game-changing play later in overtime when he forced a fumble that Robert Alford recovered.
2) More Time for ‘Tone: In just a few weeks, Antone Smith has gone from an anonymous special teams ace to one of the most talked about offensive weapons for the Falcons. After Smith, a running back, ran for a 50-yard touchdown in the middle of November, head coach Mike Smith said more touches for Smith were warranted. Smith’s done an impressive job with the few touches he’s gotten since and continued the good work Sunday against the Bills. After taking a handoff on the opening kickoff, Smith raced for 50 yards. Later in the first half, Smith ran for a 38-yard touchdown, his second rushing score on the season. In five rushes this year, Smith has 145 yards, an average of 29 yards per carry. Later in the game, Smith had a catch for six yards. That catch gave Smith two on the season for 10 yards, bringing Smith’s touch total for 2012 to eight. He’s gained 205 yards on those touches and is averaging 25.6 yards per touch. Smith appears to be a big play waiting to happen and as the Falcons find more opportunities to get him on the field, he may continue to produce similar results. He found himself on the field in a key third-down situation Sunday and on the receiving end of a Ryan pass that covered around 40 yards into the end zone. Smith wasn’t able to hold on to what would have been the game-tying touchdown.
3) Trouble Against the Rush: While they were opening up lanes in the running game, the offensive line at times in the first half impeded Atlanta’s ability to keep drives moving. The line gave up three sacks in the first quarter, but the Falcons were able to overcome it, utilizing Ryan’s feet to free up time in some cases and run for gains in others (17 yards rushing). A sack early in the fourth quarter was particularly damaging. Facing a third-and-5 with the score tied, Matt Ryan was sacked for a loss of 7 yards to end the drive. At tackle, Lamar Holmes, Jeremy Trueblood and Ryan Schraeder all spent time on the field. Ryan was still able to have a productive day, throwing 28 passes for 311 yards, but the pressure from one of the best pass-rushing defenses in the league made things difficult for him all day long. The Bills had six sacks on the day along with nine quarterback hits.
4) Run Game Rolling: In addition to Smith’s touchdown run, the Falcons found a rushing TD in the first half from Steven Jackson, a 27-yard run in the first quarter to get the Falcons on the board after falling down 14-0. Some stalled drives didn’t allow the Falcons to keep drives alive with the run game in the first half, but the ground game still managed to gain 84 of the offense’s 189 yards in the first half. It kept rolling in the second half and as they rolled, so did the Falcons offense. Jackson’s second TD was the game-tier and he led the way with 23 carries for 84 yards. The Falcons gained 151 yards on 30 carries, an average of 5 yards per rush.
5) Big Game for White: Injuries have made Roddy White’s season a shell of what it was imagined when the season began, but White has worked to get healthy and return to being a viable part of the Falcons offense. White’s historically been very good in December and he showed that again on Sunday with season highs in catches and yards. The wide receiver had 10 catches for 143 yards, highlighted by a 29-yard catch in the third quarter to get the Falcons around the red zone for the Gonzalez touchdown. On the game-tying drive, he had two catches for 32 yards, including a 19-yard reception. The 100-yard game was the 36th of White’s career.