1) Team Effort: Every few games this season there has been a pivotal play in a losing effort for the Falcons that seems to define the entire season. At the end of the Falcons’ 34-24 loss to the 49ers Monday night, we saw another one. A back-and-forth fourth quarter had the Falcons in position to at least tie the game with less than two minutes remaining, but an interception from the arm of Matt Ryan, who played an excellent game, sealed the win. Ryan’s pass went to Harry Douglas and the ball was tipped into the air and caught by 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Once Bowman caught the tipped pass, he ran 89 yards the other way to give the 49ers a game-winning touchdown.
The Falcons defense allowed the 49ers to score 17 unanswered points to open the second half, but the work they put in during the first half kept the game close. In the first half, the Falcons managed to disrupt the 49ers offense consistently, sacking quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice and limiting him to just 61 yards passing. Central to their effort was what they accomplished on third down, holding the 49ers to just one conversion in five chances.
Losses hurt, but the Falcons put forth an effort worthy of prime time. Led by Ryan, the Falcons offense gave the 49ers defense a fight they weren’t prepared for and a defense leaning on six rookies at times kept them in the game. Atlanta got a lot of help from their special teams unit as well. Punt returner Robert McClain had a 22-yard return that put the Falcons in great field position for a Matt Bryant field goal later in the drive. In the fourth quarter, Jacquizz Rodgers returned a kickoff 30 yards to begin a drive that ended with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 48.8 yards per punt and landed two inside the 20-yard line. Jason Snelling recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter to put the Falcons in position to go ahead.
2) Ryan Holds Offense Together: Matt Ryan hasn’t had a career year in 2013, but he’s rarely been the reason for many losses this season. Against the 49ers he reminded everyone that it’s tough to keep a Matt Ryan offense down. Entering Monday night’s game, the 49ers defense was holding opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 73.7, well below Ryan’s 93.1. Despite a lull early in the second half, Ryan kept the Falcons offense moving and within striking defense. With just over two minutes remaining, Ryan connected with Tony Gonzalez for a 2-yard score, Ryan’s second touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Ryan’s rating takes a knock because of his two interceptions, but neither involved poor decisions by the franchise QB. The first came on the tipped pass to Harry Douglas and the second was the final play of the game, a Hail Mary pass into the end zone. Ryan’s protection from the offensive line was solid, but the talented 49ers pass rush still got into the backfield and Ryan scrambled a number of times to keep plays alive. San Francisco’s defense was fifth in the league in opponent’s completion percentage, limiting quarterbacks to 57.38. Ryan ended the game with a 77 percent completion percentage. His 39-yard touchdown to Roddy White was the 150th of his career.
3) Jackson Continues to Score: Steven Jackson has fought for every yard he’s gained in his first season in Atlanta and Monday night was no different. He continued to grind out yards and he did just enough to keep the San Francisco defense honest and allow the Falcons passing attack to operate. Jackson’s second-quarter touchdown gave the Falcons a 7-3 lead and it was career touchdown number 62 for Jackson, putting the back 42nd on the NFL’s all-time rushing scoring list, moving past Herschel Walker and O.J. Simpson.
Jackson didn’t break open a big play in the second half, but he continued to run and take hits. A physical 49ers defense gave Jackson all he could handle and the running back continued to help the Falcons stay alive. In addition to his touchdown, Jackson gained 53 yards on 16 carries.
4) Big Plays Allowed: Big plays continued to haunt a Falcons defense that otherwise played pretty well against San Francisco on Monday night. Outside of a 22-yard pass play in the first quarter, the Falcons didn’t allow a play for over 20 yards in the first half, but the 49ers came out roaring in the second half and rattled off big hit after big hit. Four big plays in the second half accounted for 136 of San Francisco’s 379 passing yards, including 47-yard and 45-yard gains.
5) The Great One: The stat line of Tony Gonzalez is a little smaller than his teammate Roddy White’s 12-catch, 141-yard effort, but they both found the end zone against the 49ers and they were both of equal importance to being in position to come back. Playing in his 17th and final Monday Night Football Game, Gonzalez had eight catches for 63 yards and showed every one once again that the future Hall of Famer is leaving football at the top of his game.