Sunday 21 January 2018 / 03:23 PM

Who are these Atlanta Falcons?

Two seasons ago, the Atlanta Falcons were one defensive stand away from heading to the Super Bowl.

We know, of course, that instead of dancing in the big dance they were given all off-season to lament blowing the largest lead in NFC Championship history (17 points).

Recharged and refreshed, the Falcons prepared to make it over that final hump in 2013 only to slip on a banana peel and tumble to an embarrassing 4-12 finish.

With a new season underway, and a healthy Julio Jones across the field from Roddy White, Atlanta is trying to prove that last year’s debacle was indeed a fluke and that they do truly belong amongst the NFL’s elite teams.

Last night’s ridiculous 56-14 thrashing of Tampa Bay may very well have been the Falcons’ way of telling the rest of the NFC South “We’re back!” (Quote should be read with your best Poltergeist voice.)

The game got out of hand early, and often, with both of the Bucs’ touchdowns coming at the very end.

I mean, talk about ‘garbage time’. When you’re down 56 to nuthin’ you’d better not be doing any end zone dances when you reach pay dirt.

On a night that saw Devin Hester break Prime Time’s career return touchdown record (20 TDs), Deion Sanders was lovin’ it. Deion simply couldn’t keep his thumbs to himself as he tweeted about a dozen times while watching his old team take a hammer to the Buccaneers.

After the game Hester got into the social media game as well:

All in all it was a fun night to be a Falcons fan.

The Dirty Birds scored touchdowns every which way imaginable – save for a fake field goal and a double-reverse flea flicker.

Matt Ryan threw for 286 yards with 3 TDs. Steven Jackson, Antone Smith and Devin Hester each rushed for a score. Kemal Ishmael ran an interception back to the end zone for a pick six and, of course, Hester added a second TD with his record-breaking return.

Lovie Smith’s new-look Tampa Bay Bucs are now 0-3 and look like a stinking pile of doggy doo.

So the question we ought to be asking now is: “So who are these Atlanta Falcons? The team that upset the Saints and crushed the Bucs or the team that struggled on the road in a 10-24 loss at Cincinnati?”

The cream of the crop

Guess who leads the NFL in points (34.3), total yards (455) and passing yards (333.7)?

It’s not Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. It’s Ryan and the Falcons.

The season is young, but ‘Matty Ice’ is well on his way to joining the 5,000-yard club.

While Carolina still leads the NFC South with an undefeated mark, Atlanta has made it clear that they’ve earned the right to be injected into the conversation.

But if the Falcons want to truly become 2014’s comeback story, they’ll need to do a better job playing away from the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome.

They’ve got back-to-back road games coming up @Minnesota and @NYGiants.

Why the Falcons are dangerous

Matt Ryan’s receiver selection in 5 WR sets is absolutely sick. Harry Douglass and Devin Hester would be starters on many teams in this league and Eric Weems is a quality option in the fifth slot.

Unlike teams with just one #1 guy that can be doubled up on, fielding Julio Jones and Roddy White on the same play makes it impossible for the opposing team’s secondary to cover the entire field.

The key, of course, is keeping both of these guys healthy. Roddy White missed last night’s affair with a sore hamstring and Julio Jones is nursing a bum ankle.

Then again, this is the NFL and injuries are a concern for every club, across the board.

In the run game the Falcons look OK, but not extraordinary. Steven Jackson is healthy this year, but he’s well past his prime and both Jacquizz Rogers and Devonta Freeman are young works-in-progress.

That being said, with such a frightening passing attack, none of these guys should be facing eight men in the box and it’s no small secret that the ability to run off play-action starts with having a passing threat worth fearing.

How far can they go?

Back to the playoffs for sure, but I’m not totally sold on this team being as good top to bottom as they were in 2012, and I’m not convinced that they’ll stop the Panthers. (Until New Orleans rattles off a couple wins, Carolina is now the presumptive favorite in the NFC South.)

Really, the jury will still be out until they can beat a top-quality defense. The Saints and Bucs are ranked #30 & #31 respectively in terms of average points given up per game. Only the Jaguars are worse.

The Bengals, on the other hand, are #3 in points allowed and they defeated the Falcons easily.

Fortunately for Atlanta they don’t face the nasty Carolina defense until Week 11, so they’ve got plenty of time to pile up some wins against lesser opponents.

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Michael Airhart

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