After a historic collapse in the Super Bowl and a winless preseason, the Atlanta Falcons were rather desperate for a victory.
With that out of the way, there are plenty of concerns heading into Week 2.
The Falcons hardly looked like a team capable of making another run to the title game as they slogged past the lowly Chicago Bears, requiring a goal-line stand in the final seconds to preserve a 23-17 victory.
The run game was shaky. There were some costly penalties and a plethora of missed tackles.
Given what happened in the last game that counted — Atlanta squandered a 28-3 lead to New England, losing 34-28 in the Super Bowl’s first overtime game — at least the Falcons could relish making some big plays when it really mattered.
“We were challenged at the end of the game right off bat,” coach Dan Quinn said Monday. “We were ready for those lessons to come through, but you don’t have the answers until you’re in it again. It was nice to have the guys battle for it at the end.”
Then again, it certainly helped to be going against the Bears (a team that has lost 35 of its last 49 games) and Mike Glennon (who is now 5-14 as a starting quarterback).
The Patriots and Tom Brady, they aren’t.
Quinn knows his team has a lot of work on before it faces the Green Bay Packers in the home opener Sunday night, a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game and potentially the first open-air NFL game in Atlanta since 1991. Officials announced late Sunday they have finally addressed issues with the complex roof at $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and it will be open for the prime-time game if the weather, as expected, is warm and clear.
It wasn’t very good on Monday, that’s for sure.
With the remnants of Hurricane Irma pummeling the Atlanta area with high winds and heavy rains, Quinn changed up the schedule so everyone could get home early. Many schools and businesses were closed because of the storm.
After watching the film, Quinn acknowledged the first game was an uneven performance.
On the plus side, league MVP Matt Ryan completed 21 of 30 for 321 yards and pulled off the biggest play of the game with the Falcons clinging to a 13-10 lead and backed up deep in their own territory early in the fourth quarter. Ryan scrambled away from pressure, stumbled but managed to regain his balance, and spotted tight end Austin Hooper all alone in the secondary just before taking a bit hit. Hooper hauled in the pass, delivered a brutal stiff arm on Bears safety Quintin Demps and kept on going for an 88-yard touchdown.
“I felt I lived a lifetime in my head when the ball was in the air,” Hooper quipped. “I think I blacked out for a part of it.”
In the closing seconds, the Falcons shook off a bit of the hangover from their Super Bowl debacle.
Chicago had a chance to pull off the upset when it drove to first-and-goal at the Atlanta 5 with 21 seconds remaining. But Glennon missed on a couple of throws, Robert Alford broke up another one, and Brooks Reed finished the Bears by sacking Glennon on fourth down.
“To get the first win and start the season right, it’s a great feeling going into next week,” safety Ricardo Allen said.
The Falcons will be facing a much tougher opponent in Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who opened with a 17-9 victory over fellow NFC powerhouse Seattle.
Quinn wants much more production out of the running game, which managed only 64 yards on 23 carries against the Bears, an anemic 2.8-yard average. Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman was held to 37 yards, while Tevin Coleman managed just 16.
The only new starter on Atlanta’s offensive line had plenty of rough moments, as well. Right guard Wes Schweitzer was dominated by Akiem Hicks, giving up at least one sack and another tackle for a loss. The Bears officially hit Ryan five times and hurried him on plenty of other plays.
“Schweitzer definitely had some things that went well, but some things that didn’t,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to make those corrections.”
The coach was also troubled by all the missed tackles. He counted up 11 on the film, including two on one play that allowed rookie Tarik Coleman to break off a 46-yard run.
“That’s going to be at the top of the list this week,” Quinn said.
At least he doesn’t worry about getting that first win.