During Sunday afternoon’s Bears-Falcons game, Matt Ryan showed Atlanta fans why he was such a great pick for the franchise in the 2008 NFL Draft. Kicker Jason Elam also showed how valuable his acquisition during the offseason was.
Ryan went 22-of-30, for 301 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions in the Falcons thrilling, 22-20 win over the Chicago Bears. However, the bigger story was that of kicker Jason Elam, who converted on 5-of-6 field goals, including a 48-yarder as time expired which gave Atlanta their fourth win in six games this season.
Both teams had to rely on their kickers as each side was held out of the end zone for the entire 1st half. Elam kicked a total of three field goals for Atlanta while the Falcons defense held Chicago to just three points in the 1st half (a 36-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with 4:02 remaining in the 2nd quarter).
The score was 9-3, in favor of the Falcons, heading into halftime.
The Bears scored the first touchdown of the game with 2:24 remaining in the 3rd quarter on a 3-yard run by Matt Forte, making the score 12-10 in favor of Atlanta. The Falcons ensuing drive, which carried over into the 4th quarter, resulted in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White from Matt Ryan, making the score 19-10.
Neither team made too much progress on any drive after that touchdown until the Bears were able to convert on a 32-yard field goal attempt, again by Robbie Gould, with 4:00 minutes remaining in the 4th.
The Bears retained possession after Atlanta’s drive late in the 4th quarter failed as Jason Elam, who appeared to be the goat, hooked a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left with less than 3:00 minutes remaining in the game. Bears quarterback Kyle Orton completed a total of seven passes on Chicago’s next drive, including a 17-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Rashied Davis with 0:11 seconds remaining in the game to tie the score at 19-19. The Bears’ PAT attempt by Gould was good, giving Chicago the lead 20-19.
Following the score, Gould pooched the Chicago kickoff to Harry Douglas of the Falcons, who managed to return the kick 10 yards to set up Atlanta at their own 44-yard line. The clock showed that 0:07 seconds remained in the game and fans seemed to give up hope as many of them exited the packed Georgia Dome. Then, with the poise of a 10-year veteran, Matt Ryan calmly threw a pass to receiver Michael Jenkins for a 26-yard gain along the left sideline. Jenkins caught the pass in front of safety Mike Brown, got both feet down and tumbled out of bounds with just 0:01 second remaining on the clock. Matt Ryan, once again, showed the Falcons faithful why the organization took him with the third overall pick in the draft, and also, why the team has labeled him as “the new face of the franchise.”
The play set up a 48-yard field goal attempt for kicker Jason Elam. The attempt spelled redemption for the long-time leg of the Denver Broncos, whom the Falcons picked up in a free agent deal during the offseason. His missed field goal earlier in the 4th quarter was his first in 31 attempts, and it nearly sealed his fate as the scapegoat of the game. After a short delay to confirm that Jenkins' reception was good, Elam lined up for the kick. The snap was good, and Elam, with the swift flick of his right leg, blasted the kick high into the air as time expired. The ball sailed through the uprights and the referees raised their arms, signaling that the kick was good. Elam had redeemed himself as the Falcons stunned the Bears with their surprising, and thrilling, fourth win of the season.
The Falcons erupted in a playoff-like celebration near the middle of the field after the kick. Head coach Mike Smith lifted his rookie quarterback into the air while Elam was swarmed by his teammates, having atoned for the miss with his fifth field goal of the game, equaling his career high.
The Falcons can gain much good out of their 22-20 win over the Bears. The defense showed that it is a resilient force to deal with, Elam proved how reliable his leg still is, and Matt Ryan showed that he is an up-and-coming star after another successful week. Ryan is a player who will soon be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, just as soon as he reaches his prime.
Six games into what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Falcons have already matched their win total from a forgettable 2007 season.
Suddenly, the playoffs don’t appear to be out of the question.
-Chris Barfield (with a special thank you to The Associated Press, and especially to the writers at ESPN.com)