It was far from a flawless effort at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets on Sunday. But a team in the midst of a three-game losing streak needed just one break -- any break -- to go its way.
Such a thing happened for the Falcons, who scratched and clawed their way to a 25-20 win with key plays from all three phases. Now at 4-3, the Falcons established a little momentum going into next week's NFC South opener at Carolina (5-3). Winning the division always is the emphasis for coach Dan Quinn, and now the Falcons have a chance to make a statement despite a rocky start.
"Well, the division games are huge, always," said Ryan, who completed 18-of-29 passes for 254 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. "Obviously in those games, we know them; they know us really well. They're always tough and physical. And I expect that against Carolina next week.
"But today was about today. It was about finding a way to get it done, and I'm proud of that."
What got better for the Falcons this week? Improvement in the red zone and third down offensively was the emphasis heading into the game. The numbers might not reflect it -- the Falcons went 5-for-14 on third down and 2-for-6 in the red zone -- but they came up with a big third-down conversion when Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu for a 15-yard gain on third-and-5 late in the game. Ryan also hit Sanu with an 8-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Falcons their first lead -- a lead they didn't relinquish.
"While we weren't perfect, by any stretch, we made some really good plays in those situations when we needed them," Ryan said.
Finally, the Falcons were able to hit on some big plays, too. One was Ryan's 53-yard throw to Julio Jones that set up a touchdown. The other was a 52-yard run by Tevin Coleman that set up Ryan's 8-yard score to Sanu.
But nothing probably meant more to the Falcons than the defensive effort. After giving up 100-plus rushing yards to three consecutive opponents, the Falcons limited the Jets to 43 yards on 22 carries, with nose tackle Grady Jarrett recording a team-high three tackles for losses.
There were plenty of third-down stops, too, with Jarrett and Dontari Poe combining for a third-down sack to start the fourth quarter with the Jets driving at the Falcons' 30-yard line. The end result was a missed Jets field goal. The Falcons forced the Jets to go 5-of-15 on third down, and the Jets never made it into the red zone.
"We just knew we were going to win that game," Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said. "Our energy never changed. The momentum never slowed on us. We were really detailed and we communicated really well. Our preparation was really good. That defensive line killed. Once you take the run game away, man, everything they were doing was third-and-longs. That defensive line killed, all of them up there."
The win, of course, wiped away some of the negatives, like Ryan fumbling snaps in the rain, a drop by tight end Austin Hooper in the end zone, and cornerback Desmond Trufant getting beat for a touchdown. But again, the Falcons have just a little momentum now, which could be all they need to begin their march toward a second consecutive division title.