What it means: It wasn’t the offensive shootout that many expected and it was far from the best game you’ll ever see. But the bottom line is the Falcons are 2-0 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC South. They already have a two-game lead on the New Orleans Saints, who were supposed to be their main competition in the division.
What I liked: Atlanta’s defense. The Falcons intercepted Peyton Manning three times in the first quarter. Aside from a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, Manning and the Broncos never really got into an offensive rhythm. This defense isn’t perfect, but new coordinator Mike Nolan definitely has brought a more aggressive attitude.
What I didn’t like: The officiating. It wasn’t like the replacement officials totally were wrong on a bunch of calls. It’s just that they didn’t seem to have control of the game (and there were a couple times when their math seemed to be a little off when marking off penalties). There were a lot of flags thrown, a lot of back and forth with coaches and a lot of replays. The first half took almost two hours and the game didn’t end until after midnight ET. The NFL is very conscious of its television audience. This was not a pretty game and, undoubtedly, a lot of viewers went to bed before it was over. If anything, this game might help prompt the league to resolve the labor situation with the regular officials.
What else I didn't like: The way Atlanta coach Mike Smith and/or offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter got so conservative with the play calling. The Falcons had a chance to blow the Broncos out early. Instead, they let them hang in way too late. It didn't result in disaster this time, but it's extremely dangerous to go conservative when you're playing against someone like Manning.
Game of his life: I thought Atlanta safety William Moore played as well as I’ve ever seen him play. He intercepted Manning on the first drive and returned the ball to the Denver 1-yard line, where the Falcons were able to punch it in for a quick touchdown. Moore also broke up another potential touchdown pass with a big hit on a receiver in the end zone and had good coverage all night. Moore also came up with a crucial sack midway through the fourth quarter.
Milestone-ending time: Atlanta receiver Julio Jones had the longest active streak in the league with at least one touchdown reception in his past five games. That streak is over. Jones didn’t catch a touchdown Monday and also had several drops. White picked up the slack and carried Atlanta’s receiving game. White topped the 100-yard mark in receiving for the 29th time in his career.
What’s next: The Falcons have a short week and a long road trip. They play at San Diego on Sunday afternoon. They’ll practice Friday at their facility before making the flight Friday afternoon.