Falcons Unwrap 29-10 Win Over Colts

The Atlanta Falcons gave themselves and their fans the gift of a home win. Something they deserved, and needed.

Christmas Eve in Mercedes Benz Stadium saw the Falcons beating the Indianapolis Colts 29-10. With the Colts coming to the Benz with an 8-6 record and considering the Falcons’ middling record so far this season, Falcon fans had every reason to expect yet another lump of coal in their collective stockings to add to the 8 lumps they already got. But NFL Santa was good to the now 7-8 Dirty Birds today.

Or rather, the Falcons were good to themselves for a change, in non-holiday speak.

Photo credit: Shanna Lockwood, Atlanta Falcons.
Photo credit: Shanna Lockwood, Atlanta Falcons.

For starters, they threw no interceptions and didn’t turn over the ball today, repeated vices in previous games. They played aggressively, getting six sacks, forcing an interception out of the Colts, and stopping the run more often. They also ran the ball more, racking up more total yards, 406, to the Colts 262.

About those sacks today, Arnold Ebiketie is the team leader in sacks this season with six to his credit alone. Falcons’ defense took down Colts QB Gardner Minshew six times TODAY. That kind of defensive production sure could have come in handy in the last few games.

Of course, part of this improved performance is also due to a change in quarterbacks, with Taylor Heinicke stepping in (again) and doing a much better job than his now-sidelined colleague, Desmond Ridder. After two consecutive weeks of criticism and upbraiding from fans and commentators about Ridder, head coach Arthur Smith, and the whole team’s performance which led to back-to-back losses, the Falcons took the home field seemingly with a new attitude to go along with the returning QB and more aggressive play calling. And those changes paid off.

“Everybody was in tune in all three phases,” said Smith in a post-game press conference, as reported by Falcons journalist Tori McElhaney. “It was a good team win.”

Not that today’s win is 100% perfect. The Falcons still have to rely on kicker Younghoe Koo‘s feet disproportionately to put points on the board. 15 of the Falcons’ 29 points came from Koo’s successful 3-point FGs, mainly because the Falcons’ offense could not punch in a touchdown in the red zone. The two times the Falcons crossed the goal line were in the first quarter, with Kyle Pitts (!) taking a 24-yard pass from Heinicke, and the 3rd quarter with Tyler Allgeier running 31 yards to the house.

But points are points and a win is a win. And this win today makes a pathway to the playoffs somewhat less hazy, although still not clear as a bell. The latest NFL playoff picture (as of 6:17 pm, 12/24) shows the Falcons with an 11% playoff probability, and, according to the NFL, still “on the bubble.” The Falcons still need to win out and for the two NFC South teams to lose out to snatch a playoff berth, most likely a Wild Card berth. They are second in the NFC South behind the 7-7 Bucs and in front of the 7-8 Saints in the latest rankings.

But make no mistake. The Falcons would not even have the minuscule chance they have now if they lost this game today. They probably would have joined the Patriots, Chargers, and NFC South basement dwellers Panthers, among others who are now eliminated from playoff contention. The playoff flame is still burning for the Falcons, even if right now it’s only a flicker.

Getting this win today was just what the Falcons needed. The egg nog will be tasting a lot better at Flowery Branch this Christmas!

By Brian Allen, founding editor, Sports In The ATL

KEY PLAYERS Atlanta Falcons  Indianapolis Colts
Passing Taylor Heinicke (23-33; 229 yds; 1 TD) Gardner Minshew (20-37; 201 yds.; 1 Int. )
Rushing Bijan Robinson (12 cars; 72 yds) Jonathan Taylor (18 cars, 43 yds, 1 TD)
Receiving Bijan Robinson (7 recs; 50 yds) Kylen Granson (5 recs,  62 yds)
BY THE NUMBERS Atlanta Falcons Indianapolis Colts
Score trend 7-6-7-9 7-0-3-0
Total Yards 406 262
Pass Yards 229 170
Rush Yards 177 92
Yards per Play 6.3 3.9
First Downs 23 20
Third Down Conversions 5/13 5/14
Penalties/Yards 4/35 4/29
Turnovers 0 1 (Int.)
Time Possession 29:24 30:36