The Atlanta Falcons are coming off one of the most impressive victories in franchise history.
They beat a team, the Carolina Panthers, that went to last season’s Super Bowl, 48-33. They beat them in style with quarterback Matt Ryan throwing for over 500 yards and Julio Jones producing 300 receiving yards. After Sunday’s victory, the Falcons are a surprising 3-1 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
So what do the Falcons do for an encore?
They have a chance for something that would be even bigger than the Carolina win. They have a chance to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who are playing like they might go to the Super Bowl again.
The Falcons travel to Denver on Sunday for a game that could make a huge statement. Atlanta has a chance to firmly establish that it’s for real. Or the Falcons could show they’re mediocre. This game is going to show where the Falcons truly stand. It’s hard to picture the Falcons with any more momentum behind them than what they have after the Carolina win.
“I mean, we’re just trying to play our style of ball,’’ Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “And we’re getting results.’’
Atlanta’s style of ball has become very obvious the last few weeks. The Falcons are an offensive machine. Ryan is playing the best football of his career. Jones might be the best wide receiver on the planet. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have formed a nice tandem and wide receiver Muhamed Sanu and tight end Jacob Tamme are solid role players.
The Falcons may have the best offense in the league. It’s diversified. If Ryan and Jones aren’t beating you with the pass, Freeman and Coleman are beating you with the running game. There are no weaknesses with this offense and the Falcons have scored more than 30 points in each of the last three games.
The offense appears to be a finished product with Ryan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan on the same page after having some struggles last year. But the Falcons may need their best offensive game yet to have a chance to win in Denver because the Broncos have one of the league’s most dominant defenses.
“I mean, you have to be humble,’’ Freeman said. “We just have to continue to work hard and feed off this juice and energy. (The Carolina game) was a great team win, but we have to move on and keep getting better.’’
It’s hard to imagine the offense playing any better than it did against Carolina. But the fact is the offense needs to be even better.
“It ain’t going to be any different than any other Sunday because I feel like every game is the same,’’ Freeman said. “It’s always one game at a time.’’
There is truth in that because the Falcons play another powerhouse the week after Denver. They’ll travel to Seattle, one of the league’s most difficult venues for opposing teams. The way the Falcons have been playing on offense, they should at least be somewhat productive against Denver and Seattle, two of the best defenses in the league.
But the real test of if the Falcons are an elite team will be how the defense fares against the Broncos and Seahawks. The defense hasn’t been nearly as good as the offense. There have been some bright moments defensively. But there also have been times when the defense has been a liability. The pass rush, which was overhauled in the offseason, still isn’t producing the way the Falcons would like.
“We just have to play for four full quarters, and we’re going to be a scary team,’’ Trufant said.
Trufant is right. If the Atlanta defense can start playing half as well as the offense, the Falcons are going to be a contender.