You don’t get to be undefeated without being good.
But the quality the Falcons have shown this season goes beyond individual games.
Whether they’re missing field goals (two rare ones by Matt Bryant), or not able to play they way they were accustomed to, there’s still a sense that they’re going to win, a calm exuded by coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.
The four-minute drill they ran to kill clock, move chains and get the final field goal was a thing of beauty, a testament to taking what was there, and letting the other guy flinch.
Because through half the season, the Falcons haven’t yet.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The stage was set for the Cowboys to win this one. November’s when Tony Romo generally looks best, and they’ve beaten undefeated teams the last three times they faced them in this situation.
But the Cowboys are 3-5 right now for a reason.
They’re not consistent enough when well, and they’re not healthy enough to overcome it right now.
2. At some point, for the Falcons to pull off the January win that has eluded them, they’re going to need to run well.
But it’s unclear if they have the personnel to do it.
Michael Turner, most weeks, looks done. Even his 20-carry, 102-yard line is deceiving. When he gets a hole, he turns runs that would have gone to the house a few years ago into nothing.
Other than a game against the Panthers this year (13 carries for 103 yards) and against his old friends in San Diego (14 carries for 80 yards) and one run against the Cowboys, he’s looked very much like a 30-year-old this season.
The Panthers and Chargers were the only two games this season he’s rushed for more than 4.0 yards per attempt. It’s like he’s only got one game per month in that old body. They better use it judiciously.
Throw out Sunday’s 43-yard anomaly around the corner, and Turner averaged 3.1 per carry against the Cowboys.
And watching backup Jacquizz Rodgers get stuffed by Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter when he tried to run inside does nothing to make you think he’s going to be the guy they need to step up when Turner doesn’t.
3. Of course, part of the struggle of the Falcons run game has to do with the defense the Cowboys were playing.
They obviously will miss injured linebacker Sean Lee, but have gotten good fill-in work from Carter. He was good in the run game, and ran down Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in the fourth quarter, showing excellent speed.
And former first-round bust Ernie Sims has been OK getting up off the couch to start in place of Dan Connor. But fill-ins can only play at a level higher than they are for so long.
4. Happy birthday Dez Bryant. Hope somebody got you a ticket to the game.
What’s that, you got paid for this?
Maybe that hip injury is worse than they’re letting on. The Friday night curfew story is a little silly, but the reality is he disappeared tonight in a game they needed him.
Bryant had one catch for 15 yards, and they took him off punt returns because they didn’t trust him anymore. (And Dwayne Harris ripping off a 37-yarder in his first chance didn’t do anything to change that.)
And since the game was on prime time television, the obligatory Kevin Ogletree appearance (a fourth quarter touchdown) helped cover up Bryant’s own absence.
5. A Falcons offensive line that was a mess last year has solidified nicely this year.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked just 15 times in seven games coming in, but took several hard shots in the first half, including a clean shot from DeMarcus Ware that had them wiping paint off the front of Ryan’s helmet where it slammed into the midfield logo.
Left tackle Sam Baker has bounced back well, lending a stability to the operation they lacked last year. They were facing a good pass-rush, but they held up, and kept Ryan on his feet.