SEATTLE — I’m not a fan of moral victories in pro sports, but today I make an exception. The Atlanta Falcons gave a winning effort and, had an official called what seemed a blatant case of GPI — grievous pass interference — on the famous Richard Sherman against the famous Julio Jones with 90 seconds remaining, they’d have been positioned to steal a road game in a difficult stadium.
Only it wouldn’t have been stealing. The Falcons deserved this one every bit as much as the Seahawks did. They overrode a 17-3 deficit. They stayed ahead on Ra’Shede Hageman’s block of what should have been the tying extra point. They were driving to put the game to bed when Jones, of all people, couldn’t hold a slant pass from Matt Ryan and saw the ball deflected by Sherman and intercepted by Earl Thomas. That led to Hauschka’s winning field goal, which mightn’t have held up had Sherman been flagged for pinning Jones’ arm on fourth-and-10.
Were this a playoff game, only a ruthless bottom line would exist. But if you’re the Falcons and you haven’t had a winning season since 2012 — the year you beat the burgeoning Seahawks in a last-gasp postseason finish — you have to feel good about yourselves and your effort here. You’d won in Denver and stayed on the road for 10 days and, when it was 17-3, you might have taken your Western split and called it a day. Instead you came within an eyelash of winning.
I’m on record as doubting the direction of this team, but here I confess: The effort here made a believer of me in a way that nothing before — not last week’s victory over the Broncos, not the thrashing of Carolina — has. Last year’s Falcons would have been blown off this field. This year’s Birds nearly ran off victorious.
Said Dan Quinn, the coach: “I like what our team identity is becoming, where we can attack in all three phases. It’s growing stronger … I so desperately wanted it to happen last year, but it didn’t.”
But something is happening now. The Falcons aren’t great on defense, but they’re not the world’s worst. Their offense is about the world’s best. (And by that we mean Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Go figure, huh?) The Falcons outgained Seattle, owner of the NFL’s No. 1 defense, 252 yards to 27 in the third quarter, scoring on drives of 75, 79 and 97 yards.)
At halftime, I figured the third quarter would tell the tale on these Falcons. It nearly left with a stunning and stellar victory. That it didn’t quite in no way invalidates what happened. The Seahawks have long had reason to believe in themselves. The Falcons are just now starting to believe. And so am I.
Further reading: The Falcons got jobbed but did themselves proud.