Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons are caught in the NFL's equivalent of the movie Speed: As long as they keep flying downfield at full throttle, racking up points and yards, their suspect defense won't blow up their season.
Head coach Dan Quinn was brought in to install his aggressive defensive system and instill an attitude of relentless pursuit. Against rookie Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch, the Falcons were certainly #Quinning; they sacked Lynch six times, forced him to fumble twice, and picked him off.
The performance clearly rattled Lynch; his pocket management was terrible. NFL Network Red Zone host Scott Hanson rightly described him as "seeing ghosts" out there—and maybe it was just one ghost—the spirit of edge rusher Vic Beasley—who had seven solo tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Crucially, the Broncos' fear of the Falcons defense took big plays out of the gameplan. The Broncos had 12 gains of 20-plus yards over their first four games, but Lynch and company only managed one against the Falcons: a 26-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders.
Explosive Falcons tailback Tevin Coleman was a revelation, compiling a ludicrous 163 yards and a touchdown on just ten touches. Once again, he worked in tandem with speedy Devonta Freeman (26 touches, 123 yards, one touchdown) to bring almost-unstoppable balance to the Falcons' aerial force.
This is what happens when Quinn's defense is playing with a lead: Beasley and company can pin their ears back, cornerback Desmond Trufant and company can take more risks, forcing opposing quarterbacks to play into their hands. When the Falcons were up 10-0 after their first two drives, the Broncos' fate was all but sealed.
"All but," however, being significant: For all that this felt like a triumphant blowout after three quarters, Lynch and the Broncos completed three scoring drives in the fourth quarter. If their attempted onside kick had been successful, the Falcons' highlight-reel dominance had a chance of being undone.
The Broncos will win a lot more games this year; they're expected to get starting quarterback Trevor Siemian back for this week's Thursday Night Football. The Falcons, meanwhile, will face a lot of tough defenses the rest of the way—starting with the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.
If Ryan, Freeman, Coleman, receiver Julio Jones, and the reborn offensive line can keep putting up points early and often, the Falcons will keep winning in style. In all of their wins so far, the Falcons have held a halftime lead—and in all but one, they scored first.
But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew first blood, re-gained the lead just before halftime and added to their lead twice after coming out of the locker room—and the Bucs only win all year remains the Falcons only loss.
The Falcons, and their fans, should rightly be feeling their oats after going into the home of the 4-0 Super Bowl champions and coming out victorious. But as fast as their high-octane offense is rolling right now, it can't afford to slow down.