By D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution –
PHILADELPHIA — During their bye week, the Atlanta Falcons heard all the chatter: Their 6-0 record was accumulated against the meeker souls of the NFL.
On Sunday, those same Falcons demonstrated that the league’s last undefeated team is strong enough to dismantle the dangerous Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, winning 30-17 at rain-swept Lincoln Financial Field.
“We don’t care,” guard Tyson Clabo said of the perceived lack of national respect. “Everyone in here looks each other in the eye and we know that we believe in each other. We think we have something special.”
While it’s far too early to start talking about challenging Miami’s 17-0 perfect mark, the victory did allow Falcons coach Mike Smith to become the winningest coach in franchise history (50-21) on day when quarterback Matt Ryan was nearly flawless.
With Ryan’s pinpoint passing, some timely contributions from the ground game and better tackling, the Falcons shredded the Eagles, posting a 24-7 halftime lead and never looking back.
The Falcons, the NFL’s last remaining undefeated team, improved to 7-0. The Eagles dropped to 3-4.
Ryan completed 22 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns, including a 63-yard bomb to Julio Jones in the second quarter. With their quarterback operating at a high level, the Falcons scored on their first six possessions. Punter Matt Bosher was called on only twice all day.
“Our offensive line did a great job in that (opening 80-yard) drive and, really throughout the entire day, of keeping a great pocket,” Ryan said. “We ran the ball really effectively, too.”
The defense, which has had having trouble stopping the run, made Vick look ordinary, taking better angles to the ball and wrapping up with force. Vick rushed for 42 yards on seven tries but was sacked three times.
The Eagles, who were averaging 379 yards per game, were held to 270 yards, their rushing attack limited to 92 yards on 24 carries.
Facing the Eagles’ revered defensive front, Atlanta stuck with their ground game and the plan eventually paid dividends. Running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 118 yards rushing on 32 carries, Rodgers finally breaking loose for a 43-yard gain in the third quarter.
The offensive line, which featured rookie Peter Konz in his first NFL start, stayed after the Eagles all game.
“Our line coach Pat Hill said it was like an 80-round fight,” Clabo said. “There are 80 plays in a game, 80 rounds, and we had to answer the bell every time. I think we did. We just kept getting the huddle, coming out and we were just fighting.”
While the offense was consistently putting up points, the defense was stifling Vick, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 191 yards.
“We knew that we could not allow their quarterback to extend plays,” Smith said. “He’s most dangerous when he extends plays. We knew that we couldn’t allow him to throw it over our head because he’s got a very strong arm. He’s got a 60-yard-plus arm.”
To counter the run, the Falcons used three defensive tackles on some downs, with Jonathan Babineaux shifting to defensive end.
“It’s just something that we’ve been working on,” said defensive tackle Corey Peters, who saw his first action of the season. “Maybe we’ll see more of it in the future. It just depends on what the offense is trying to do to us.”
With the defense tackling better, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was held to 45 yards rushing on 16 carries.
“We tackled them when we had a chance to tackle them,” defensive end John Abraham said. “There weren’t many missed tackles. A lot of the big runs in weeks prior came from missed tackles. We did a good job of wrapping up.”
The Falcons came off of their bye week ready to play. The offense put together two long initial touchdown drives and the defense held the Eagles to a three-and-out as the Falcons jumped out to an early 14-0 first-quarter lead.
The Falcons led 24-7 at halftime.
The Eagles’ defense, under the direction of new coordinator Todd Bowles, didn’t seem to have any answers. The Eagles left wide receiver Drew Davis open for a 15-yard touchdown reception. The Eagles fired former defensive coordinator Juan Castillo on Oct. 16.
Davis’s grab capped a splendid opening 16-play drive that took 8:44 off the clock.
In his most extended duty, Konz appeared to hold up well in the trenches.
“He did a great job,” center Todd McClure said. “I told him that I was proud of him.”