In a marquee matchup between two of the league’s best young quarterbacks, it was a coming out party for the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan.
Ryan found Roddy White with a 33-yard TD pass with 20 seconds left, leading the Falcons to a stirring 26-21 come-from-behind win over Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome.
White caught 12 passes for 138 yards and two scores and Michael Jenkins caught five passes for 48 yards, including a crucial third down grab on the final drive for the Falcons, who improved to 18-1 in games started by Ryan at the Dome.
“He’s a great quarterback, especially in critical situations,” White said. “He just gives us a chance to win. Once Jenkins caught that ball, I knew we had a chance to win because Baltimore would change their defense.”
Moments after Flacco stunned the home crowd by rallying the Ravens to a 21-20 lead with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap with just 65 ticks left, a cool-under-pressure Matty Ice went to work, engineering a seven play, 80 yard drive for the go-ahead score.
Perhaps no play was bigger on that drive than the grab by Jenkins, who moved the chains with a fingertip grab down the left sideline on 3rd-and-10 from the Falcons 20 to keep the drive alive.
“I got open and Matt threw a great ball,” said Jenkins, who made a similar grab to help the Falcons to a similar win here two seasons ago against the Chicago Bears. “It never gets old.”
Ryan found White down the middle for a 15-yard game to bring it to the Baltimore 41 before Ladarius Webb was flagged with for pass interference on Tony Gonzalez to bring ball to 33.
The Ravens defense keyed in on Gonzalez on the next play, leaving White in one-on-one coverage with Josh Wilson. White pushed off Wilson and got open down the left sideline. Ryan found White in stride for the easy TD to give the Falcons the win over arguably one of the best teams in the league.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” White said with a smile about the pushoff. “I’m just leaving it up to the refs to call. … Once I saw the defense shift (to Gonzalez), I knew I had a chance.”
The third-year Atlanta quarterback waited until Atlanta’s first nationally televised game of the season to shine. He completed 32-of-50 yards for 316 yards and three scores for the Falcons, who became the first team in the NFL to win seven games.
“That was an exciting football game,” Ryan said. “It took all 60 minutes to come out with that win. We’ve been in that situation before. Nobody blinked.”
Ryan’s counterpart Flacco nearly pulled off the magical come-from-behind win for the Ravens. The Ravens trailed 20-7 in this one before closing to within six on a six-yard TD grab by Derrick Mason with 5:42 left before White uncharacteristically dropped a pass thwarting an Atlanta drive and setting up the go-ahead Baltimore score.
But when given a chance, White redeemed himself in the end.
“I dropped like five balls today,” said White, who entered this one without a drop. “My offensive line told me about it. I expect myself to make those plays.”
That Baltimore go-ahead drive nearly overshadowed a spectacular physical effort by the Falcons, who were not afraid to bruise and batter a very physical Baltimore team. They smacked down Ray Lewis. White knocked out Ed Reed. Atlanta controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half in this one, holding the ball for nearly 22 minutes as they took a 10-0 lead into the break.
Ryan found Jason Snelling with a short pass in the right flat four minutes into the second quarter. Snelling bowled all over former Georgia Tech standout Dawan Landry en route to the end zone to post Atlanta to the early lead before the much-maligned Atlanta special teams forced a fumble with 4:34 left in the half. Matt Bryant connected on a 28-yard field goal to put the Falcons up by 10.
“I knew I was going to be open,” Snelling said. “Matt saw me and it was just me and the safety. Being a running back, that’s a play they ask me to make. I decided to put my shoulder down and was able to get into the end zone.”
Brent Grimes picked off Flacco on Baltimore’s first possession of the second half, which the Falcons turned into three more points on a 51-yard Bryant field goal before the Ravens finally found the end zone on a five-yard TD pass from Flacco to Anquan Boldin with just under seven minutes left in the third quarter.
But Ryan and the Falcons went back to work, engineering an 11-play, 5:15 drive bridging the third and fourth quarters to put the Falcons back up by 13. Ryan found White with a 4-yard TD pass with 11:34 left to post Atlanta to a 20-7 lead.
“If you like football and you like an intense football game, that was one of them,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “That might have been the most intense football game that I have ever been involved with at any level of football. With 65 seconds left to go in the game, no one on our sideline blinked.”
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