Wiedmer: Falcons have good reasons for pride

Wiedmer: Falcons have good reasons for pride

September 19th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) works against Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - There wasn't much for Falcons safety William Moore to complain about following Atlanta's 27-21 victory over Denver on Monday night.

Not when he intercepted Peyton Manning to open the game, then roughly sacked him midway through the fourth quarter to all but guarantee victory.

Not when the Falcons handed coach Mike Smith his first MNF victory in his fourth try. Not when Atlanta now stands 2-0 on the season heading into Sunday's tough game at San Diego.

But being a defensive back whose fierce play can be hampered by uncertain officiating, Moore did have a message for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as he attempts to end the referee strike.

"It needs to end now," he said inside the Falcons' Georgia Dome locker room in the early minutes of Tuesday morning. "They can take a pay cut out of my check if they want. It needs to be settled. Now."

And Moore's guys won. Their inspired and aggressive pass defense under new coordinator Mike Nolan forced four Broncos turnovers in the first quarter, helping the Falcons race to a 20-0 lead.

But the replacement refs' near-constant discussions among themselves and repeated replays -- It's almost as if they've decided to replay everything in hopes they'll at least get that right -- turned a game that should have been over by 11:40 or so into one that ended well after midnight.

Or as Coach Smith noted, "We kept a bunch of people up late. And I'll bet we'll have a bunch of people not showing up for work tomorrow. That game went way too long."

Unfortunately for the Falcons, one of those who stayed out way too long after the 3-hour-27-minute contest ended at 12:09 a.m. was running back Michael Turner.

Booked around 5 a.m. in Gwinnett County for speeding and driving under the influence, the 30-year-old Turner could face both team and league discipline, though Goodell tends to wait until after the legal process is complete to further penalize players.

"We're aware of the situation with Michael," said Smith, who watched Turner rush for 42 yards, score a touchdown and ice the victory with a 15-yard run late.

"But it's not really appropriate to comment on it. We'll keep our communication internal between myself and Michael."

But Turner's exceedingly poor judgment aside, there was much to like about this Atlanta win for a Falcons Nation more than a little anxious to reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 14 years.

Certainly quarterback Matt Ryan impressed. While he and Manning posted eerily similar numbers in terms of yardage and completions (Ryan was 24-of-36 for 219 yards, Manning 24-of-37 for 241 yards), their production where it matters most -- on the scoreboard -- couldn't have been much more different.

Ryan tossed two TDs and zero INTs. Manning threw one touchdown and three interceptions.

"Three poor decisions," Manning said. "I put our team in too big a hole. But I'll learn from it."

Said Ryan, the maturity of four full NFL seasons under his belt in full view: "I've been around this league long enough to know that it's tough to win regardless of who you're playing. When you're playing against a Hall of Fame quarterback, it's even tougher."

What wasn't tough for Moore was choosing between what was more personally rewarding: his interception on the game's first series that led to an early Atlanta score ... or his sack of Manning late.

"The sack," he beamed. "That's my first career sack. And for it to come in a moment like that, when we really needed it against a quarterback like Peyton Manning, I'll remember that one forever."

Two games into a 16-game regular season, it's tough to say either team will remember this one by December. But this felt bigger and more important than a typical September contest.

There was the perception of a symbolic passing of the torch from the cerebral Manning to the cerebral Ryan. There was Atlanta's offense playing best when it needed to most, Ryan finding Julio Jones for a 6-yard completion on a third-and-5 late, then Turner picking up 15 yards following that completion to ice it.

Denver is good and will get better as it becomes more comfortable with Manning. But the Falcons are better today and should similarly improve.

"That's definitely the way you want to close out a game like that," Ryan said of the Falcons' final possession.

Too bad the rest of Turner's night closed on a far less positive note.