Falcons fly into Cleveland on hot streak
CLEVELAND — Quietly, steadily and with little fanfare, the Atlanta Falcons have gotten off the ground.
They’re flying again — under the radar.
Despite numerous injuries at vital positions, the Falcons have shaken off a 1-4 start and carry a three-game winning streak into today’s matchup at Cleveland. The Browns (2-6-1) have dropped four in a row, fired head coach Hue Jackson this month and are trying to avoid having another season spiral completely out of control.
The Falcons (4-4) are coming off their best performance this season, a well-rounded 38-14 thrashing of the Washington Redskins that has pushed them back into contention in the NFC’s wild-card race.
“The main thing for us was the message to be real consistent, to stay the course,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “… There might be some new voices leading the way. We just tried to stay consistent with the guys. Make sure that we knew what we were doing was right and we had to do what we did better.”
Nobody’s doing it better than Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who has stirred reflections of his 2016 MVP season by completing 71 percent of his passes with 19 touchdown throws and only three interceptions. The 33-year-old quarterback’s per-game average of 335.6 passing yards this season leads the NFL, and he recently went 213 straight passes without being picked off.
Last week, Ryan passed for 350 yards and four touchdowns — one to star receiver Julio Jones, who ended a 12-game scoreless drought and finished with seven catches for 121 yards.
As for the running game, with Devonta Freeman on injured reserve for at least six more weeks, Atlanta’s distribution of carries has been unexpectedly balanced. Tevin Coleman is the starter, but rookie Ito Smith’s role has grown. Proof came in last week’s win, when Coleman had 13 carries for 88 yards and Smith added 10 for 60 and a touchdown.
“He’s gotten better for us every week,” Ryan said of Smith. “I’ve been really impressed with his growth from game to game. It’s really cool to see that from young players, particularly rookies.”