During Sunday afternoon’s Bears-Falcons game, Matt Ryan showed Atlanta fans why he was a great pick for the franchise in the 2008 NFL Draft. Kicker Jason Elam also showed how valuable his acquisition was during the low season.

Ryan was 22 of 30 for 301 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in the Falcons’ thrilling 22-20 victory over the Chicago Bears. The biggest story, though, was kicker Jason Elam, who made 5 of 6 shots from the field, including a 48-yarder as time expired, giving Atlanta its fourth win in six games this season.

Both teams had to rely on their kickers as each side stayed out of the end zone for the entire first half. Elam kicked a total of three field goals for Atlanta, while the Falcons’ defense limited Chicago to just three points in the first half (a 36-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with 4:02 remaining in the second quarter). ).

The score was 9-3, in favor of the Falcons, heading into halftime.

The Bears scored the first touchdown of the game with 2:24 remaining in the 3rd quarter on a 3-yard run by Matt Forte, making it 12-10 in Atlanta’s favor. The Falcons’ next drive, which lasted into the fourth quarter, resulted in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White from Matt Ryan, making the score 19-10.

Neither team made much progress on any drive after that touchdown until the Bears were able to convert on a 32-yard field goal attempt, again by Robbie Gould, with 4:00 remaining in the quarter.

The Bears retained possession after Atlanta’s drive late in the fourth quarter faltered when Jason Elam, who seemed to be the goat, snagged a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left with less than 3:00 remaining. in the game. Bears quarterback Kyle Orton completed a total of seven passes on Chicago’s ensuing drive, including a 17-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Rashied Davis with 0:11 seconds left in the game to tie the score. 19-19. Gould’s Bears PAT attempt was good and gave Chicago a 20-19 lead.

After the score, Gould passed Chicago’s kickoff to the Falcons’ Harry Douglas, who managed to return the kick 10 yards to put Atlanta at their own 44-yard line. The clock showed 0:07 seconds left in the game and the fans seemed to lose hope as many of them left the Georgia Dome packed. Then, with the poise of a 10-year veteran, Matt Ryan calmly threw a pass to wide receiver Michael Jenkins for a 26-yard gain along the left sideline. Jenkins caught the pass off safety Mike Brown, put both feet down and fell out of bounds with just 0:01 left on the clock. Matt Ryan once again showed the Falcons faithful why the organization selected him with the third overall pick in the draft and also why the team has labeled him “the new face of the franchise.”

The play set up a 48-yard field goal attempt by kicker Jason Elam. The attempt spelled redemption for the longtime leg of the Denver Broncos, whom the Falcons picked up in a free-agent deal during the offseason. His missed field goal early in the fourth quarter was his first in 31 attempts, and almost sealed his fate as the game’s scapegoat. After a brief delay to confirm Jenkins’ reception was good, Elam lined up for the kick. The snap was good, and Elam, with a flick of his right leg, launched the kick into the air as the clock struck 0:00. The ball slipped between the uprights and the referees raised their arms, indicating that the shot had been good. Elam had redeemed himself when the Falcons stunned the Bears with their surprisingly exciting fourth win of the season.

The Falcons erupted in a playoff-like celebration near midfield after the kickoff. Head coach Mike Smith lifted his rookie quarterback into the air as Elam was surrounded by his teammates, having made amends with his fifth field goal of the game, tying his career high.

The Falcons can get a lot out of their 22-20 victory over the Bears. The defense showed he’s a tough force to deal with, Elam showed how reliable his leg still is and Matt Ryan showed he’s an up-and-coming star after another successful week. Ryan is a player who will soon be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, as soon as he reaches his prime.

Six games into what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Falcons have already matched their win total from a forgettable 2007 season.

Suddenly, the playoffs don’t seem to be out of the question.

Come on Falcons!

-Chris Barfield

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