By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers have raised the white flag on 2015, somewhat, if the Monday trade of former Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos is any indication. At 2-6 with little hope of saving the season, the 49ers could be making other personnel changes soon, too. Whatever roster takes the field for San Francisco on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, that team will be aware that the Falcons want some revenge for a playoff loss which most of the current 49ers players weren’t around for when it happened.READ MORE: BART Service Nears Pre-Pandemic Level Monday as Hours Expand
In January 2013, these two teams played for the 2012 NFC Championship and a berth in the Super Bowl. The 49ers prevailed in a close one, 28-24, and the Falcons suffered through losing seasons in 2013 and 2014. Now, Atlanta is poised to return to the postseason in 2015 while San Francisco is far from that destiny itself. The Falcons have not beaten the 49ers since October 2010, and they very much would like to do so on Sunday.
Atlanta dropped to 6-2 this year with a home overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend, despite out-gaining the opponent by over 200 yards (thanks to four turnovers). Those kinds of losses sting the most, and the Falcons will be focused on Sunday against a bad San Francisco team. Atlanta has wins this year over all four NFC East teams, strangely, as well as victories against AFC South squads Houston and Tennessee. In addition to the Tampa Bay loss, the Falcons also lost to the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta is in the driver’s seat for the top wild-card spot in the NFC currently, as they trail the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South division.
Falcons on Offense
Atlanta averaged 25.7 points per game from 2010-12, while going 36-12 in those regular seasons combined. The Falcons averaged just 22.9 points per game in 2013-14, dropping to a 10-22 record during those two seasons. This year, the offense is back up to 26.6 points a game. The big reason is the presence of running back Devonta Freeman: 709 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. His ability to move the chains has given quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones more room to operate, and that has paid dividends in the win column so far this season.
Ryan is completing 67 percent of his passes this year, and Jones already has 892 receiving yards through eight games. He started off like gangbusters this year, gaining 440 yards through the first three games alone, although he has cooled off lately. These “triplets,” though, still give the Falcons one of the most potent offenses in the entire NFL.READ MORE: 4 Die in Helicopter Crash in Colusa County North of Sacramento
Falcons on Defense
Atlanta hired the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to be its head coach in 2015, and that is paying immediate dividends. After giving up 26.9 points per game in 2013-14, the Falcons are giving up only 21.6 points in 2015. Combined with the offensive improvement above, Atlanta is almost 10 points a game better than it has been in recent seasons. Ten-point swings go a long way in the NFL towards victories, clearly. Quinn has taken this no-name defense and made it better overnight.
Linebacker Paul Worrilow (37 tackles) and cornerback Ricardo Allen (33 tackles) lead the defense in stopping the opponent, while three different players have two sacks apiece. Overall, the Falcons defense has 10 sacks and eight interceptions this season, while forcing five fumbles and recovering four of those.
Falcons Players to Watch
While the defense is better, Atlanta’s magic resides in its offensive firepower. In addition to the trio noted above, the 49ers will have to keep an eye on tight end Jacob Tamme: He has 32 catches this season, and Tamme played for six seasons with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and Denver combined. He is the embodiment of the professional tight end, and if the S.F. defense focuses too much on Ryan, Freeman and Jones, then Tamme will make them play in the middle of the field and the red zone, too.
Trading Davis on Monday tells the 49ers players that management is giving up on the season, and on the heels of all the Colin Kaepernick drama, the San Francisco roster is going to be a mess come Sunday. Yes, Head Coach Jim Tomsula generally has gotten the 49ers very ready to play their home games this year, and he probably will do so again this weekend against the Falcons. However, Atlanta is more motivated and more talented than San Francisco, and there is that revenge factor for guys like Ryan and Jones. Look for the game to be a close one, but expect the Falcons to pull away late for the victory.MORE NEWS: San Francisco Digital Payment Company Square to Buy Afterpay in $29 Billion Deal
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.