On Sunday afternoon, with his team already trailing by 14 points in the first quarter, Steven Jackson was simply looking to pick up a first down that would keep the Falcons’ drive alive as they sat at the Buffalo 27 on third down and short. What he got instead was much better and it changed the game for Atlanta.
SJ39 took a handoff from quarterback Matt Ryan, made a quick cut, and galloped all the way to the end zone for a 27-yard-touchdown that put his team on the board.
“(I was) kind of surprised how open it was,” Steven said afterward. “It was a third and short situation, and we knew that they were going to kind of load up the box expecting run, and Patrick DiMarco did a great job of clearing a path for me. It opened up like the Red Sea, and I just ran to the end zone.”
Steven added a second touchdown in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 31 with less than two minutes to go. The contest went to overtime, where Matt Bryant kicked a field goal to clinch a 34-31 Falcons win over the Bills at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, Atlanta’s third win of the season.
“We’re playing for pride. We’re playing to show our character as a team overall,” SJ said afterward. “We talked about being persistent and persevering through hard times and situations, and I think that this game embodied exactly what we sought out to do for the remainder of the season.”
Among the things the Falcons have been trying to accomplish all season has been the establishment of a run game they could use effectively to win games. They did just that on Sunday. Steven led the way with 84 yards and two scores, Antoine Smith pitched in a 38-yard scoring run and the two combined with Ryan and Jacquizz Rodgers to total 151 yards on the ground.
Head coach Mike Smith attributed Atlanta’s success in the running game to strong blocking, an area that the Falcons had struggled with throughout the season.
“I thought we blocked much better,” said Smith. “We were able to get Steven to the second level and that helped us in our run game.”
Though Atlanta would eventually get going, their first two drives were a slog with Steven carrying three times between them for a total of four yards. The Falcons went three-and-out on each possession and Buffalo put together a touchdown drive following each punt.
Atlanta finally got going offensively on their third drive by establishing a rhythm through the passing game. Ryan found each of his primary targets, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Harry Douglas for big gains and the Falcons also benefited from a roughing the passer penalty on Buffalo after the throw to White. Ryan’s completion to Douglas set Atlanta up third and one at the Buffalo 27. That’s when the Falcons went to Steven looking to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.
But outstanding blocks from left tackle Larry Holmes, tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Ryan Schrader, and fullback Patrick DiMarco sprung Steven to the second level and there was nothing but turf in front of him on the way to his third touchdown of the year.
“Every run is not going to be a big run, but my style of play, I play with authority,” Steven said after the game. “Authoritative runs. So it will wear down the defense, which allows for the other guys to come in and get a changer of pace as well.”
The ice breaking score seemed to change the course of the game and galvanize the Falcons. They limited Buffalo to just three points the rest of the half, cut the deficit to three on Smith’s touchdown in the second quarter and tied the game at 17 on Bryant’s field goal as time expired in the first half. SJ had seven carries in the first half, picking up 46 yards for the Atlanta offense and they went to him often in the second half as well.
After forcing a Buffalo punt to open the second half, the Falcons set out to grab the lead on their first post-halftime drive. The balanced 10-play drive featured four carries by Steven and completions from Ryan to Smith, White, Douglas and finally Gonzalez, who hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass to put Atlanta in front.
Atlanta’s defense stepped up to force another three-and-out, but the Falcons turned the ball over deep in Buffalo territory on the second play of the subsequent drive. The Bills capitalized on their first play thereafter — a screen pass from E.J. Manuel to Fred Jackson that went for a 22-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Buffalo took the lead early in the fourth with a quick 87-yard drive thanks to two explosive plays and a questionable personal foul call. The Bills defense went on to hold Atlanta at bay on two drives in the fourth, but Atlanta made the most of their third and final chance.
Ryan picked apart the Buffalo defense leading the Falcons down to the five, and Steven had the Falcons at the 1 after a four-yard gain on third and goal. But that run was negated by a penalty on Douglas that sent the Falcons all the way back to the 16 to re-play third and goal.
Fortunately the re-set worked out for Atlanta as Ryan targeted Douglas with a pass to the end zone and a Buffalo defender interfered with Douglas’ ability to make the catch, giving the Falcons new life on first and goal from the one. On the next play, SJ plunged in for a touchdown and Bryant’s subsequent extra point tied the game.
The Atlanta defense stepped up to force two key fumbles that allowed the Falcons to win the game in overtime. First, Buffalo was driving into position for a game-winning field goal with less than a minute to go in regulation, but Robert McClain forced a fumble from Stevie Johnson at the Atlanta 30. William Moore recovered with 20 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Buffalo won the coin toss and elected to receive in overtime, but the Falcons defense came up huge again. This time it was Moore forcing Buffalo’s Scott Chandler to fumble and Robert Alford picking up the loose ball. Alford then lateraled to Desmond Trufant, who took the ball into Buffalo territory where he was tackled at the Bills 47, giving S-Jax and company great field position.
Steven touched the ball three out of the four plays the Falcons’ offense ran in overtime. After SJ’s four-yard run to start the drive, Ryan hit Harry Douglas for a big 20-yard gain. No. 39 followed with runs of four and then two yards, setting Matt Bryant up to kick the game winner from 36 yards out.
After carrying seven times in the first half, Steven was handed the ball 13 times in the second half and three more times in overtime. The 23 carries were a season-high, as were the 84 yards, which helped him pass both Eddie George and Tiki Barber and move into 23rd place on the NFL’s All-Time Rushing Yards List with 10,474 yards.
After a rough start to the season, SJ39 believes he is in great position to finish the year strong with the help of his offensive line and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
“I’m definitely in my rhythm,” he said. “Koetter is allowing me to get multiple touches, he’s allowing me to stay in the rhythm of the game, and that’s when I feel at home, that’s when I feel that I’m at my best. The offensive line is doing a good job of giving me some push, giving me some options, and once they do that, I have to take advantage of it.”
The Falcons (3-9) will look to build on Sunday’s win when they head out on the road next Sunday to Green Bay to take on the Packers (5-6-1).
In six career games against Green Bay, Steven has averaged 91.8 yards per game and he has scored two career touchdowns against the Pack.
Sunday’s kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Falcons actually run the ball- and win, too! (Atlanta Journal Constitution, December 1, 2013)
- Falcons’ Offense Displays True Potential in Win over Buffalo Bills, (Rant Sports, December 1, 2013)
- What They Said: Falcons at Bills (AtlantaFalcons.com, December 2, 2013)
- Falcons fight back for win over Buffalo (AtlantaFalcons.com, December 1, 2013)
- An Overtime Win in the Frozen North (The Falcoholic, December 2, 2013)