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Seahawks escape Julio, Falcons on controversial call

Earl Thomas intercepted a pass off of Julio Jones' fingertips, setting up Steven Hauschka's go-ahead field goal as the Seahawks escaped with a 26-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Here's what we learned:

  1. The interception was the first target that Jones didn't corral all game en route to 139 yards and a touchdown. The second unsuccessful target came on the Falcons' final play of the game when Richard Sherman got away with an obvious pass interference, grabbing Jones' arm and preventing him from catching a fourth-down heave from Matt Ryan. It's not unusual for officials to swallow the whistle on a game-ending jumpball, but that won't mollify an irate Dan Quinn -- nor should it.
  1. This was a tale of two halves for the Falcons offense and Seahawks defense. With Seattle's timely blitzes wreaking havoc on Atlanta's offensive line, Ryan was sacked or hit on 11 of 17 first-half dropbacks. Minus Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor, Sherman and Seattle's secondary tied down Jones and the rest of the Falcons receivers, forcing Ryan to hold onto the ball while Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril took turns battering the MVP favorite.

It was a different story in the third quarter, as Ryan found a rhythm, hitting 13 of 17 passes for 220 yards and three of the four passing touchdowns allowed by Seattle this season. Long scores of 36 yards to Jones and 46 yards to Levine Toilolo were the direct result of busted coverage -- confusion perhaps borne out of Sherman's man-to-man approach to Jones in an otherwise zone defense.

  1. The Falcons surpassed all reasonable expectations in their three-game test against both Super Bowl 50 squads (Panthers, Broncos) and the NFL's top scoring defense in each of the past four seasons (Seahawks). The league's top-scoring offense is legit. Through six games, Ryan boasts a 68.1 completion rate, 9.9 yards per attempt, 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 117.9 passer rating. He's playing like an MVP frontrunner while play-caller Kyle Shanahan continues to press the right buttons.

After the game, Seahawks All Pro safety Earl Thomas acknowledged to NFL Network's Alex Flanagan, "They brought the best out of us."

  1. Seattle's star-studded defense has injury issues heading into next week's NFC West clash at Arizona. The third-quarter collapse coincided with the loss of disruptive pocket-crasher Michael Bennett, who injured his knee on a Jake Matthews cut block. Although Bennett confirmed after the game that he should be ready to face the Cardinals, it might be at a limited capacity. The Seahawks also played without Chancellor (groin) and frisky second-year pass rusher Frank Clark (hamstring).
  1. Earl Thomas was a tone-setter for Seattle's defense, delivering several crushing blows. This might have been his strongest performance since undergoing shoulder surgery following Super Bowl XLIX.
  1. The late-game fortune will help Pete Carroll escape scrutiny after a head-scratching decision to punt on 4th-and-inches in the opponent's territory late in the third quarter of a tie game. Ryan had just shredded Seattle's short-handed defense on back-to-back touchdown possessions and proceeded to direct a six-play, 97-yard touchdown drive to give Atlanta a 24-17 lead. We look forward to football's progression away from the 4th-and-short punt in the opponent's territory -- a decision that too often results in a touchback and a negligible gain in field position.
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