They’re all special for Atlanta Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris. Each and every victory is worth cherishing, if only for 24 hours. But there was something extra special about Atlanta’s 43-6 home victory Sunday over the Raiders.
Over his mentor, Jon Gruden.
“When you go up against a guy that’s humble and that congratulates you at the half-field mark and tells you, ‘Congratulations. You did a good job today. That means a lot.”
Especially “when it comes from the guy you respect the most in this business.”
Morris improved to 4-2 as the Falcons’ interim coach with the most resounding victory of Atlanta’s season — and one of the most resounding victories in franchise history. The 37-point margin is the sixth largest in the franchise’s 55 years and the largest since Oct. 11, 2009 when the Falcons rolled to a 45-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Their defense was dominant, their offense efficient. It was all far too much for the Raiders to handle.
“As a team we put it all together. We played well together,” said Falcons linebacker Deion Jones. “We finally put one one film, and we’ve got one to look at to grow from.”
Do they ever.
Morris was hired by Gruden’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a defensive quality control coach in 2002, thus beginning an NFL coaching career — and friendship — that’s spanned nearly two decades. Both coaches shared thoughtful sentiments about one another ahead of their showdown.
But the Falcons weren’t very friendly on Sunday.
Morris, originally Atlanta’s defensive coordinator, helped orchestrate an overpowering effort by the NFL’s 29th-ranked unit. The Falcons sacked Raiders quarterback Derek Carr five times, strip sacked him three times and intercepted him once — courtesy of Jones, who returned the interception 67 yards for a touchdown.
Atlanta had been allowing 300.3 passing yards per game, 31st among the league’s 32 teams. But the Falcons held the Raiders to 203.
Las Vegas had been rushing for 134.2 yards per game, seventh among the league’s 32 teams. But Atlanta surrendered a season-low 40 to the Raiders.
“Stats are for losers, but when you get (sacks and turnovers) they work in your favor,” Morris said. “We got some big bodies in there. They were able to use their hands and shed blocks and make tackles.”
Falcons defensive tackle Jacob Tuioti-Mariner was among the standouts, totaling five tackles, a strip sack and two fumble recoveries. Defensie end Steven Means had six tackles and a strip sack, and linebacker Foye Oluokun added four tackles and a strip sack.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan finished 22 of 39 for 185 yards, two TDs and an interception, but needed not to do much amid his defense’s proficient performance.
“That was just us hunting the ball. We hadn’t had the ball in a couple weeks, and guys were hungry for it this week,” Jones said. “We talked about it and came to life.”
Now, on to the next one.
Atlanta next week will welcome the rival New Orleans Saints, to whom they lost 24-9 last Sunday in their most despondent effort under Morris this season. But they were anything but despondent against the Raiders.
“Today, to go out and be able to do those things, I thought it was really good for us,” Morris said. “I thought it was good for our team. I thought it was good for our organization.”
And good for a certain interim coach as well.