By Cedric Williams

It would take the nittiest and pickiest of critics to find much wrong with the performance the Atlanta Falcons gave in their 48-21 victory over the Houston Texans at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. At times this season, Atlanta has looked like the toughest, the smartest, the luckiest, and even the most explosive team in the league.

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On Sunday, the Falcons looked like the best team in the league as they jumped on the Texans right away and didn’t let up until they were up 42-0 late in the third quarter. Houston got some points during garbage time in the fourth to make the score somewhat respectable. But the truth is, the Falcons dominated the visiting Texans right from the opening kick, and there was little doubt who the better team was or who was going to win this game.

Offense: A+

In its first three games this season, the Falcons have relied on all-pro receiver Julio Jones to be the difference-maker. And it worked like a charm, as Atlanta has begun the year 3-0.

But on Sunday, the Falcons turned to running back Devonta Freeman, who answered in kind with his second-straight three-touchdown effort. Overall, Freeman had 149 total yards rushing and receiving to go along with the three scores.

Quarterback Matt Ryan also had another terrific day, with 256 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and a 112.6 passer rating. The Falcons didn’t need Jones very much. Instead, Ryan looked for No. 2 receiver Leonard Hankerson a lot more, and that plan worked as well, with the fifth-year veteran out of Miami picking up six catches for 103 yards and a score on Sunday.

Defense: A+

The final stats read that Houston had a good day offensively. Its quarterback and receivers all had nice numbers by the end of the day. But that is all so misleading, as the Falcon D just punished the Texans all day.

Well, at least they did for the first three quarters. It was during the fourth quarter when Houston got much of its positive work done.

But don’t be fooled. Atlanta’s D had an outstanding day, as it kept Houston bottled up for most of the day, while also forcing four turnovers, and scoring two touchdowns of its own on long fumble returns by Desmond Trufant and Nathan Stupar.

Special Teams: A+
With the offense and defense playing so well, the Falcons special team units weren’t asked to do a whole lot on Sunday. Kicker Matt Bryant only needed to make all the PATs he was asked to attempt, which he did (Bryant was 6-for-6).

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The punt and kickoff coverage units only needed to not allow any big returns, which they didn’t. And punter Matt Bosher only needed to be as good as he’s been all season, which he was — (Bosher averaged 47.7 yards on six punts, with a long of 55 yards).

Everybody in black and red had a really good day against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Coaching: A+

Coming off three thrilling wins to start the season—each more exciting than the one before it—the Falcons looked like a prime candidate to fall victim to the old trap game syndrome, where one team that’s riding high takes for granted its next opponent. But then when the game rolls around, it’s the second team that plays well, somehow steals a victory, and leaves the first team wondering ‘what the heck happened?’

Well, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn clearly had his team ready to play Houston on Sunday. There was no overlooking the Texans. And because of that, the Falcons probably earned one of their most impressive victories since the NFC Championship Game season of 2012.

Quinn and his staff deserve all the credit for that. And with a remaining schedule that most would consider less than scary, the one simply playoff hopeful Falcons can now seriously begin to consider their chances at battling for one of the top spots in the entire NFC playoff hunt.

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Next up for the Falcons is another home game at the Georgia Dome against the Washington Redskins, a club that improved its record to 2-2 on Sunday, thanks to a thrilling last-second victory over the NFC East rival Philadelphia Eagles.

Atlanta is 8-15-1 all-time against Washington, with Falcon wins in five of the last six against the Redskins, including each of the last four.

The Washington offense has struggled at times this season, but the Redskin defense has been better than anticipated. So once again, Atlanta will find itself in a potential trap game against a team most experts will believe the Falcons should handle without much problem.

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Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at cedricwilliams510@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.