For the most part the Cincinnati Bengals defense held on. The Falcons rushing offense generated no production against the first-team Bengals defense. Yet they weren't especially strong against Atlanta's passing offense; coverages were a little soft and the pass rush wasn't getting to the quarterback quick enough because the Falcons ran several quick patterns. In the second quarter the Bengals defense was badly exploited in the passing game, unable to prevent Atlanta's touchdown on a drive that featured eight consecutive passing plays.
After Jacquizz Rodgers picked up four yards on a run to Atlanta's 16-yard line, the Falcons flipped the switch into an all-out passing assault. With 9:48 remaining in the second quarter on second-and-six, Ryan takes the shotgun snap on a bubble screen to Roddy White. Tackle Tyson Clabo impressively sprinted out to setup the initial block, neutralizing Terence Newman from the play. In fact White has quite the escort.
Reggie Nelson, who initially blitzed on the play, recognized early enough that his pass rush was futile, redirecting with the football and tracking White down, eventually making the stop after the nine-yard gain. It could have been much, much more.
From their own 25-yard line with 9:16 remaining in the half, Ryan fakes the pitch to the left, which fooled the front seven (except Jamaal Anderson who didn't see the fake). Tight end Michael Palmer, in a two-point stance on the left side of the line of scrimmage, broke into a crossing pattern after six yards, while drifting up-field. Vontaze Burfict and Thomas Howard were recovering from the fake. But by that time, Palmer had gained plenty of separation while he was already at full speed.
Palmer picked up 20 yards on the play, setting up another first down from Atlanta's 45-yard line with 8:39 remaining in the half.
Ryan is in shotgun with an empty backfield. Harry Douglas is in the slot, between Palmer and the wide receiver flanking left, motions upfield and then falls back into a wide receiver bubble screen.
Jeromy Miles, recognizing the play, sprints into Douglas' legs, knocking him off-balance just enough for Roddrick Muckelroy to make the stop for a one-yard loss.
With 8:02 remaining in the second quarter on second-and-11, Matt Ryan is under center with a three-wide single-back formation. Julio Jones, wide left, makes contact with Nate Clements two yards off the line of scrimmage and cuts into an inside slant. Howard attempts to cut off the passing lane, but Ryan successfully clears Cincinnati's outside linebacker. However the floater allowed Clements to throw an arm into the trajectory of the football.
Jones, with tremendous focus and concentration, caught the obstructed (and juggled) football without even looking the football into his hands. Jones preceded to spin away from a lazy Reggie Nelson tackle and picked up 15 yards on the play. Sometimes you just have to give credit to the other team for a superior play.
After an overthrow for Jones down the left sidelines with Nate Clements covering, that would have easily scored a touchdown with a good pass, the Falcons setup from the Bengals 41-yard line with 7:14 remaining in the first half.
Ryan takes a five-step drop, fakes the vertical route to Julio Jones down the left sidelines and looks to his right. Just before being tagged in the pocket, Ryan releases to Roddy White, sitting three yards short of the first down marker near the right sidelines. Terence Newman, the only person standing in the way from White and a massive gain, gave a little ground but eventually completed the open-field tackle for a 16-yard gain.
The Falcons are on Cincinnati's 25-yard line with 6:39 remaining. Ryan fakes the first-down handoff and targets Julio Jones, flanked wide left, successfully gaining inside position on Nate Clements. After ten yards into his route, Jones bends inside on a post with Ryan placing the perfectly placed (and timed) pass into his second-year receiver's hands. Clements, boxed out of the play behind Jones' body, didn't have a chance to break up the pass. Mays entered the picture to help Clements complete the tackle at Cincinnati's two-yard line.
On the next play Ryan faked the handoff and floated the pass to Lousaka Polite with a badly trailing Manny Lawson in pursuit.
Polite hauled in the football and scored the touchdown, tying the game at ten.