Atlanta Falcons: 2013 Week 16 ATL at SF

The pass most folks will recall from the Atlanta Falcons' 34-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night is the one Matt Ryan threw to Harry Douglas that was jarred from Douglas' hand, intercepted by linebacker NaVorro Bowman and returned 89 yards for the game-clinching score.

The pass that should be remembered -- at least from the Falcons' standpoint -- is the one Ryan sailed deep to Roddy White for a 39-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It arguably was Ryan's sharpest long ball of the season, although White certainly made a nice adjustment to make a falling, over-the-shoulder catch between 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock and free safety Eric Reid.

[+] EnlargeAtlanta's Roddy White
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsRoddy White had 12 catches for 141 yards and this touchdown against the 49ers.
More than anything, the play symbolized a positive step for the Falcons toward next year.

Yes, the Ryan-White connection is back clicking again.

White hadn't been himself all season after first suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason and then a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the first games of his career. Monday night, he looked more like the four-time Pro Bowl receiver the Falcons had grown accustomed to seeing since he entered the league in 2005.

White caught a season-high 12 passes for 141 yards on the same field he posted a career-high 210 receiving yards in 2009. Over the past four games, White has 35 catches for 411 yards. Those 35 catches are tied for the NFL lead this month.

No doubt, the 32-year-old White has discovered his fountain of youth at the right time. There have been talks of the team signing him to an extension this offseason, but it was fair to wonder if White's slew of injuries might cause the organization to hesitate.

White's performance as of late, however, shows just how valuable an asset he is to this team. Even if top receiver Julio Jones returns to full strength next season following foot surgery, the Falcons need White to be the stabilizing force in the receiving corps.

Not to mention tight end Tony Gonzalez will retire after this Sunday's season finale against the Carolina Panthers, taking away one of Ryan's primary targets. That will put the onus on White and Jones to be the dominant tandem they were in 2012, when each surpassed 1,000 receiving yards.

At least from White's perspective, Monday night should have been a sign of more to come. Provided the Falcons can shore up the offensive line in the offseason, the offense should be back among the league's elite next season if everyone returns healthy.

And when healthy, White is among the league's elite. Just ask the 49ers defensive backs.

Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons

December, 23, 2013

A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons34-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night:

What it means: Although the Falcons showed a lot of fight and might have spoiled the night -- had NaVorro Bowman not picked off a ball deflected from Falcons receiver Harry Douglas’ hands and returned 89 yards for the game-clinching touchdown -- the loss might have helped Atlanta in the end. Now, at 4-11, the Falcons are sixth in the draft order with a chance to move up, depending on the outcome of the final weekend of games. Some fans continue to lobby for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the Falcons would likely need a top-five pick to even have a chance at Clowney. Whatever the case, the draft will be intriguing for a team trying to recover from an unexpected fall down the NFL standings.

Stock watch: Drew Davis’ stock grew on one play. The unheralded receiver not only helped with a block at the line of scrimmage, he then found an opening down the field, caught a pass from Matt Ryan, did a spin and picked up 45 yards after the catch en route to a career-long 59-yard reception. It helped set up Steven Jackson’s 2-yard touchdown run. Davis has made some plays this season and probably deserved more opportunities. Matt Bosher's stock also rose after the punter/kicker executed a perfect onside kick that was recovered by Jason Snelling, although it all went for naught after Bowman's pick-six.

Crucial calls: Two defensive penalties on the Falcons will be talked about the next few days, and only one of them should have been called. Veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora made a rookie mistake when he lined up in the neutral zone with the 49ers facing third-and-10 from their own 17. It gave the 49ers a more manageable third down, which they converted, and the drive ended with Colin Kaepernick’s touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin. Then, on the very next 49ers drive, Falcons rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow was whistled for a phantom pass-interference penalty on third down. The questionable call helped set up a San Francisco field goal.

Wounded warriors: The Falcons were already down one defensive starter when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was declared inactive with a knee injury. Then, early in the game, starting defensive tackle Corey Peters went down with an Achilles injury. That’s bad news for Peters, who is set to become a free agent. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers and receiver Douglas also got banged up during the game, but Douglas returned in time to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the season.

What’s next: Sunday’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers should be all about Tony Gonzalez. The Hall of Fame-bound tight end will play his final NFL game in front of the home crowd at the Georgia Dome. The organization is likely to honor Gonzalez with a video tribute. He won’t go out with a Super Bowl ring, but Gonzalez will still walk off a true champion.