The Atlanta Falcons relied on their best player against arguably the NFC's best team, and it paid off.
Julio Jones scored the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds, a touchdown that was confirmed after a review. Then the Falcons tacked on another score on special teams at the end to make it 29-22. Jones' score happened after an acrobatic touchdown by tight end Austin Hooper was overturned following a review.
The win could improve coach Dan Quinn's status with owner Arthur Blank. The Falcons are 5-9 but have beaten two of the NFC's best in the 49ers and the New Orleans Saints -- both on the road.
Sunday's win would not have happened without Jones, who caught 13 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 20 targets. Whether his targets increased because Calvin Ridley was placed on injured reserve (abdominal injury) doesn't matter. Jones simply got the job done.
When Jones wasn't catching passes, he was drawing pass interference penalties, including one that set up a touchdown run by rookie Qadree Ollison. Jones, just a couple of games removed from a serious shoulder injury that kept him out of the Thanksgiving night game against the Saints, showed no ill-effects from that injury.
Jones wasn't even flawless Sunday, dropping a couple balls he normally would catch, but he snapped a career-worst nine-game stretch without scoring a touchdown within a single season.
If Quinn somehow survives the storm from this tumultuous season, he'll have Jones to thank for it. It's always good to have arguably the best receiver in the league on your team. And now Quinn and the Falcons need to ride Jones in their final two games, next week at home against Jacksonville and in the season finale at Tampa Bay.
QB Breakdown: Matt Ryan completed 25 of 39 passes for 210 yards and the two scores to Jones. He posted a QB rating of 95 and did a nice job scrambling to avoid pressure at times. Ryan was sacked twice in the game and ran the ball five times for 27 yards, including a long run of 9 yards.
Troubling trend: Penalties became a thorn in the Falcons' side again, although at least two of them were questionable calls. The Falcons collected 11 penalties for 98 yards, with costly penalties on offense, defense and special teams.
Silver lining: Vic Beasley Jr. had another sack to bring his team-leading total to seven with two games remaining. Beasley has 5.5 sacks over his past six games after going five games without a sack. Beasley still isn't the same player who led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2016, but he's played inspired football in the second half of the season after being dangled as trade bait before the deadline. Beasley's contract is up after this season, and his future as a Falcon is uncertain despite the surge. If the Falcons don't want to bring him back, Beasley knows he's auditioning for 31 other teams. Overall, the defense came up with some big stops when it counted most. Give De'Vondre Campbell credit for a strip and Blidi Wreh-Wilson credit for playing solid a cornerback with Desmond Trufant (forearm) on injured reserve.