You don’t get bonus points for beating a team if they’re bad, or if you happen to be down a few key starters on offense and defense. All you get is a win, but those wins mean a lot, and they’re even sweeter when you can get them in spite of adverse circumstances.
No Calvin Ridley, no Russell Gage, no Erik Harris, no Isaiah Oliver, no Avery Williams, no Marlon Davison, no Cameron Nizialek. The Falcons were down a few major contributors and useful players in this one, but they made it work with a well-rounded effort from both the offense and defense. It may have been the Jets, but this team holding on to a lead after a series of troubles was a welcome outcome and a sign of growth.
They teased the collapse, of course, and while this game didn’t end up being the sloppy slugfest I might’ve predicted, it still had its moments. This team led 20-3 at the half but were outscored 17-7 in the second half, leading to some extremely tense moments. I know from my postgame mentions on Twitter that there are plenty of fans who saw how close Atlanta came to giving this one away and the level of competition and refuse to imbue this win with any special meaning, which I totally understand. I’m looking for wins and positive efforts, though, and the Falcons’ ability to hold off New York as the clock ticked down scratched those itches.
It was not a mistake-free effort, as drops and costly fumbles made it closer than it otherwise would’ve been, and a huge return once again caused problems for the Falcons. The fact that they survived those mistakes this time around says a lot about the Jets—boy, Zach Wilson made a lot of mistakes himself—but also their growing resilience and ability to overcome those mistakes. The offense functioned at a high level without Ridley and Gage, rookies got considerable work on defense to good effect, and the coaching staff appears to be learning from their mistakes, though this is admittedly a small sample size to base that conclusion on.
After the first couple of weeks of the season and their brutal, listless results, I think any of us who weren’t already expecting this to be a lackluster season prepared ourselves for the worst. We’re a long ways away from a great Falcons team and we’re going to see more tough losses this year, but the story of the past three weeks has been a story of halting steps forward. For a team that has spun its tires for the past few seasons, even the ghost of improvement is a welcome specter indeed.
If the Falcons keep making progress every week, this will be a fun season even if they don’t win a ton of games.
On to the full recap!
- Matt Ryan has found his footing in tremendous fashion. There are a couple of throws per game that border on reckless and/or reveal the limitations of his arm strength in 2021, but those throws are increasingly few and far between. In between those, he’s throwing darts, fitting the ball into tight windows and making use of all of his weapons, as he did on a day where he found Kyle Pitts often and aggressively targeted the likes of Christian Blake, the very reliable Tajae Sharpe and Lee Smith.
After the first three weeks and an erratic day against the Giants, I suggested that Ryan was going to need to become better and more comfortable for this offense to hum, and he’s done so rapidly. What makes me think Ryan can play into his 40s, whether for the Falcons or another team, is his durability and intelligence as a passer, and the speed with which he’s picked up the offense and picked up his game bodes well for not just the season but his future.
- Cordarrelle Patterson is an absolute joy to watch, and I’m so happy the Falcons brought him aboard and unlocked his potential on offense. He ran well in this one, he caught the ball effectively and pushed for extra yardage, and he was as always an effective kick returner. Even when Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are back and the Falcons finally get Mike Davis going, Patterson’s going to be a fun and effective weapon the rest of the year, and I’m very grateful for that.
- Mike Davis and Hayden Hurst weren’t perfect—they both had fumbles we gotta talk about later—but both had good games on balance. Hurst snagged four catches for 40 yards and a touchdown and Davis put together a good day on the ground, managing 53 yards on 13 carries and an absolute bulldozer of a touchdown as well. Neither player has had their best days in 2021, but minus the mistakes these were steps in the right direction.
- At least on the first watch, the Falcons’ offensive line did a nice job, largely giving Matt Ryan room to work and giving Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson more of a chance to run the ball effectively. The progression of the offensive line has correlated pretty neatly with the progression of the offense, and that doesn’t feel like a coincidence.
- The Jets foolishly decided not to double up Kyle Pitts on every play, and he made them pay for it. This was by far Pitts’ biggest workload of the year and he made the most of it, making tough catches in traffic and running for additional yardage. Had he not been called down on a player where he appeared to land on a defender instead of the turf, his numbers might have been even greater, but he still managed his first 100 yard game and touchdown grab. Expect a lot from Pitts, because he’s showing he can deliver it.
- Lee Smith has been a fun addition to this offense as a quality blocker and guy who can get a critical catch when he gets the opportunity. In this one, it was a 22 yard pickup on the team’s second drive to get the Falcons in the red zone. He also had a leaping sideline grab and enjoyed one of the best games of his career as a receiver in this one, and continues to be well worth that 7th round pick.
- It was awesome to see Ade Ogundeji get his first career NFL sack in this one, taking down Zach Wilson late in the fourth quarter with the Falcons trying to hold on to their 10 point lead. He’s been quietly good all season, but looked especially good in this one and should continue to step into a larger role as time goes on.
- Jacob Tuioti-Mariner’s effort on what was effectively the game-clinching sack was tremendous. He blew into the backfield and just missed Wilson, forcing him out of his comfort zone, then got back up and finished off the sack. His playing time has been inconsistent thus far, but I still really like what JTM brings to the table as a pass rusher for this defense.
- Jaylinn Hawkins grabbed the team’s first interception of the year on an errant throw by Zach Wilson, confidently stepping in front of it and coming down with it. That was a great play for Hawkins, who has been getting some burn at safety even with Erik Harris and Duron Harmon healthy and figures to get more if he keeps making plays like that.
- Fabian Moreau has had an uneven year, but he was impactful in this one, especially as a tackler. He absolutely sniffed out a play in the third quarter that resulted in a multi-yard loss for the Jets but was unfortunately hurt on the play. It was great to see him playing well here, though, and hopefully he can build off the effort.
- Richie Grant finally got into the game and was immediately useful, managing a quality stop at the line of scrimmage and a pass breakup in his first game action on defense. He looked like a player who was ready to contribute right now, and if injury is an unfortunate reason for him to get into the game, it was great to see him look really good when called upon. Hopefully this leads to more opportunities immediately.
- Darren Hall also received his first real game action, and he had a crucial special teams play when he forced Tevin Coleman out of bounds on what would’ve otherwise been a return touchdown. He also looked pretty comfortable at the nickel for someone who hasn’t had any run in the regular season, and with Isaiah Oliver out that quality audition might help him at least split time at the position with others going forward.
- Younghoe Koo drilled a 52 yard field goal as time expired in the first half. Yawn. Ho hum.
- The coaching staff appears to be figuring some things out, even if injury definitely seemed to force Dean Pees and company to trot out rookies they might have otherwise mothballed. Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone are getting much more out of this offense than they were in the first three weeks of the season and Pees’ defense had a nice bounceback game after a putrid effort against Washington. Now Marquice Williams and company just need to iron out whatever’s going on with the kick return coverage and we’ll be in business.
- Special teams hasn’t been very special for the Falcons these part two weeks outside of Koo, unfortunately. The Jets almost uncorked a return touchdown to open the second half, the second straight week where their opponent had a great return to kick things off. This time it was Tevin Coleman and he got the Jets deep in Atlanta’s territory before he was pushed out of bounds by Hall. Atlanta’s going to need to clean that up quickly, to put it mildly.
- Mike Davis has, I believe, been an asset for the offense this year because he can fight for extra yards even if he’s immediately being met by contact. He had a super costly play in this one, however, as the ball was knocked loose on a third quarter carry and the Jets recovered. Davis virtually never fumbles, so I’d chalk that up as a bit of an unfortunate fluke.
- Hayden Hurst fumbled in the second quarter trying to fight for extra yards after a nice catch, which gave the Jets back the ball and allowed them to drive. Hurst lost the ball twice, but fortunately the other one was not recovered by the Jets. Those are the kind of ball security issues that could cost this team games, so we’ll hope they’re also a bit of a fluke for Hurst.
- Olamide Zaccheaus just hasn’t held on to the ball the last couple of weeks. After a crucial drop in Week 4, he dropped an easy grab and a tougher one where he met with a lot of contact while leaping for the ball. He would make up for it later with a couple of nice grabs and an onside kick recovery to end the game, but he’ll need to be more sure-handed to continue to get run as the team’s third receiver when everyone’s healthy.
- The sour note, as you might guess based on the notes above, is that this team is still making some pretty big mistakes. The difference between a win in Washington a week ago and a more emphatic win against the Jets yesterday more or less hinged on those errors, and against better teams multiple fumbles and drops will probably doom them. With the bye looming, Atlanta’s got to take the foundation they’re building and try to shore up some of the cracks in it.
It was Matt Ryan, who played a tremendous game and avoided costly mistakes on a day where he was down a couple of key weapons and watched his pass catchers drop a couple of nice balls and fumble away one drive. He’s clearly getting better and more comfortable as the weeks go on, and that bodes well for an offense that still could wind up being very good in 2021.
The team’s learning the little lessons from past performances that could make a big difference over time, even if their base talent level and the pace at which they’re progressing are unlikely to add up to anything jaw-dropping in 2021.
The bye! It’ll be a quiet week, but one the Falcons will hopefully use to ensure they come out swinging against the Dolphins.