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Falcons - Jaguars next day recap: Victory is sweet no matter what

Atlanta made it customarily difficult, but earned the win on the road against Jacksonville.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons had fallen apart over the past two weeks. Fortunately, getting Cordarrelle Patterson back and playing the Jaguars was all they needed to get that car flipped over and back on the road. even if they threatened to careen off the highway and into a ravine more than once.

Atlanta is not a team that beats good teams at this point, and they tend to make things nerve-wrackingly close against the NFL’s worst squads. For all that, they’re 5-6 and hanging around in the NFC South and the NFC playoff hunt, which is both a stupid thing to put your hopes into and fun given our limited expectations for the season. Most importantly, they ultimately did what they should do—beat a bad football team—and continued to be bizarrely effective on the road.

The Jaguars basically climbed into this one late when the Falcons wilted, because the first half was lopsided. Atlanta’s defense mostly held for the second straight week, showing more life in the pass rush than we’ve seen in a while and forcing a pair of timely turnovers along the way. The offense, while still shaky and at times deeply frustrating, still managed a trio of touchdowns and uncorked their first 100 yard rusher in many moons. It was a team victory, however shaky that team may still be.

I had a long paragraph typed out about where this team stands in the division and expectations, but let’s be honest: Our expectations shouldn’t be jumping based on a win like this. Instead, let’s just breathe a sigh of relief that the Falcons beat the Jaguars and gear up for the Bucs game, a much tougher challenge and another opportunity or Atlanta to prove they can do more than beat up weak teams and fall apart against good ones. Matt Ryan’s steadfast belief that this team has its best football ahead of it aside, we can enjoy the offense not being legitimately embarrassing and the defense finding its way a bit in the interim, and hoping they’ll keep it up and steal one against Tom Brady and company never goes out of style.

Either way, I’m happy we’re not miserable this morning, either way.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • It’s probably hyperbole but I don’t care. Cordarrelle Patterson is having one of the most fun seasons in NFL history, both from an enjoyment perspective and in terms of what he’s accomplishing given his track record to this point. His return to the game for the Falcons came just in time for him to wreak havoc against the Jaguars, as he ran effectively and put up a pair of touchdowns on the ground for a team that hadn’t been able to run the ball at all the past two weeks. He also put up the team’s first 100 yard rushing effort in a long, long time, and he did so on just 16 carries for a tidy 6.8 yards per tote. He also was the team’s second-leading receiver with two receptions or 27 yards, which means he put up 135 yards on just 18 touches. The man may be a sorcerer.

Patterson is not just the best signing of the offseason for the Falcons, he was probably the best signing considering cost and production across the entire NFL. I know there’s the possibility that Patterson won’t match his 2021 production

  • This game will merit a re-watch with an eye on Drew Dalman to see how much of a difference his insertion into the lineup made, but the difference in the run game seemed immediate and noticeable. Cordarrelle Patterson and Wayne Gallman both had nice runs with Dalman blocking well for them, and if the falcons like what they see when they review this one, Dalman may well take over the job. I wasn’t expecting any lineup changes from the Falcons for this struggling offensive line, but it wouldn’t shock me to see the new regime favor their draft pick over the long haul.

Hennesssy did come back in the game in the second half and the two rotated, so a rotation may be what we get the rest of the way. Keep an eye on Dalman pushing hard for the center job this year and next, but if a rotation is what Arthur Smith wants (and there are indications that’s exactly what he wants), at least the Falcons got a good game out of Dalman and a better one from Hennessy as time went on.

  • Russell Gage has not had the most consistent season, to put it mildly, but his willingness to take a big hit, leap defenders and push for extra yardage helps and was pivotal in this one. More than once, he turned on the jets to turn a short pass into a meaningful gain, including on a key first down and on his touchdown from Matt Ryan. His production has been mouse whisper quiet, but he’s picked up 111 yards on 11 receptions the past two weeks and may be finding his footing at a good time.
  • Dante Fowler looked healthy and motivated in this one. He strip sacked Trevor Lawrence in the second quarter and added a relentless pass rush that impacted multiple throws that same quarter, including a half-ending toss out of bounds caused by him flustering Lawrence even if he didn’t bring him down. If Fowler is ready to be a difference maker for this defense, it makes the pass rush better and eases the strain on the secondary, both big positives for this defense.
  • You just have to marvel at Grady Jarrett sometimes. He missed a tackle in this one but was a terror most of the game as he so often is, finding his way into the backfield by brute force and slipperiness alike and impacting plays. I know you probably get tired of seeing me type it, but Jarrett makes the whole thing work when it does and is a reliable bright spot when it doesn’t.
  • Anthony Rush has been such a positive addition to this defense. On Sunday, he jarred the ball loose in the second quarter on a Jaguars run and Marlon Davidson recovered it, stalling a drive deep in Jacksonville territory and giving the Falcons offense a shot. His run defense has been eye-opening, he’s young, and the Falcons should absolutely prioritize bringing him back in 2022.
  • A.J. Terrell was a stud again, breaking up multiple passes and proving to be characteristically stingy in coverage. His third quarter injury was a scary moment, and the Falcons defense just can’t function at a high level without him, so it’s good he was able to come back into the game.
  • Give Duron Harmon credit for recognizing that Trevor Lawrence was just lofting one up on what he thought was a free play and making the interception on the play, as that’s the kind of opportunity Atlanta has passed up far too often this season.
  • The pass rush looked better in this one than it has all year, and that’s only mild hyperbole. Trevor Lawrence was under duress frequently and had to make a few ill-advised throws because of it, and if the team only ultimately managed one sack, they did enough to throw off the timing of the Jaguars passing attack that it ultimately proved decisive. Even that modest level of improvement and consistency could pay real dividends for Atlanta the rest of the way.
  • I continue to come with praise for Darren Hall, a player I liked coming out of the draft and one who appears to be coming into his own. He had a couple of big hits in this one and nice coverage on Laquon Treadwell late in the game when it mattered, and if that’s not the most august matchup in the world, it still suggests that Hall has enough talent to be a real contributor for this defense. I hope he can keep building on it.
  • New punter Thomas Morstead showed off a booming leg and gave the Jaguars difficult, long fields to work with, and probably did enough to stick beyond this week based on that.
  • The Falcons actually ran the ball effectively! That takes a bit of a whole team effort even if Patterson is the most vital piece, so kudos to the Falcons for managing it.

The Ugly

  • The passing game remains a work in progress. Matt Ryan had more time in the pocket but few receivers creating separation, and when he tried to force the ball to Kyle Pitts despite difficult coverage, he either couldn’t connect consistently or was picked off on a poor throw that Tyson Campbell capitalized on. Atlanta did rally, thankfully, and Ryan had enough sharp throws, Russell Gage enough quality pickups after catches and so forth to win this one, but they can’t start this slow against Tampa Bay and expect things to go as well as they did against Jacksonville.

That’s on Ryan, who was not at his sharpest on Sunday, and it’s on his receivers who struggled to get open and take advantage of their opportunities, especially in the first half. Again, hiccups will happen, but this needs to be a strength and not a weakness if the Falcons are going to beat teams aside from, say, the Lions.

  • Missed tackles were a problem. Mykal Walker was one of the leading culprits on Sunday filling in for Deion Jones, which was a tough assignment on short notice and should not be the final word on his ability or his future. Either way, he was hardly alone, as everyone from Erik Harris to Grady Jarrett missed opportunities that prolonged drives for the Jaguars, which helped keep them in the game until uncomfortably late.
  • The Jaguars made so many crucial mistakes in big moments that you would’ve thought they were the Falcons. Their drive-rescuing penalties kept Atlanta alive more than once in this one when they should have been punting it away, and while I’m grateful for that, there’s no point in denying it was ugly...for another team for a change.

Except it wasn’t much of a change, because the Falcons made plenty of their own mistakes. The most egregious may have been the back-to-back penalties on a late fourth quarter punt, where they were called for delay of game and offsides consecutively in what could have been a costly unforced series of errors. It didn’t wind up costing them the game, but the Falcons have a nasty of habit of making costly mistakes at exactly the wrong moment that they need to kick given their thin margin for error.

  • The Falcons have to be able to hold on to the leads they get. That’s not a one week, one hammer, one nail type of problem, but better teams are going to take the opportunity to get back into the game and leave Atlanta in the dust.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Cordarrelle Patterson, obviously. He had a great game fresh off of injury and scored the first two touchdowns for Atlanta, which also happened to be the first touchdowns they had scored since the Saints game. He remains a wizard, and I’m grateful he’s in Atlanta.

One Takeaway

The Falcons are, statistically, a bad team. They also beat up on other bad teams, and we haven’t been able to count on that for a while, so I’ll take that if it keeps happening.

Next Week

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are dealing with regression to the mean in terms of injury and don’t look nearly as invincible as they did back in Week 2. We’ll see if the Falcons can make it happen, but in the meantime, check out Bucs Nation.

Final Word