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Falcons vs. 49ers: Hat tips & head-scratchers

A loss that was likely the dagger for Atlanta’s playoff hopes.

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Falcons’ playoff hopes evaporated on the heels of a lousy showing in San Francisco. There were many a head-scratcher in this one, but two stand out for sure.

Hat tips

Forcing the fumble on the opening kick

An impressive start that proved emblematic of Atlanta’s season. As the commentator said, the smoke from the opening fireworks hadn’t even settled, yet the Falcons had made a special teams statement in the initial seconds of the contest.

Running back Qadree Ollison, working on special teams, forced the fumble on San Francisco kick returner JyMcal Hasty, knocking the ball lose for safety Richie Grant to recover on the 49ers’ own 12-yard-line.

Now, that’s quite the way to start a must-win game on the road — if only the offense could capitalize on that bit of fortune. They could not.

From San Francisco’s one-yard-line, Atlanta flew its red-zone-woes-flag high, dialing up a designed pass to blocking tight end Lee Smith that would not be caught, and eventually turning the ball over on downs.

We’ve mercifully got three games left, and it’s the Atlanta Falcons, so even the hat tips section will be accompanied by sour notes at this point. Clutch plays by both Ollison and Grant to put them in the position to put up points, however.

Gage channels Moss

Wide receiver Russell Gage has turned into the de-facto WR1 in Calvin Ridley’s absence, a role that he was not drafted for nor ever expected to fulfill. That was clear in the second quarter when he dropped a pass from Matt Ryan that hit him right in the hands and would have moved the chains.

One roughing-the-passer penalty later and Gage does what’s been known to do: make unexpectedly bonkers circus catches in clutch moments.

On 1st-&-15 from the 49ers 20-yard-line, Ryan heaved a pass to the far-right post of the end zone, and Gage — blanketed by cornerback Ambry Thomas — somehow lept over him to secure the football for the score.

A thing of beauty from Russell Gage, who redeemed himself from his drop earlier in the drive.

Head-scratchers

CP’s TD overturned

Running back/wide receiver/kick returner/after-hours elevator mechanic Cordarrelle Patterson appeared to score on Atlanta’s opening drive — the onfield officials ruled it as such.

Inexplicably the call was reversed and the Falcons would come away with no points off of the game-opening turnover. I’m still trying to determine what the replay officials saw that would overturn the called touchdown on the field. Traditionally, deference is given to the on-field call without ‘overwhelming’ evidence that a call should be reversed.

There was nothing overwhelming about that replay, other than more evidence that Cordarrelle Patterson continues to be a force of nature in a Falcons uniform.

The Call

Football, if you distill the game down to its core, is about moving the ball forward. That’s particularly important when the game is on the line — it’s ideal that you make progress toward the defending team’s end zone.

So why, then, would Arthur Smith call a toss play to Cordarrelle Patterson on 4th-&-inches from the 49ers’ eight-yard-line, a play that meant CP received the football seven yards behind the line of scrimmage? I’ve been combing my brain for some kind of rationalization for this decision since it occurred and I feel like I’m beginning to spiral into madness.

Is Arthur Smith allergic to QB sneaks? This kind of thing has happened multiple times in his inaugural campaign, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.