Atlanta’s first victory of the 2021 season delivered a little bit of everything, from rip-out-your-hair offensive ineptitude to clutch plays on both sides of the ball. We all ought to be enjoying this win and hoping it portends more wins in the near future, but what did we actually take away from this low-scoring slugfest?
Our answers to that particular question are below, and they range between the welcome progress this team is showing and a concern that we may be overlooking how flawed they looked in getting the W. Read our takes and give us your hottest in the comments.
The progress is what matters
This was an ugly win and this coaching staff deserves to be questioned on numerous things. Feleipe Franks as a tight end? The invisibility of Hurst and Pitts for 95% of the game? The poor play for large stretches from key guys like Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley? That said, this is a work-in-progress team and several key units took a step forward. The offensive line was good in the running game and decent in pass blocking. The defense was disruptive at times and found ways to limit the damage that the Giants could do. This is probably not a playoff caliber team, but the trajectory matters. Even if it was a frustrating win, there were signs that progress is being made. Right now, that’s all we can really ask for. - David Walker
The win matters, but don’t get drunk off of it
The Falcons were so inept offensively that they couldn’t muster 20 points, the defense was very solid but made some characteristic mistakes, and for most of the game it looked like Cameron Nizialek might get MVP consideration. It was, in so many ways, the same old Falcons we’ve seen this year with a little bit of a bump in effectiveness, and the only major difference is that they won.
Don’t get me wrong: That win was great to see, and I had a bounce in my step on Sunday I haven’t had in a long time. I’ve been down on this team since the season started—some of that is the fault of my own modest expectations not being delivered on in the early going—but there’s no question it’s nice to feel like the Falcons are building toward something, however uncertain that something may be, rather than foundering in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. But while they continue to make some tangible progress, the Falcons remain a frustratingly incomplete team, one that largely has been far too easy for opposing teams to defend. We’re still waiting for them to put together the kind of complete effort that will earn them a W against a good football team, and given the pace of improvement thus far, we may be waiting a while. - Dave Choate
Some fight will matter down the road
The Falcons shouldn’t take Sunday’s finish lightly. They played like ass for nearly four quarters on offense and mustered up a mostly great finish to snag a win that probably should’ve stayed in the Meadowlands with the home team. The defense was pretty good all things considered and did enough to bail out an offense that looked uninspired and lost.
The win is twofold: it’s a huge, huge win for Arthur Smith’s culture building — a building block as he reshapes the team in his image — and further proof he’s not where he needs to be yet in his play calling duties to get the team where it wants to go right now. The great part is the latter can improve drastically over time as he gets more comfortable with his expanded duties and with his new personnel. This team probably won’t be ready for the playoffs this year, but it is ready to fight for their coach now. That matters. - Cory Woodroof
The Falcons won yet I’m only more worried
I left last week’s loss surprisingly optimistic. I did not expect the Falcons to beat the Buccaneers, yet they put up a good fight considering all of the team’s problems. Things felt like they were pointing up. Yet, when faced against a far lesser talent, the Falcons showed no week-on-week progress. After three weeks, certain decisions are confounding. Kyle Pitts played one single, solitary preseason snap. Now in the regular season, Pitts has shown nearly zero chemistry with Matt Ryan and has few targets despite heavy snaps. The deep passing game is not there. Smith is playing a very conservative game, forced into gimmicks reminiscent of Mike Mularkey’s exotic smash mouth which was painfully dated even 12 years back.
The good news is the Falcons were in a must-win situation and the team put it together to win. The bad news is the team is still bad and far from competing against better talent. - Matt Chambers
Encouraging signs of progress, but the offense is still bad
Coming off back-to-back losses by 26 and 23 points, respectively, the Falcons managing to find a way to win a game is encouraging. A win is a win in the NFL, even if it’s on a last-second field goal to go up 17-14 against the lowly New York Giants. Atlanta desperately needed to avoid the dreaded 0-3 start—and despite how ugly the game was, they managed to do it. The defense held the Giants to just 14 points and kept Saquon Barkley from having a big day, and the offense did just enough to come away with a road victory.
Let’s start with the positives: the defense has played about as well as we could have hoped through three games. Against New York, they kept things close throughout and made the key stop at the end of the game to give the offense an opportunity to kick the game-winner. On offense, things were pretty bad outside of a handful of drives. Despite the offensive line performing better, the gameplan remained painfully conservative. Kyle Pitts appears to be an afterthought in the offense, and the Falcons are running the least aggressive passing attack in the league. We’ve got to hope these are just early season issues, because I expect a lot more from Arthur Smith. - Kevin Knight