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3 Up, 3 Down: Thoughts and players

Keeping track of which Falcons are rising and falling throughout the 2021 season.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons appeared to take the Bills’ best punch and respond with their own in the first half of Sunday’s 29-15 loss, but a combination of injuries, adjustments and better play by Buffalo in the second half led to the ultimate outcome. It was one of the most inspiring performances by Atlanta this season, but the unfortunate result has officially eliminated the team from the postseason.

Despite the result, there were some great individual efforts, particularly on the defensive side of the ball for the Falcons. So let’s get into the players who had a strong showing in the season’s penultimate game, and those who need to rebound in the finale.

Up

LB Foye Oluokun

The reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week had another excellent performance in Week 17. It’s hard to imaging Oluokun’s stock getting much higher this season, but he’s doing his best to make that happen. Not only did he tip the ball on Duron Harmon’s interception, which sparked the Falcons’ first-half turnaround but he also fielded one of his own to stop Buffalo’s first drive of the second half.

He’s currently the NFL’s leading tackler with 179 stops and could finish the year atop the leaderboard after Bobby Wagner sprained his knee on Sunday. It feels like Oluokun has a breakout season seemingly every year, but this one should make him a known commodity around the league.

S Duron Harmon

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta was down a few safeties on Sunday, but Harmon held his own on the back end. According to Pro Football Focus, Harmon did not allow a single reception in his coverage, and his 77.7 grade was the highest among Falcons defenders.

Harmon had the igniting pick in the second quarter that helped fuel Atlanta’s comeback, and he’s been pretty solid all season long. He’s flown under the radar for most of the year, but Harmon is exactly the type of player Atlanta needed to bring in after a mass exodus at the safety position.

TE Parker Hesse

Kyle Pitts’s hamstring injury may have submarined the Falcons’ offense, but it allowed for Parker Hesse to rise from the depths of, well, the depth chart. Hesse did exactly what was asked of him with Pitts ailing and Hayden Hurst on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and he finished the game with three catches for 31 yards.

Not eye-popping stuff, mind you, but on a day when the Falcons really couldn’t get much going through the air, Hesse deserves credit for providing Matt Ryan with a reliable safety valve.

Down

S Shawn Williams

Stepping in to fill the void at strong safety against Buffalo was Shawn Williams. Like the rest of Atlanta’s defense, Williams played hard, but he missed a few tackles and was on the wrong side of a couple of big plays.

I don’t want to be too hard on any one single member of the defense, because this was a valiant effort against a good offense in pretty terrible conditions, but Williams stood out on a handful of successful Bills plays.

OG Jalen Mayfield

This has been a very up-and-down season for Jalen Mayfield, and Sunday was another low point. Pro Footabll Focus assigned Mayfield a pass-block grade of 8.0, which is astoundingly low for a starter who played 50 snaps. I think that’s a bit harsh because Mayfield wasn’t that bad, but Ryan seemingly threw every ball off his back foot and the pressure was most consistent right up the middle.

PFF credited Mayfield with five pressures allowed, including one sack, and the rookie was also penalized twice.

Taunting penalties

Atlanta Falcons v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

If a 36-year-old quarterback who probably runs the 40-yard-dash in 5.4 seconds at this point can’t celebrate a little bit after what should have been a huge 7-yard touchdown run in the snow, who among us can? Also, if the touchdown gets called back, I suggest any post-play celebrations should be null and void.