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3 Up, 3 Down: Marcus Mariota delivers for the Falcons

Plus, young defenders step up when needed and the mounting injury situation.

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

I never thought I’d get so much enjoyment out of watching a team that threw the ball only 14 times and had running backs averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, but this Falcons offense is a beauty to watch each and every week. Against what had been statistically the best defense in the league through the first five weeks, Atlanta marched down the field on their opening drive and salted the game away when it needed to.

The defense did not register a single sack on Sunday, but they increasingly pressured Jimmy Garoppolo in the second half and created some critical turnovers, as well. Jaylinn Hawkins continues to make plays in his third season, and Rashaan Evans looked very comfortable getting the defense organized in Mykal Walker’s absence.

It’s always difficult to mention everybody in this piece after a good showing like yesterday because we limit this to just three selections each. So, I could easily include the offensive line in here every single week because they are dominating, but sometimes tough decisions need to be made. And I try to highlight players we aren’t normally all talking about, or whose stock did considerably rise relative to where it had been.

So, now that we’re all on the same page…

Three Up

Marcus Mariota

This was a great showing from the veteran quarterback, if not a stat-sheet-filler. Mariota was very efficient through the air, completing 13 of his 14 pass attempts for 129 yards with two touchdowns, and he had some timely third-down scrambles and another touchdown on the ground. It’s all the more impressive considering it came on the anniversary of his benching back in Tennessee, which he spoke about after the game.

“Three years ago, I was benched in this week. And you go through a process of kind of looking within and reflecting. Throughout that journey for me, you know, I kind of knew that I had to find my confidence to be able to play at a high level. So, when you get your confidence taken away from you, it is tough as an athlete, because I think that’s truly your only mental weapon that you have. So, to be able to build myself back up through the Raiders organization, through the Atlanta organization, through these teams and my teammates and the quarterback rooms that I’ve been a part of has been very important for me and critical in my career.”

Darren Hall

Falcons fans could be forgiven if visions of the fourth-quarter letdown against New Orleans in Week 1 flashed through their minds when A.J. Terrell left the game in the second half with a dangerous 49ers offense trying to mount a comeback. Deebo Samuel had largely been held in check, but Brandon Aiyuk was rolling and San Francisco was increasing its deep shots.

In his second year, Hall has been part of the secondary rotation, but he saw more action with Terrell sidelined and responded with two huge plays. His first was a well-time pass breakup on a deep post to Aiyuk, and on the following play he jumped a delayed crosser to tip the ball to Hawkins for an interception. This secondary continues to show its depth, which is now more important than ever.

Troy Andersen

The rookie linebacker who possesses a tantalizing array of athletic abilities got the first start of his career and performed rather well. He tied Evans for the team lead in tackles (12) and handled some of the screens sent his way, although he does shoulder some of the blame for Aiyuk’s first touchdown.

Perhaps his most memorable play was the hawking down of Ray-Ray McCloud on what could have been a possible punt return for a touchdown. Andersen is still growing as a player, and he will likely see his play time reduced again when Walker returns, but this was a good effort on a day when Atlanta needed nothing less.

Three Down

Damiere Byrd and Bryan Edwards

These two are getting lumped in together, because their spot on this list may not really be totally up to them. As I mentioned above, the Falcons threw the ball just 14 times on Sunday. Now, they certainly had some pass plays at the ready that didn’t come to fruition for one reason or another – scramble, play check, etc. – but there’s just not enough volume right now to really support a third or fourth receiving option. Edwards has been targeted just four times this season and has two receptions for 12 yards. Byrd has been targeted only twice and has not made a catch to this point.

Team health

We obviously saw the secondary’s depth on display Sunday, but it’s concerning that both Terrell and Casey Hayward left the game due to injury and did not return. That’s both starting corners for a defense beginning to gel.

It’s worth noting that Terrell was available to the media after the game, which is a good sign, and he seemed to have a positive outlook. Hayward’s situation looked to be a little more serious, and even Isaiah Oliver briefly left the game at the end. Atlanta stands to get a few players back from injured reserve sometime soon, but other injuries are starting to mount up, especially on the defense.

Haters of a good time

There’s not an obvious third candidate here, and I don’t want to go looking for a reason to spoil this good time. So, I won’t. Instead, here’s the clip of Arthur Smith and the offensive line pounding some brews right after the game.