Atlanta came into this one facing off against a diminished Cleveland front, but seemingly couldn’t get the passing game going despite the lack of a pass rush. They were up against an offense that was among the league’s most efficient, but they stymied the Browns repeatedly.
It was that kind of game, where expectations were subverted and the Falcons once again kept things very close. Atlanta was nearly undone several times by major mistakes ranging from defensive errors of execution to Marcus Mariota fumbling and tossing an interception, but kept it rolling thanks to a dominant ground game and a (once again) opportunistic defense. The Browns answered with a handful of big plays, an equally dominant ground game, and a defensive front that held up admirably (particular against the pass) despite their many injuries. It came down to the very end of the game once again, and the Falcons proved all that talk of resolve was not for nothing, as they came up with huge defensive plays when it counted to seal the victory.
The Falcons are going to make this thing a roller coaster, but it’s evident that they have the talent and steely nerves to win close games they simply couldn’t a year ago. They’re now 2-2 and have pulled off back-to-back wins thanks to dominant efforts on the ground and opportunistic defense, and that feels like a recipe for more wins going forward. We all love to watch it end on a happy note.
Here’s the drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched.
The Browns started with the ball, and Jacoby Brissett found Donovan Peoples-Jones for a quick first down. They moved it at will inside the 20, with Brissett finding David Njoku on multiple huge hookups and Nick Chubb running effectively. Ultimately, the defense found its resolve near the goal line, allowing one nice catch short of a first down and otherwise stuffing Chubb twice and holding up in coverage on fourth down. Turnover on down for the Browns, baby.
The Falcons wasted little time getting away from the goal line. Cordarrelle Patterson picked up a couple, Marcus Mariota found Kyle Pitts over the middle for a 20-plus yard gain, and then Patterson found room to the outside for another first down. Mariota connected with Drake London for another first down, and then a short Tyler Allgeier run and missed (but on-point from Mariota) shot to the end zone for Damiere Byrd left the Falcons with third and long, with Denzel Ward making some contact that may have been pass interference. Fortunately, Mariota hit Olamide Zaccheaus for the first down. Mariota missed his next pass, which was too high and Patterson was smothered, and on third down Tyler Allgeier turned a short catch into 20 yards. Unfortunately, the team did stall out, after a high snap from Drew Dalman doomed first down, Patterson was stuffed on second down, and a risky end zone throw from Mariota on third down fell incomplete. Koo hit the field goal, though. 3-0 Falcons.
The Browns got a few yards with Chubb and then got a first down with David Njoku, but Njoku fumbled it (thanks, Jaylinn Hawkins!) and Rashaan Evans picked it up. Falcons ball within striking distance of the end zone.
Unfortunately, Cordarrelle Patterson lost four after getting hit, but Mariota was able to hit Parker Hesse for his weekly nice catch. Patterson did the rest, rumbling for a long touchdown run to put Atlanta up 10-0.
The Browns picked up a first down thanks to hard-charging Chubb, and then the quarter was over.
They got across midfield with runs and a quick first down pass to Amari Cooper, but the Falcons got them to third and nine after stuffing one run and forcing an incomplete pass intended for Harrison Bryant. The run took over from there, with the Falcons struggling mightily to bring down Chubb and Kareem Hunt until the team got into the red zone. Then Ta’Quon Graham took over, making a nice first down tackle of Hunt and pressuring Brissett on second down. Unfortunately, Brissett had a very impressive scramble where he got by multiple defenders and scored a touchdown. 10-7 Falcons after that.
A quick three and out for Atlanta. Tyler Allgeier picked up six on a first down run, but despite an incredible escape by Marcus Mariota, his pass to Drake London wasn’t complete because London couldn’t get both feet in bounds. Under pressure on third down, Mariota went for a short pass that was knocked down, and the team had to punt.
The Browns intended to score before the half, and they got things rolling. While the Falcons forced them to go for it on 4th and 1, Brissett once again snuck it across the first down marker. DeAngelo Malone had a nice stop on a David Njoku end-around for a loss, but Brissett connected over the middle to get the Browns close for a first down. Then Brissett took a deep shot to Donovan Peoples-Jones and connected thanks to a brilliant catch by DPJ, which set the Browns up on the one yard line. The Falcons’ defense once again showed real resolve, stopping multiple attempts short (including one where Nick Chubb appeared to fumble but the play was called dead owing to forward progress being stopped), getting a holding call that backed the Browns up, and ultimately forcing a field goal try Cade York hit. 10-10 at the half.
The Falcons went three and out again. There was another potential defensive pass interference call ignored by the crew, an unproductive run on second down, and then Marcus Mariota threw one low and short of the first down to London. Punt.
The Falcons turned around and did it to the Browns. Jacoby Brissett scared the hell out of me with a deep shot on the sideline, but thankfully he missed it and the drive fizzled out. Punt.
Mariota missed his first pass to London but did connect on the second, getting close to a first down, but London was called for a facemask penalty and Atlanta backed up 15 yards. It got miserable from there, as Mariota got free of pressure but had to throw it away and then sat back looking for an open man downfield and got crushed after Elijah Wilkinson and Jake Matthews failed to properly pass off a defender. Punt.
The Falcons’ defense continued to step up, as Brissett kept missing and the run defense did enough to keep Cleveland from picking up chunk yards. After Casey Hayward nearly picked a pass off on third down, it was once again a punt.
Two straight runs to kick things off after the Falcons seemingly neglected it for a couple of drives, picking up seven yards total. Then Mariota scrambled for a first down, Tyler Allgeier picked up three yards on a run, and Mariota attempted to hit London for a first down...but had it intercepted by Denzel Ward. Turnover.
The Browns got a slow motion drive going, stalling and converting a first down, and then stalling out again with a little help from a Lorenzo Carter knockdown. Cade York hit the field goal—though Richie Grant nearly blocked it—and it was 13-10 Browns.
Caleb Huntley time! His two opening carries gave him a first down, and then he picked up another first down on a nice cut and run. Then he nearly picked up ANOTHER first down on a nine yard run, showing his physicality and straight line speed. The Falcons didn’t throw a single pass on the rest of the drive, leaning on Tyler Allgeier and Huntley, with Huntley running like an angry tank and punctuating the drive with a big touchdown run to give Atlanta the lead back. 17-13 Falcons.
The Browns, naturally, wanted to answer. They did, with some effective short passing and then dominant rushing from Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, including a long touchdown run by Chubb. 20-17 Browns.
The Falcons once again ran it super effectively on this one, with the highlight being a 42 yard scamper by Allgeier, who fought through contact for a full 10 yards on maybe the most impressive carry of the day. Unfortunately, the Falcons stalled in the red zone, with Mariota fumbling a snap and then having to pick it up and throw it away, then finding himself under pressure and throwing it away again on third down. Koo hit the field goal to tie it up. 20-20.
The Browns just wanted to grind down the clock and kick a field goal, and they were able to get past midfield with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb punishing this Falcons run defense. Atlanta’s defense once again stood firm, however, and forced the punt.
The Falcons couldn’t do anything on first down, but Marcus Mariota bought time with his legs and found Olamide Zaccheaus wide open for a 42 yard gain and then a 15 yard facemask call on the Browns’ defense made it a 57 yard play. Absolutely massive, and if the drive did fizzle out after that, Atlanta did get into field goal range for Younghoe Koo to give them the lead. 23-20 Falcons.
The Browns took over with no timeouts and 2:28 on the clock, and they were threatening before the Falcons ended the game in much the same way they ended the game against Seattle. Grady Jarrett got the second down sack to set up a long third down, and Jacoby Brissett’s third down pass was picked off (this time by Dee Alford) to end things and let the Falcons move to .500.
The Falcons kneeled it out and it was a win.