The Falcons played their worst game of the season on the road against Cincinnati, and an already bad injury situation in the secondary got worse. There weren’t a lot of bright spots on Sunday, save for maybe the fact that the Panthers were the lone NFC South team to win in Week 7.
This season was never going to be perfect for Atlanta, and this team has played so effectively that I’m willing to give it some grace. However, the gauntlet has ended. The Falcons have emerged from their toughest stretch with a 3-4 record and the chance to make something memorable happen in the back half.
That all begins next Sunday against the aforementioned Panthers, so let’s take stock of the team ahead of an important week.
On a day with virtually no bright spots for the offense, Byrd provided at least one memorable moment. Byrd showed off his explosive speed to dust Eli Apple in man coverage and race untouched for a 75-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. It was his first catch of the season and illustrated Byrd’s ability to take the top off a defense. Neither he nor Bryan Edwards has been a factor for Atlanta’s offense, and, given the lack of production in the passing game, it’s fair to wonder why.
Damiere Byrd put on the BURNERS!!!— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) October 23, 2022
While the Falcons, themselves, may be a bit of a surprise this season, 2022 has been a return to form for Jarrett. The Pro Bowler has been sensational to start the season and registered another sack on Sunday to bring his total to 4.5 on the year and move into a tie with Lester Archambeau for the seventh-most in team history.
And this is when I remind you that he had a sack wrongfully wiped out against Tampa Bay. Jarrett remains in elite company, nestled right alongside the likes of Aaron Donald, Cameron Jordan and Quinnen Williams this season in sack production. He looks reinvigorated on defense, and his opponents are paying the price.
It was a bad week for a majority of Falcons players, so I want to give some love to Williams. He entered Sunday leading the NFL with 17.8 yards per punt return and turned in another great performance that will only enhance those numbers. Williams returned two punts for a total of 64 yards, including a 56-yard return just before halftime that led to Atlanta’s final points of the game.
He has also done quality work as a kick returner and has contributed when called upon on offense. Williams isn’t a weekly game-changer, but he’s like a quality relief pitcher.
This had all of the ingredients for Pitts to put together his best game of the season. Atlanta’s offense trailed in every possession it had, setting the stage for it to finally throw the ball. Nope. Mariota still threw the ball just 13 times on Sunday, and although five of those passes went Pitts’s way, he finished with three catches for only 9 yards.
He had a touchdown look dialed up for him in the first half, but a review deemed that he was just short of crossing the goal line. After the game, Arthur Smith said they were trying to get the ball to Pitts and that the long touchdown to Byrd was actually intended to go to the tight end, but the safety jumped up to cover the route leaving the deep middle wide open. However, this is a results-oriented business, and the results have not been there in the slightest for Pitts. He’s a very talented player, but those talents have gone to waste so far this year.
I’ve been a big fan of the way Anderson has played so far this season, so I don’t like the fact that he’s appearing here. That said, his encroachment penalty midway through the third quarter really cost the Falcons their best opportunity to swing some momentum after halftime.
On the play, Richie Grant came away with an interception in Atlanta territory, which would have given the Falcons a chance to cut into Cincinnati’s lead even further. Instead, the play was negated and the Bengals finished the drive in the end zone. The margin for error with this team is thin against better teams, especially on the road.
This has largely been a solid season for the second-year safety. He had the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus grade among all Falcons defenders heading into the game, but his stumble on the opening drive that led to a 60-yard touchdown for the Bengals set the tone for what was to come. As mentioned above, Grant did his best to redeem himself but the effort was wiped away.
Grant is a little bit of a scapegoat here for the secondary, as a whole, since he’s the only starter who emerged from this game healthy, but his early mistake was hard to recover from. He finished the game with four tackles, including one for a loss.