It certainly wasn’t the prettiest effort, but Atlanta’s first division win of the season is still sweet nonetheless. The Falcons looked set to complete the win in regulation until a late D.J. Moore touchdown tied the game and sent it to overtime.
Overtime got off to a rocky start with a Marcus Mariota interception, however, Carolina’s missed field goal gave Atlanta a new breath of life and the Falcons didn’t miss. Younghoe Koo—who should probably be Atlanta’s new mayor in the upcoming election—ended the contest with a 41-yard field goal and showed the Panthers how it’s done.
Your Atlanta Falcons are now in sole possession of first place in the NFC South heading into Week 9. Here are some takeaways.
A slow start at home
It took a moment for the Falcons to shake off the cobwebs from last week’s loss to the Bengals. Kyle Pitts dropped a pass on the very first play of the game, and it looked like he could have had a great catch-and-run opportunity. On the next play, Mariota’s deep shot to Damiere Byrd was picked off. Atlanta tried to catch Carolina off-guard by going to the air to start the game, but the Falcons were not as precise as they needed to be.
The Falcons had scored in the first quarter of every home game this season, but they failed to add any points in the opening quarter of this one.
Kyle Pitts back in the end zone
It wasn’t quite a force-feeding, but the Falcons did seem to want to get the ball to Pitts early and often in this one. After a couple of early miscues, Pitts found his rhythm. He put Atlanta on the board early in the second quarter with a 2-yard touchdown catch, which marks his second of the season and third of his career.
Pitts had his best game of the 2022 season against Carolina, catching five passes for 80 yards and the touchdown. We’ve still yet to see Pitts absolutely take over a game, which is at least a little concerning, but Sunday was a big step in the right direction for his production.
KYLE PITTS TOUCHDOWN ALERT— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) October 30, 2022
Lorenzo Carter makes the splash play Atlanta needed
He hasn’t been the focal point of much discussion, but Carter has been quietly solid for the Falcons this season. He’s been around the ball a lot, isn’t out of position, and has more versatility than his reputation as a pass rusher would suggest. On Sunday, those three qualities coalesced at the perfect time and resulted in the first touchdown of Carter’s career.
Attempting to tack on more points ahead of halftime, the Panthers dialed up a screen pass as they were approaching midfield. Carter found himself in no-man’s land for the screen, but he read the play perfectly and timed his jump well to snatch P.J. Walker’s pass out of the air. Carter then had a clear path to the end zone, and he didn’t let that opportunity go to waste.
Bad day at the office for Falcons’ run defense
The concerns about Atlanta’s banged-up secondary are real, but it was the run defense that plagued the Falcons on Sunday. Leaning on D’onta Foreman, a former Falcon with ties to Arthur Smith, the Panthers moved the ball very effectively on the ground. Foreman’s bruising style gave Atlanta’s defense some problem and served as the anchor for Carolina’s offense.
He finished the game with 26 carries for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Without Chuba Hubbard and the recently traded Christian McCaffrey, Foreman was certainly up to the task for the Panthers on Sunday. Atlanta’s defense has shown glimpses of real improvement this season, but they aren’t there just yet.
Caleb Huntley was the hot hand
Without starter Cordarrelle Patterson, the Falcons have begun to utilize a bit of a committee approach in the backfield. Rookie Tyler Allgeier and former practice squad back Caleb Huntley have been the primary guys to handle the load, and Avery Williams has gotten a few touches as well. However, it was Huntley who had the hot hand on Sunday, and the Falcons seemed content to roll with him.
Huntley sparked in the preseason, and his hard-running style has endeared him to the fan base in a short amount of time. His 30-yard spring in the fourth quarter was one of the highlights of Sunday afternoon, and he finished the game with 16 carries for 91 yards. It won’t be long before Patterson returns to the lineup, but Huntley and Allgeier have both earned a role with the team when that happens.
Marcus Mariota rolls after a slow start, but throws costly interception
Mariota looked off early. His second throw of the game was intercepted, and he missed some open receivers at times. Nevertheless, he slowly worked his way back into the game and had one of his better efforts as the Falcons’ starting quarterback. The overtime interception, the second of the game for Mariota, is worthy of concern but it ultimately won’t matter.
The calls for Desmond Ridder will certainly continue, and Mariota didn’t do enough on Sunday to ward them off. It wasn’t close to all bad for Mariota, and his 30-yard scramble in overtime was as important as any play, but this game felt like Atlanta’s to control and the quarterback is the one who gets the blame that it slid back into toss-up territory.
Mariota finished Sunday’s outing completing 20 of his 28 passes for 253 yards with three touchdown passes and the two interceptions, adding another 43 yards on the ground. The win was a nice birthday present for him.