I think most people expected the Falcons to lose this one, but the hope was that they could keep it close until the end and maybe steal one. Atlanta didn’t follow the script, but they still wound up losing a tightly contested football game at the end thanks to a series of early mistakes and late frustrations.
With a loss that drops them to 2-3, we’re left to sift through the wreckage and find the treasures and everything that’s still burning. Let’s talk takeaways.
This team doesn’t know how to quit
Down 21-0 and looking like whatever leaks out of a busted bag of garbage after a June week in an aluminum can, the Falcons very well could’ve rolled over. They may not have tried to do so in the past, but for all intents and purposes, they fell apart in the past few years when teams built a huge lead against them.
Not this Falcons squad, though. Marcus Mariota found his footing a bit, the ground game got rolling, and the defense came up over and over again to stall drives as Atlanta clawed their way back into it and came within six points of winning the game. They may not have completed the comeback—a long field in a pressure-packed situation with very little time is not an easy ask—but they clawed their way back into a game they had no business competing in. That kind of resolve will mean great things for them when they’re good enough to win close games and not fall behind by three scores in the first place.
Marcus Mariota is still a roller coaster
The discourse around Mariota is frustrating because it focuses on him being awful and needing to ride the pine or being amazing and being let down by his teammates. Neither one is the full truth, with Mariota being closer to a mediocre quarterback than a great one, but still coming up with the kinds of plays that keep his team in games.
In this one, Mariota missed several throws and hesitated in the pocket to his detriment, which cost the Falcons early and often. He was also victimized by drops on bad throws, ran for a couple of huge gains, and was dealing on key drives to get the Falcons back into the games, including a nice back of the end zone throw for a two point conversion.
As I wrote this past week, the change at quarterback will come. In the meantime, Mariota’s going to give you the best and worst of this position on a weekly basis, and we just have to buckle up.
The line turns into a festive pumpkin
The offensive line had been admirably improved in the young Falcons season, paving the way for some huge days on the ground and giving Mariota time to operate. While they still had good stretches, particularly late in the game, the shaky performance from the line was a major factor in today’s woes.
Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley repeatedly found they had nowhere to go owing to the caliber of the blocking, and slow-developing plays from the Falcons (give the coaching staff some grief for that) failed repeatedly because the line couldn’t give Mariota the time to work. With a tough 49ers team coming up and some very good lines on the docket in the weeks ahead, it’s concerning that Atlanta faced its worst matchup in a while and fell apart a little bit, especially when the penalties are factored in.
Grady Jarrett is still a monster
Forget the awful rushing the passer call. Jarrett impacted Brady more than any other defender on Sunday, continuing his personal vendetta against the decrepit quarterback. On a day where the pass rush was iffy at best, Jarrett repeatedly pressured Brady and came up with more than one big play, even if penalties ruined his efforts.
He’s on his way to a career year, which is saying something given how good he is, and if anything Jarrett ought to be more motivated this coming week after that snafu.
Avery Williams comes into his own
The switch to running back wasn’t necessarily warmly received by this fanbase, but Williams is making the most of it. Week 5 was the finest season of his young career thus far, and a hint about what he’ll be capable of in the future.
Williams was dangerous on returns all day, getting extra yardage where a lesser returner might not have, and he also scored one of Atlanta’s two touchdowns on a long run where he eluded multiple defenders. The second year back and special teamer has the speed and vision to be lethal, and Atlanta’s just scratching the surface of what he can do with the ball in his hands.
The officiating fell short
If you’ve followed this site for any length of time, you know I’m reluctant to pin any outcome on officiating. Chances are if you put yourself in a position where you’re losing owing to a bad call, you just haven’t done a good enough job of playing football in the first place to earn the victory, after all.
So don’t take this lightly: The officiating crew was a major factor in Atlanta’s loss. Not only did they turn in borderline holding calls multiple times against the Falcons, but they also made a terrible decision on the game’s defining yellow flag, calling roughing the passer on what certainly looked like a by-the-book sack of Tom Brady by Grady Jarrett. We don’t know if the Falcons would’ve won this game, but the officiating crew robbed them of the opportunity to try by calling such a questionable penalty, and this is one I’ll be better about for a very long.