Few teams in the NFL take the field each week with more cursed history and weird vibes circling around them than the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers, and shockingly, they played a profoundly weird game today.
The Falcons were dominant in the first quarter, getting out to a 10-0 lead and cruising. Then the Chargers scored 14 unanswered points in the second quarter, dominating the listless Falcons on the way. Then the Falcons came to life a bit to get a field goal and the lead before faltering again to allow the Chargers to tie it up, with a truly awful late fourth quarter drive to give Los Angeles the ball back with the clock winding down and a chance to win. Unfortunately, that was the exact wrong scenario for the Falcons, as weirdness was outdone by the pure mismatch of Justin Herbert versus a re-tooling, injury-wrecked Falcons secondary, and Los Angeles won the game on a last second field goal.
This one hurts for Atlanta, which seemed to have a prime matchup against a Chargers run defense that was lousy and a passing attack limited by injury. Their weaknesses against the pass and their inability to string it together through the air themselves ultimately doomed them in this one, and with a short week against a shaky Carolina team on deck, the Falcons have to bounce back and go into the bye with a .500 record and a path to better things if they want to hold on to the NFC South. It’s a tough, tough loss.
Here’s a drive-by-drive look back at the game you just watched.
The Falcons started with the ball, and they wasted no time getting Cordarrelle Patterson involved. In his first week back, Patterson picked up 16 combined yards on a catch and then a run to kick things off. Tyler Allgeier followed that up with a 44 yard scamper where he got the edge, the blocking delivered, and Allgeier run over and through multiple defenders. Marcus Mariota ran for five on the next play, and then decided not to run on the next play and flipped it to MyCole Pruitt for six yards. Mariota went for Drake London on the next play in the end zone but the coverage was excellent, and Patterson got a couple of yards to make it third and goal. Then Patterson punched it in to make it 7-0 Falcons. A nice, effective opening drive.
The Chargers got one yard on a run and then seven on a pass to Josh Palmer, setting up a third and short. Rashaan Evans batted down the third down pass to force a Chargers punt.
Five yards for Caleb Huntley to kick off the second drive, and then Mariota found Kyle Pitts for 18 yards. Pressure came near Mariota on the next play and he scrambled for several yards, setting up Allgeier to pick up another first. A quick pass to London picked up yet another first, and then a Patterson run and Mariota scramble picked up yet another. Patterson picked up another four yards on a run, was stuffed on the next play, and then Mariota found London again to move the offense near the 10. Huntley lost a yard on the next play and Mariota overthrew London in the end zone to set up 3rd and 11. Avery Williams had a short grab but couldn’t get much of anywhere, setting up the field goal attempt by Younghoe Koo. 10-0 Falcons.
Ekeler got three on the opening carry, and then they picked up five yards on a short pass. On third down, Ade Ogundeji came flying in to disrupt the play and Rashaan Evans had nice coverage. Punt.
Starting from around the 30, Huntley picked up three yards on the first play of the drive.
Then Mariota overthrew Pitts on second down, and Matt Hennessy didn’t do well with his assignment and allowed Mariota to be sacked. Punt.
A quick pass to Gerald Everett went nowhere, and a second down false start set the Chargers back even further. On second down and 15, Sony Michel dropped a pass, but on third down the pressure didn’t get home and Herbert found Palmer for an easy first down. The Chargers picked up a combined four yards on their next two plays, thanks in part to a nice tackle by Cornell Armstrong on second down, and then Herbert again got Palmer for a first down. Then Isaiah Oliver made a nice stop, and the Chargers were backed up 15 by a facemask call on the offense. Palmer and then Michael Bandy picked up a lot of yardage on two downs to bring up a 3rd and 9 inside the Atlanta 40, and he got Everett for a first down. Eight yards for Ekeler on a run started things off right on the next series, but Grady Jarrett destroyed the line to help get a run stop on second down, setting up yet another third down where they converted to Bandy. Ekeler took it to the one yard line and then bounced it in on the next play. 10-7 Falcons.
A quick pass to Zaccheaus got the Falcons to 2nd and 4, and then Patterson was tripped up on second down for a gain of a yard. Derwin James blew in untouched on third down to sack Mariota and end the drive. Punt.
A quick, short run for Isaiah Spiller took us to the two minute warning. Troy Andersen blew into the backfield and got a hand on Herbert, but couldn’t bring him down, giving the Chargers a chance to convert on third down with a pass to Ekeler. The Falcons once again got the Chargers to third down—Timothy Horne was rolling at this point—but they converted on third down with DeAndre Carter getting 22, and then Sony Michel ran for 12. Carter then caught it again and got it down to the Atlanta 1 yard line as the defense continued to collapse. Jaylinn Hawkins got in the face of Herbert to force an overthrow, but then Herbert hit Ekeler for a touchdown. 14-10 Chargers, with 32 seconds left to go in the half.
Another three and out for the Falcons’ offense. Pitts bobbled the first down pass, Hodge couldn’t reel in the second down throw after a defender got his hand in the way, and Mariota did a nice job of buying himself time but threw a shot downfield that missed Pitts by a mile. Falcons got a delay of game on the punt, backing them up five yards more, and the Chargers didn’t return it as the Falcons ran the clock down to zero.
Everett had a wide open ball and bobbled it for the drop, which saved Atlanta on first down. Spiller only picked up three on his next carry, and then Troy Andersen batted down the pass to force a punt.
Tyler Allgeier started things off running, and two carries later he had a first down. He picked up two on the next series, but on second down Mariota’s nice ball to Damiere Byrd wasn’t caught. Mariota did get it to Zaccheaus on third down for a first down. On the next play, Cordarrelle Patterson ran for a touchdown, but two penalties on the Falcons brought it back, the most egregious being a Kaleb McGary trip. It didn’t matter, as Mariota hit Hodge for 19 yards and then Allgeier rumbled for a first down and then an eight yard pickup. Unfortunately on the next play, Drake London reeled it in for a first down and then stayed on his feet to try to make a play, but Khalil Mack took it out of his hands and returned it past midfield. Turnover.
Herbert tried to hit Bandy but overthrew him, and the drive ended with a tipped pass Richie Grant intercepted. Turnover!
Patterson got a few, then Pitts got a first down. The Falcons ran their way to a first down on the following three plays, with Patterson getting the work, and then found themselves closing in on a score. Huntley picked up nine yards on first down, and then picked up another big chunk of yardage to pick up the first down. He got a few more on first and goal, and then Mariota tried to get London and threw it too high. On third down, though, Patterson went right through contact and scored a touchdown to give Atlanta the lead back. 17-14 Falcons.
Isaiah Spiller picked up a first down on two straight carries. Herbert then skipped one into the dirt on first down, followed by a deep shot he just missed. On third down, he got the ball out, but Richie Grant had a nice stop. Punt.
Allgeier got a new career high in rushing yardage, picking up another hard-nosed first down.
Then he kept running and running, with those runs punctuated by Mariota picking up a first down on the run. Caleb Huntley got a couple, Patterson lost a yard, and then on third down Mariota tried to hit Kyle Pitts in the end zone and the Chargers got away with a lot of physicality on the coverage, to put it mildly. Then Koo missed the field goal attempt to make it a turnover on downs.
The Chargers got a first down, but two calls on the same play brought it back. They got to third and short and then Herbert found a wide open Carter for a first down. On the next play, Ekeler reeled one in and was tackled by Isaiah Oliver, but never seemed to touch the ground, getting up and running for a touchdown. Upon review, Ekeler’s left elbow touched the ground, and the play was ruled down, thank god. Unfortunately, on fourth down the Chargers converted, and then a shot to Josh Palmer got the team close to a touchdown. The Chargers then got a short gain and then a loss on back-to-back plays, and then Herbert threw it away on third down out of the back of the end zone and had to settle for a field goal try, which was good by Cameron Dicker. 17-17 tie.
Allgeier picked up a few on first down, and then Mariota threw it deep on a ball where Pitts didn’t appear to be tracking it well and didn’t come close to coming up with it. On third down, he threw it way past London. Punt.
The Chargers picked up a few yards on first down on the ground, and then Evans had a nice stop on second down to make it 3rd and 5. They picked up a first down, but then on 1st and 10 an ineligible receiver downfield call brought back a first down grab. It didn’t matter, as the doom settled in and the Chargers kept slicing their way downfield with quick Herbert throws and good grabs over the middle. They got close and on third down, trusted Ekeler to pick up a few more yards and set up an easy field goal, but then Rashaan Evans got his hand on the ball and looked to pop it out, with Ta’Quon Graham recovering it and returning it to the 41 before fumbling it himself, giving it back to the Chargers. They did lose 20-plus yards on the play, but Herbert found Josh Palmer against Cornell Armstrong for a 20-plus yard gain, wiping out the whole goofy sequence. The Chargers ran the clock down and kicked the field goal, and Los Angeles won 20-17.