The Atlanta Falcons have been a lot of things in 2022. They’ve been one of the league’s best rushing attacks, a pleasant surprise, an opportunistic team, and the leader of the NFC South. Most of those things have been positive, or at least better than we might have expected for a much-maligned Falcons squad heading into the season. But while they’re not the same old Atlanta Falcons, they are unmistakably still some version of the Atlanta Falcons, the team that all too often bumbles and fumbles away chances to prove they’re something bigger and better than they used to be.
So it went against the Chargers. Los Angeles came to town down their top two kickers, yet won the game on a field goal. They didn’t have their top two receivers, yet they picked apart the Falcons secondary over and over again on crucial drives. They were a team that made a sometimes genuinely impressive number of errors, including a should-have-been fatal fumble while trying to seal the win, and they were a team outscored 10-0 by a crisp offense and stifling defense in the first quarter.
When it came down to actually trying to put the game away, though, the Falcons’ injury-marred secondary faltered, Atlanta’s biggest opportunity late turned into a crushing giveaway, and a late drive fizzled out thanks to the familiar failures of the passing attack. In the end, the Falcons had their chances late in unbelievable circumstances, and unlike against Carolina, they couldn’t come away with a win. They scored seven points in the final three quarters and just 17 overall despite rushing for about 200 yards and a pair of scores. They were, simply put, bad in so many ways that counted.
That’s back-to-back splashes of cold water for the Falcons, who were 3-4 and in the NFC South lead heading into the Panthers game. They have played two wildly sloppy games in the past two weeks, one they were fortunate to have the chance to win and one they frittered away. Those games don’t erase the good this team has done to be at 4-5 at this point in the season, nor the way they’ve gotten the best out of a somewhat limited roster, but they do cast doubt on the possibility of the Falcons blitzing the “easy” part of their remaining schedule and rolling onto the playoffs in year two of the re-tool. That’s especially true with the Saints, Buccaneers, and Bears finally beginning to find footing here more than halfway through the season.
Where does this leave the Falcons? With a bye right around the corner, they have an opportunity to make major changes to the lineup if they’d like to and get back a few key pieces, including the very missed A.J. Terrell. Before they can get there, they have to turn around in a few days and travel to Carolina to play a bad Panthers team that nonetheless just pushed them to the brink two weeks ago. Once the dust settles on that matchup and we see what changes this team makes coming out of the bye, perhaps we’ll have a better sense for what the Falcons can be the rest of the way. Then again, maybe they’ll just be what they are today: A sometimes exhilarating, sometimes infuriating team that can win in jaw-dropping fashion and lose in soul-crushing fashion without warning and regardless of matchup. That is, unfortunately, still very much the Atlanta Falcons.
On to the full recap.
- It was fair to wonder whether Tyler Allgeier would remain involved with Cordarrelle Patterson back, but he answered that one pretty affirmatively. On his first carry of the game, Allgeier took advantage of some quality blocking to get around the corner and then did the rest with speed and power, rumbling 44 yards to help set up the Falcons scoring drive to kick things off. From there, he looked as good as he has all year as a runner, with 100 yards on the ground and a whole lot of broken tackles along the way. He finished with 99 yards on the ground and picked up 24 yards on a catch, accounting for a significant portion of the offense’s production on the day and continuing to prove he can be a menace for this team.
- The return of Patterson paid off. He was stymied at times running the ball, but as always, he was lethal when it mattered, scoring a pair of touchdowns on the day and showcasing his trademark speed and power throughout the game. His final numbers weren’t stellar, but that undersells how welcome his return was, and seeing him get over 10 touches and showcase his burst makes it clear how impactful he can be for this offense.
- The ground game in general did a lot in this one, even if it didn’t quite add up to a win. Atlanta ran for 201 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry—coincidentally, the same league-worst number the Chargers were allowing coming into the day—and kept the offense humming for long stretches when it otherwise might’ve stalled out badly. Direct comparisons are maybe not the thing to do here, but Atlanta ran for 201 yards on 35 attempts, scored twice, and averaged 5.7 yards per play while the passing game managed just 114 yards (taking away 15 for a pair of sacks), scored zero times, and averaged just 4.6 yards per pass.
- Another big play for Rashaan Evans, this one a batted pass on the Chargers’ opening drive to kill it on third down. On the next drive, he had tight coverage to help prevent a third down completion, and then his pressure helped flush Herbert out of the pocket on the first third down of the second half. Then he had a huge second down run stop on fourth down with the clock rolling. Then he managed to help punch the ball out of Ekeler’s hands on a critical late third down, giving Ta’Quon Graham a chance to recover the fumble. Evans has been a nice acquisition for the Falcons in 2022, and he continues to come up with savvy, high-effort plays, with this being perhaps his finest effort of the season. It’s tragic that all that effort and energy didn’t lead to a win, but that’s hardly his fault.
- Troy Andersen had a near-sack and a batted third down pass to start the second half, showcasing his athleticism and playmaking ability in both cases. He’s getting closer and closer to being an impact player for a defense that badly needs it.
- Richie Grant took advantage of a ball tumbling through the air to make an interception, and also came up with some tough tackles in this one, including a critical third down stop late in the third quarter to stall out a Chargers drive. It wasn’t a perfect effort, but frankly even those two plays should’ve helped set the Falcons up to win.
- Two of the three weeks prior to this matchup, the Falcons passing game was kinda humming. Mariota was dealing to Damiere Byrd, Kyle Pitts, and occasionally even Drake London, and a well-balanced offense was doing damage. In the early going in this one, that continued, but things got nasty in the second quarter between pass protection woes and misses, and the team never really got back on track after that.
Pitts had a bobbled drop and was clearly not on the same page as the quarterback on one of Mariota’s crucial late deep shots—it was still overthrown, but I am being fair here—and Hodge couldn’t reel one in thanks in part to a good play by the defender. Byrd had a drop on a nice Mariota play where he put the ball where he could get on while on the run, as well. Then Mariota hit London for a first down, but a savvy Khalil Mack took it out of his hands for a fumble. That was a messy day for a receiving corps that made too many mistakes, but especially to Pitts, Mariota overthrew his options repeatedly today. In part because of continued miscues by receivers and in part because he’s simply not making accurate throws, Mariota has perhaps the worst track record in the NFL this season of throwing the ball deep to the middle of the field, with a zero passer rating on those shots. Eventually it'll hit, but in the meantime, those misses are wrecking the offense, which wants to pound teams into submission via the run and set up those huge downfield gains when they do take to the air.
You have to have numerous miscues to leave a game with 123 yards, no touchdowns, and drives fizzling out through the air, so there’s no one person to blame for it. The Falcons just aren’t going to win a ton of games when they are this inept at passing, evinced by the fact that they ran for over 200 yards and only scored 17 points. I wouldn’t suggest any major changes are coming to this offense during this short week—no Desmond Ridder for Mariota, no Bryan Edwards seizing a huge role at the expense of London, definitely no Anthony Firkser stealing snaps from Pitts, etc.—but the bye week focus has to be on finding some kind of consistency and production here that this team can repeat on a weekly basis, and that may well involve changes to the lineup. No one on this team wants to continue to field one of the least productive and consistent passing attacks in the NFL.
- Your weekly pass protection note: Atlanta actually had stretches where they did a nice job giving Mariota the time to work with and step into his throws, but they mixed those with some nasty blocking. Hennessy was destroyed on one of two sacks, while the other one saw the Falcons simply fail to pick up a blocker and let Mariota get blasted. On at least four other occasions by my count, Mariota had to move quickly to get away from pressure and try to make a play, and while the line’s limitations in pass protection weren’t nearly as fatal this time around, they continue to slow an already shaky passing attack.
- The defense was pretty stout up front much of the day against the run, but if they were fundamentally a little more sound this week, they still struggled mightily much of the day. Attrition in the secondary, holes in terms of personnel, and simple errors of execution are helping to doom this squad, which has been excellent in the first quarter in back-to-back weeks and then absolutely abysmal in the second quarter and often beyond. Dean Pees and company made the right adjustments and the Falcons took advantage of their opportunities at times to get back into the game, but considering this was a Chargers squad down their top two receivers, alarm bells have to be going off about how easy things looked for them at times in this one.
The re-addition of Terrell and the integration of Rashad Fenton into the secondary will probably help a lot, given that getting Jaylinn Hawkins back made a difference and Cornell Armstrong is trying valiantly but being picked on. With a pass rush that isn’t getting home, though, the pass defense is not going to be a team strength at any point this year.
- I keep my complaining about the officiating to a dull roar in most instances, but I didn’t like that Nasir Adderley appeared to be putting his weight on Kyle Pitts’ shoulders when Pitts was reaching for Marcus Mariota’s fourth quarter end zone shot, and I really didn’t like that there was no call there. Considering Koo missed the subsequent field goal try, that play had a big impact on the game.
- The Falcons and Chargers had some of the most frustrating plays for both fanbases that you’ll ever see on the field—the Mack strip, multiple plays where two calls were called on the same team, the back-to-back misses on Atlanta’s final drive, the likely Chargers fan agony of Drue Tranquill getting simply run over in a one-on-one matchup with Cordarrelle Patterson—but none were worse than the fourth quarter Ekeler fumble. With the running back just needing a few yards to set up a great field goal opportunity, he appeared to lose the ball thanks to Rashaan Evans, with Ta’Quon Graham picking it up and returning it to to the 41 yard line before he fumbled it, and the Chargers recovered. The net result was something like a 20 yard loss and a fresh set of downs for Los Angeles.
Graham has been really good this season and made a super heads-up play to pick up that fumble and return it, but on an otherwise great return simply dropped it against air, highlighting the duality and futility of the Falcons. I hope people don’t kill him too much for one mistake in a really good season, but the play was unfortunately a microcosm of the way the Falcons blew their chances on Sunday.
- The Falcons seem allergic to getting over .500, as our own Adnan Ikic has been writing seemingly since he joined The Falcoholic back in 2018. That surely can’t continue forever, but dark winds and darker clouds seem to swirl around Atlanta every single time the team has the opportunity, and this was no exception.
Another tough call. Rashaan Evans made several game-changing plays, Cordarrelle Patterson punched in two touchdowns and made a welcome return, and other Falcons had potentially big moments. In the end, I’ll hand it to Tyler Allgeier, who accounted for over a third of this team’s offense on his own and keyed multiple scoring drives en route to 123 yards on just 11 touches.
We don’t see it every week, but we are deep enough in the season to say the Falcons have a passing problem on both sides of the ball, in terms of being able to consistently get it done through the air on offense and stop just about anybody consistently on defense.
It’s a short week and this team has to travel to Carolina to face the Panthers again, for the second time in just three weeks. Carolina’s coming off a thumping against the Bengals, and we’ll have to hope they’re as sorry against Atlanta as they just were.