The Falcons’ season continues its downward trajectory after a 21-18 loss on the road to the New Orleans Saints. It was the first start for rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, and the offense couldn’t muster much success in a hostile environment.
There were some positives in this game – Tyler Allgeier and Lorenzo Carter come to mind – but the focus will undoubtedly be on Ridder and the negatives. With only three games remaining, the prioritization of 2022 is dimming, and we should begin to cast an eye toward the future. Ridder’s performance wasn’t an inspiring one, but it’s still only the first step in what will hopefully be a long journey.
Let’s dig into the key takeaways from Atlanta’s ninth loss of the season.
Dean Pees carted off before the game
Prior to the start of Sunday’s game, Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital. He was involved in a collision with a Saints player during pre-game warmups, which resulted in the medical response. An official statement by the Falcons had the following update on Pees before the game:
“He was stable, alert and responsive and has been transported to University Medical Center New Orleans for testing.”
It appears a member of Falcons staff was just carted off the field. Didn’t see what happened. The person was being attended to by medical staff for a few minutes.— Justin Felder (@Justin_FOX5) December 18, 2022
Working to find out who it was. pic.twitter.com/hYmlxZHEWM
In Pees’s absence, linebackers coach Frank Bush served as the team’s defensive coordinator. It wasn’t the best start for Atlanta’s defense, which surrendered 14 points on the Saints’ first two possessions. But the group settled down in the second quarter to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Pees was dismissed from the hospital early in the second half, according to a report by Chris Mortensen. All indications are that the 73-year-old coordinator will be OK.
Falcons DC Dean Pees has been released from hospital in New Orleans and is headed to the stadium to rejoin team.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 18, 2022
Pees was taken off field on stretcher after a Saints player collided with him pre-game warmups.
Desmond Ridder looks like a rookie in debut
This certainly wasn’t the start that anybody wanted to see from Ridder. His first play of the game was a deep shot that never stood a chance, and that proved to be a metaphor for his afternoon. When Ridder wasn’t rifling rockets on frozen ropes to receivers 5 yards downfield, he was largely missing the mark.
Atlanta’s offense which has been, if nothing else, competent for much of the season, looked rudderless with Ridder behind center. There wasn’t a consistent flow for the unit, and fellow rookie Allgeier was the true saving grace. Ridder finished his debut completing 50 percent of his passes for only 97 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He contributed 38 rushing yards.
Patience was cautioned in the leadup to Ridder’s first start, and that patience might be more important than initially expected. The Falcons want to gauge what they’ve got at the quarterback position moving forward, but Ridder’s debut may have left us with more questions than answers.
Troy Andersen gets the start at linebacker
Ridder wasn’t the only Falcons rookie with an increased role after the bye week. Andersen earned the starting nod over Mykal Walker – something that ESPN report Mike Rothstein predicted on the Bleav in Falcons podcast this week. Andersen played the majority of the game, and it was to relatively mixed results. He undoubtedly has the tools to make a difference at the NFL level, but the in-game wisdom isn’t quite there yet.
Andersen finished the game with seven tackles, which were second-most on the team. Given his athleticism, the hope is that he can start making impact plays for this defense. So far this season, it’s been Walker who has made the big plays at inside linebacker.
Lorenzo Carter could be part of the solution
As the team got slightly younger at the linebacker position this offseason, Atlanta also brought in Carter to help serve as a mentor and bridge player. Because of his versatility, however, Carter has played a greater number of stats than the Falcons might have initially anticipated. I’d argue he’s earned those snaps, though.
Carter continues to do the little things – like setting the edge or occupying blockers – very well. And he also tosses in the momentum-changing plays here and there. He’s scored multiple touchdowns this season and had both a sack and fumble recovery on Sunday. If this season is about finding answers, Carter might be a nice player to keep around for a while.
Tyler Allgeier gets the game ball
These final four games are likely going to be defined by young players, and Allgeier did his best to be a difference-maker in this one. The rookie running back has been coming on of late, but Sunday was something of a breakout performance. Allgeier surpassed 100 yards on the ground for the first time of his career, and he came through in a number of important moments.
Allgeier was impressive on third downs, converting six opportunities into a first down, and he scored the team’s first touchdown on a 5-yard run. He also converted a 2-point conversion by bouncing the run to the outside after initially meeting a blockade in the middle. Allgeier gained 139 yards on just 17 carries against a solid Saints defense, and he was the only player to consistently show up in big moments.
Tyler Allgeier is good at football— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 18, 2022
FOX || NFL+ pic.twitter.com/Japl40BcZW
His NFL instincts are beginning to catch up to his talent level. The BYU star has the makeup of a workhorse back in this league, and growth in a couple of key areas could make him a true three-down threat.