The Falcons began the 2022 season looking like a team far better than we expected, but it took just one quarter to remind us that this year is likely to be a bit of a bumpy ride.
For their part, the players and coaches remained adamant (and correct) in pointing out that this is just one game out of 17 on the schedule. It does not make or break the year. But this city has heard far too much of that recently to take such talk at face value, particularly when the losses all have some very clear commonalities.
However, Week 1 was not all doom and gloom. Far from it, in fact. Atlanta mostly dominated a New Orleans group considered to be a contender for the playoffs and, by some, the division. That such an impressive showing resulted in a loss is consistent with the particular pain this team can inflict, but there’s reason to hope this squad can actually be more than we thought.
The best player on the field Sunday. Patterson was given plenty of rest this preseason, and he looked like a running back on the freshest legs of his career against the Saints. The 31-year-old running back carried the ball a career-high 22 times for 120 yards and one touchdown. He also caught three passes for 16 yards. Patterson was a large reason the Falcons won seven games last year, and he should have been the primary one that Atlanta started 1-0 this season.
Jarrett was at the forefront of a defensive attack that looked frightening at times against New Orleans. The Falcons had pressure coming left, right and up the middle, causing Jameis Winston to look hurried and unsure for much of the afternoon. Jarrett finished the day with 1.5 sacks, or a half sack more than he had in the entire 2021 season.
#97 Grady Jarrett winning instantly with the swipe pic.twitter.com/WcwtsMBkbH— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 12, 2022
Jarrett earned the first sack of the season in the second quarter on a beautiful move to beat a Saints double team. He then met Lorenzo Carter at the quarterback to sack Winston and force a punt that would ultimately lead to a Younghoe Koo walkoff field goal to end the first half. Speaking of which…
The actual best player on the field Sunday. Koo should have finished the game a perfect 4-for-4, but his 63-yard prayer attempt at the end was blocked by New Orleans. Still, Koo’s four made attempts were a key reason Atlanta built momentum quarter after quarter.
While the Falcons need to more consistently end drives with touchdowns, walking away with 3 points is a much better feeling than coming up with nothing. As Atlanta searches for the right touchdown formula, it can rest easy knowing that Koo remains as reliable as ever.
I certainly did not expect to put Terrell’s name down here, but after allowing two fourth-quarter touchdowns to Michael Thomas while in man coverage, he’s unfortunately a bit of a scapegoat for this loss. Terrell is still one of the best cornerbacks in this league, don’t get me wrong, but Sunday was not his best outing even with the game unfolding in a way that should have played right into his hands. Perhaps his most egregious offense, however, is allowing Saints fans to erroneously believe that Thomas is better than him.
A.J. Terrell led all cornerbacks in EPA when targeted in 2021 (-29.4).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 11, 2022
Terrell has allowed +6.6 EPA when targeted today against the Saints (4 receptions, 53 yards, 2 TD on 5 targets as the nearest defender).#NOvsATL | #DirtyBirds
Mariota is potentially another surprise name on this list, because he largely did a lot of good while leading the Falcons offense. However, his two fumbles – only one lost – each proved critical to the outcome. Mariota’s first came in the Saints’ red zone when Atlanta seemed poise to close the door on any unlikely New Orleans comeback (cry.gif). He explained the mistake after the game:
“Yeah, honestly I just lost track of where I was. I thought I needed a few more for first down. So, I put my head down. I realized I already had it. Looking back in that situation I wish I would have just gone down and protected the ball and we would have had another chance to score points.”
He did recover his second fumble of the game, a poor exchange with the center, but it occurred on a crucial third-and-1 play when Atlanta needed one more first down to clinch the win. Mariota’s legs were a large reason the Falcons’ offense stayed on the field so often, but he also played them off of it at two critical moments.
The defensive-lineman-turned-tight-end earned a spot on the 53-man roster out of camp and Arthur Smith praised his “approach to the game” over the summer. Hesse was on the field for 64 percent of the offensive plays, including another key red zone possession for the Falcons as the fourth quarter began. On a second-and-4 at the Saints’ 4-yard line following a 5-yard run by Cordarrelle Patterson, Hesse was flagged for a false start. That penalty dropped Atlanta back and may have played a role in the Falcons opting to pass twice instead of giving the ball to a red-hot runner.
Atlanta never reached the end zone, kicking a field goal ahead. In a 1-point loss, those missed 4 loom large. After the game, Arthur Smith had this add-on when talking about the offensive showing:
“And the penalty down on the low one, that one bothers me.”