The Falcons lost, but the Falcons aren’t lost. That’s a distinction Arthur Smith has been eager to drive home over the past two days with 16 games ahead and a team that spent a spring and summer talking about defying outside expectations now in an early 0-1 hole.
Smith struck a lighter tone on Monday, but he’s clearly not interested in hearing doom and gloom about the Falcons in the immediate aftermath of the game. Smith and others in the organization have seen “peripheral opponents,” as he puts it, in the critics outside the building, and there’s a sense that the team is genuinely bothered by how readily they’ve been written off in 2-15 predictions and top draft pick discussions. The problem, of course, is that no amount of pointed criticism back at media and analysts lessens that heat, and winning is the best way to make everyone shut the hell up. It’s not hard to see what Smith badly wants that outcome.
Falcons HC Arthur Smith - this is the same team you wrote our obituary about in May.. will write it again now.. who cares, there are 16 games left. pic.twitter.com/RvnZe4GL1F— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) September 11, 2022
Artfully delivered or no, Smith is right that the team can hardly afford to wallow, and players were sounding very similar notes after the game. Grady Jarrett praised the fan energy in the building and said the team can’t burn it by letting the season go south, and the Falcons did enough good things and had enough clear errors that it should be possible to push this thing forward toward in a way that will lead to wins. The Rams are a tough draw, especially on long rest, but panic isn’t going to serve this team well at any point in this season, and even less so after a single game.
Smith didn’t gloss over the fact that the team made mistakes, or that they’ll need to learn from them, and was quick to say “blame me” in the aftermath of the game. With the Rams coming up next, it’s going to have to be quick adjustments and learnings, and he alluded to that on Monday when he told the press that the Rams have a head start on preparations after playing on Thursday night football. He defended the punt call, given that the Saints had no timeouts and had to go a long way, but clearly the team isn’t planning to gloss over the failures that led to another big blown lead. That’s a low bar to clear, but a welcome one to clear nonetheless.
"We'll learn from this mistake... We had chances to put it away, and we didn't." Arthur Smith said if they have the right mindset they should be able to move forward from this.— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) September 11, 2022
What did go wrong, besides the late coaching decisions leading to bad outcomes? Smith called out the team’s errors of execution today, with the penalties and poor performances on critical red zone and third down plays standing out. The Falcons were improved in many ways Sunday, but they are not a good enough team to survive so many errors, and Smith knows that.
For all of the ways the Falcons fell short, though, Smith did not sound like a coach who was dreading seeing New Orleans again. The Falcons just have to be able to take nearly three quarters of strong play and turn it into four quarters. “Just.”
I asked Falcons HC Arthur Smith what's the #1 question he wanted answered entering the Saints game:— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) September 11, 2022
"Can we run the football on a defense that was supposed to be the Steel Curtain & the '85 Bears front. We will get another shot at them in New Orleans and we can't wait" pic.twitter.com/c7wr4LQ8GL
We also received some vague injury updates and some clarification on why Tyler Allgeier was inactive from Smith, so let’s cover those quickly.
Why was Tyler Allgeier inactive?
RB Tyler Allgeier was inactive because of special teams. Wanted to go heavier at TE and on the interior of the defense. “We’ll reassess that,” #Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. pic.twitter.com/h7HDPdEo12— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) September 12, 2022
The Falcons parked rookie back Tyler Allgeier in favor of having Anthony Firkser active off the practice squad and Feleipe Franks active, and mentioned special teams as a factor as well. The Falcons likely thought that Cordarrelle Patterson and Damien Williams would carry them through the day and Williams’ injury wasn’t something they could foresee, but it was odd to have Franks up and not playing a single snap on offense when a bruising rookie back might have been impactful in a handful of short yardage situations.
Injuries and safety
The Falcons exited the game with only one potentially significant injury, to backup running back Damien Williams. The team clearly had plans to utilize Williams Sunday before he got hurt, which forced them to lean even more heavily on real-life superhero Cordarrelle Patterson.
The good news is that Williams did re-enter the game, and that might be a positive sign that the team will have Williams back and backing up Patterson sooner than later. We should get updates later in the week.
Falcons HC Arthur Smith said they'll keep monitoring Damien Williams, although he came back into the game.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) September 12, 2022
Also, Smith was asked about if he talks to Marcus Mariota about sliding more: "Absolutely," but knows he was trying to make a play.
The safety part of this headline concerns the second half of Rothstein’s tweet, which in turn concerns Mariota. The quarterback proved to be a very effective runner much of the day, but he doesn’t always remember to slide, which creates an injury risk. Smith clearly will be harping on that with Mariota given that the team is in no rush for Desmond Ridder to start and want a healthy #1 piloting the offense. It’s also a concern because Mariota already fumbles a lot, having been in the top ten in the league for fumbles in three of his four years as a full-time starter.