Sunday’s blown lead was in Week 1. It may be more frustrating because it was the Saints, or because the Falcons looked like the better team through 75% of the game, or because some of us talked ourselves into believing in this team too much. But it was in Week 1. Week 1 is an extremely fluky week which is so often an aberration for certain players and performances. The entire season isn’t set during Week 1.
That isn’t to say we didn’t learn a lot. The new-look offense, the developing defense, a whole team in transition — lessons were abound. Some were good (the team got four sacks), and some... some just weren’t. This team still has a long way to go.
It wasn’t all Matt Ryan’s fault
The Falcons moved on from its prior franchise quarterback in the offseason’s most bumbling, confusing attempt to land Deshaun Watson. Whether the Falcons look better, worse, or somehow exactly the same... comparisons were going to be made. Was the inconsistent offense from the last few years on Ryan? Would a younger, mobile quarterback fix the offense’s problems?
Turns out, not even close. While Marcus Mariota gave the offense a few interesting new dynamics, it still fell apart at the end of the game hand-in-hand with the defense. It was easy to place so many of the team’s woes on one player. With that player gone, those problems seem to remain.
Worse, moving on from a former MVP to a cheap free agent is almost never a recipe for success. Once the offense needed points, and quickly, Mariota’s limitations were on full display. Balls were tossed seemingly at random when the run game couldn’t be there. The Falcons have a lot of its old offensive problems... with seemingly some new ones.
The new coaching staff is supremely talented...
Seemingly overshadowed by the loss was this team’s weak spots looked... great. The offensive line was opening running lanes, keeping Mariota clean, and looking like night and day from 2021. The defense put up four sacks despite very modest roster improvements. This success is from coaching and further implementing schemes. Imagine what it would look like if either side of the ball had even league-average talent.
...but the new coaching staff doesn’t get it
Fans have watched a lot of bad football the last few years. Indescribably bad football. There is a laundry list of bone-headed coaching decisions and frustrating player performances since Atlanta’s last playoff berth. The team has yet to realistically challenge for a playoff spot since 2017. Fans need a reason to believe this team is even heading in the right direction. Even better if we think fun, competitive football is nearly here.
Arthur Smith’s much-criticized post-game press conference did the opposite of that. No explainers for the 4th quarter punt/delay of game or putting in backup linemen in prevent defense. Instead, Smith blew a lead to his hated division rivals and blamed the media. Dan Quinn would blow that game too. However, he would take responsibility and ownership and display leadership.
Dean Pees and Smith may be finding out having the Belichickian attitude works fine when you win. As losers, it is further alienating the fans who are showing up the Benz less and less. Perhaps less time focusing on media coverage and more time on developing game management would result in a few more wins.
Cordarrelle Patterson is the real deal
I am an unapologetic Patterson fans. He was one of the team’s best free agent signings ever in 2021, fitting in perfectly with Smith’s offensive scheme. Kudos to Smith for getting the most out of a player where so many other coaches have failed. Even in Year 2, Patterson came to play. With 120 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards, Patterson was the focal point of the offense. Drake London played a fine supporting role in his rookie debut, but it was the Patterson show. No one else was able to provide much support... which itself is problematic for the 2022 outlook.
Kyle Pitts is MIA
The highest-drafted tight end in league history had 7 targets for 2 receptions and 19 yards to start off his sophomore season. He was sold as a constant mismatch creating coverage problems wherever he went. You can blame some of this on Mariota’s scattershot accuracy, but you need more out of a top-5 pick. A lot more. Especially as the player who went one spot later, Ja’Marr Chase cements himself as a top wide receiver in the league with his 129-yard game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two players will have their careers forever linked, but if this continues, it will look worse and worse for the brain trust. Either Terry Fontenot kicked off his era and top pick with the wrong player or Smith is having trouble incorporating a nearly unprecedented talent. That will be a lot of pressure for the brain trust to deal with if the losses pile up and the staff maintains its outward animosity.