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Falcons - Seahawks recap: Atlanta’s strong ending is a good beginning

The Falcons held on and put together an encouraging effort overall, if an uneven one.

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Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

If you expected the Falcons to be a playoff-caliber team this year, their uneven effort against the Seahawks probably frustrated you. If you expected them to be lousy this year, their uneven effort against the Seahawks...well, it probably still frustrated you. It’s hard not to get deeply invested in spite of your expectations, either way.

The frustration was legitimate at times, given the ways Atlanta found to allow Seattle to march down the field repeatedly and let Seattle hang around. But that frustration wound up blossoming into something else: A spot of joy and a dollop of relief that the Falcons not only earned their first win, but held on to do so, coming up with a critical stop that preserved a fun day from the offense. Perhaps Seattle is not a great team—okay, they’re not—but the Falcons aren’t either, at least not just yet. Beating Seahawks and showing some real resilience on the way to doing so is an important step for a team finding its way to bigger and better things, and after two close losses that saw Atlanta surrender a lead and then stumble at the very end of the game, it was especially welcome.

There were signs of progress everywhere you looked, even if some required you to squint. Marcus Mariota found greater success on his shots downfield, and if he missed some of them, he also found Kyle Pitts, Olamide Zaccheaus, and Drake London more than enough to make that agression worthwhile. Cordarrelle Patterson may have been stymied early, but he wound up putting up a career-high number of rushing yards after shredding Seattle late. The defense was once again far from great—sustainable progress is going to come more slowly than perhaps we expected—but they clamped down hard when it mattered. Younghoe Koo put a miss last week behind him and was once again perfect. The coaching staff kept adjusting on the fly until they found things that worked. And so on.

Now 1-2, it’s hard to imagine a team this uneven making a ton of noise in the NFC this year, but 2022 has always been about progress in my mind. The fact that this team is finding ways to hang around and put themselves in a position to win late after that Week 1 collapse speaks to their resilience, and with each passing week I become a little more convinced that this thing is pointed in the right direction, even if the compass is going to swing wildly at times. The Falcons may win several more games and they may not, but they do look like a more talented and well-coached squad than they did this time a year ago, and with a cap windfall on the way in 2022 and several high-upside talents added to the roster this year, that’s awfully encouraging. For the moment, we just wait to see whether they can build on this and put together an even more complete effort against a solid Browns squad.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • I liked Mariota’s aggression in this one. While his accuracy comes and goes, he kept taking shots and was mostly quite successful doing so, connecting with Kyle Pitts repeatedly, getting big chunk pickups to Anthony Firkser and Olamide Zaccheaus, and finding Drake London for big plays. My general philosophy is that this Falcons team needs to be willing to take risks given that their talent alone can’t carry them, and seeing Mariota embracing that and pushing the ball downfield did my heart good.
  • What can you say about Cordarrelle Patterson at this point? He’s found his role and his team and he’s thriving in it, setting new personal bests on a seemingly biweekly basis. In this one, Patterson set a personal best with 141 yards on just 17 carries, punching in a long touchdown run and adding a 12 yard grab for good measure. When he’s rolling he’s awfully hard to stop, given that he has the speed to escape defenders and the gumption to run them over.

The Falcons probably need to continue to think about managing his workload a bit to keep him fresh late in the year, but Patterson has been as good as any of us ever could have dreamed of, and his production was absolutely critical to the outcome of this one.

  • I thought the pass protection was uneven yesterday—more on that below—but Patterson was quick to credit his offensive line for their run blocking work. Indeed, Patterson found some real daylight to work with in the second half in particular, and a line that had trouble furnishing space to work with against the Rams did well against Seattle’s front even with backup guard Colby Gossett in there.
  • Drake London rules. He was less involved early on in this one, but he got rolling later on, including on a short grab on a nice Mariota pass in the third quarter that he turned into a touchdown through sheer physicality and force of will. It’s not hard to see why the Falcons fell in love with him leading up to the draft, and now he looks like a key piece of this offense for right now and the long haul. London finished the day with three grabs for 54 yards, with the lion’s share of the catches going to...
  • Kyle Pitts! He also rules, and this was the production we’d all been waiting for from the hyper-talented second-year tight end. It would be crazy to assume that Arthur Smith decided to pump targets to Pitts based on fan heat—I know that’s going to make the rounds but I don’t really believe that—but Pitts found favorable matchups and the ball found him, as Smith promised it would eventually. He finished the day with 87 yards on five grabs, with both marks leading the team, and made a few instrumental catches on key drives for Atlanta, showing a good rapport with Mariota in the process. Pitts is headed for more big days, of course, but it was nice to see him get untracked and to be reminded of just how potent he can be for Atlanta.
  • While we’re here, let’s give a mention to Olamide Zaccheaus, who has turned into one of the team’s more reliable receiving options. With Bryan Edwards as a surprise inactive, Zaccheaus continued to operate as the de facto second receiver, and brought in a pair of nice catches in this one, including one on a slightly underthrown ball, to finish the day with a pair of catches for 49 yards.
  • I laughed out loud at Grady Jarrett’s sack, which was maybe the play of the day on defense for Atlanta. Seattle had managed to make it all the way to the Atlanta 24 and were threatening a go-ahead score to potentially win the game, but Jarrett effectively ended those dreams by chopping his way through Seattle’s offensive line and taking down Geno Smith for a major loss. That’s the kind of game-wrecking play we’ve come to love and expect from Jarrett, and it set up the game-sealing interception for...
  • ...Richie Grant, who continues to impress. In this one, Grant picked off Smith’s desperation heave but also chipped in as an effective defender both in coverage and against the run, picking up a pair of pass deflections and showcasing his well-rounded skill set. It was frustrating to not see more of Grant in his rookie season, sure, but all the grumbling about him
  • Mykal Walker had a big day in ways that didn’t always show up in the box score. He had a near interception, was active and physical all day, and drew a holding call that saved the Falcons late in the fourth quarter on what would’ve been a huge Rashaad Penny gain.
  • Lorenzo Carter deserves a callout for his sack in this one, but also for being one of the more consistently disruptive forces on a not-very-disruptive Falcons defense.
  • Rashaan Evans tackled everybody in this game, which is only a small exaggeration, and also came up with some big plays to create lost yardage, knock down Geno Smith passes, and tip another pass into the air...that might have otherwise been intercepted but hell he didn’t know that when he made the play. It hasn’t all been roses and tackles for loss for the team’s top two inside linebackers, but Evans and Walker are doing some very good things for the Falcons.
  • It was a better effort for A.J. Terrell, who stopped one potential touchdown pass to DK Metcalf cold with excellent coverage, batted down a pass effortlessly, and just generally looked more comfortable than he did through the first two weeks.
  • Younghoe Koo, good for drives that fizzle out. Use Younghoe Koo responsibly. In this one, he hit from distance (54 yards away) and hit from closer to help the Falcons salvage disappointing ends to more than one drive. Last week’s miss was, as suspected, a fluke.
  • The resilience matters. You can’t talk about this game without acknowledging the errors and the defensive malpractice for long stretches, which we’ll do below, and the Falcons know they can’t afford to gloss over that just because it ended up being a win. Still, for a team committed to changing the “oh no the Falcons are about to lose this game mindset” that has become all-too-familiar for observers, not to mention a team that is young and finding its way to success, the ability to stop a game-winning drive cold is a big deal. Being able to win games you keep close is something the Falcons just haven’t done enough of in recent years, so progress on that front will beget more confidence and more success.

The Ugly

  • The Falcons’ defense came through when it counted, and that’s what Dean Pees and the team will want to focus on when they’re answering questions and talking to the larger world in the week ahead. Behind the scenes, though, there’s going to be plenty to critique and correct as this team prepares for the Browns, because it was a rough game that a few timely plays kept from spiraling out of control.

Seattle had scored 24 combined points in two weeks, but scored 23 against the Falcons. The Seahawks had managed just 469 yards in two weeks against the Broncos and 49ers, but put together 420 against Atlanta. They were one slight lapse in coverage from A.J. Terrell or a slightly different throw from Geno Smith away from a very different game, given that Seattle thrice settled for field goals on plays where DK Metcalf couldn’t quite make the grab for one reason or another. There was plenty of good here—I highlighted it above—but the Falcons letting a previously mediocre Seattle offense go a bit nuts against them is a reminder that there’s still quite a bit of work to do on this side of the ball.

  • Mariota didn’t always help with how long he held on to the ball, but this was quietly the weakest effort of the season for the line in pass protection, given that the Seattle pass rush had been largely ineffective up to this point. Mariota was sacked three games, harried a handful of others, and Atlanta was nailed with costly holding calls on a day where Seattle was down three top cornerbacks and the Falcons should’ve been able to move it through the air at-will.

With Elijah Wilkinson hopefully back at left guard next week, the team should fare better, but it’s a little concerning given that Cleveland can certainly bring plenty of pressure.

  • The mistakes will drive you nuts. At one point, the Falcons had three straight penalties in a row. They had lapses in coverage—I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know, here—that kept Seattle moving, multiple overthrows and moments of hesitation from Mariota, and a botched handoff between Mariota and Tyler Allgeier that most pinned on Allgeier being a bit too aggressive running through the ball, which led to a fumble Seattle recovered. They nearly lost another fumble because the line allowed Mariota to get crushed more than once on slow-developing plays, as well. All of these mistakes will happen at times and are hardly fatal on their own, but they added up to a raft of troubles that made this game closer and more stressful for the team and the fans alike than it needed to be. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the 2022 Falcons can be a consistently competitive team if they can stop shooting themselves in the foot so much.
  • I may be the only Falcons fan who didn’t really mind trying to make something happen with five seconds left in the first half, if for no other reason than to but it would be fair to suggest that the Falcons were lucky that the play they actually executed didn’t turn into a catastrophe. Marcus Mariota dropped back to pass, wound up going only a shade over 10 yards downfield and was picked off, with Parker Hesse making a good tackle to ensure it didn’t become a pick six.

I’m on record saying and will repeat that I’m in favor of this team being as aggressive as possible in 2022, given that my expectations for the season are muted and I approve of cultivating that mindset going forward. It still matters what plays you call and what decisions you ultimately make, and not taking a deep shot and taking the chance of Seattle widening their lead was not the right move.

To be fair, Arthur Smith agreed:

  • The drone delay was bizarre, and Arthur Smith freely admitted that it’s hard not to let frightening thoughts go through your head when everyone’s being pulled off the field for something like that.

“Nobody can control that,” he said. “I appreciate people looking out for everyone in that stadium. As we all know, there are some bizarre things that can happen around the world and I would rather be safe, so that didn’t frustrate me.”

Patterson jokingly—maybe jokingly?—talked about how the Falcons said on the sideline that Seattle was trying to slow them down with the drone, which was a perhaps fair thought given that Atlanta was hauling ass down the field before the delay. The thought that anyone with a drone can disrupt play in an open-air stadium on a lark—and yes, the more sinister implications of that—were an unpleasant note on Sunday and something that we’re unfortunately likely to see copied at least a handful of times in the future.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

There are some other worthy contenders here, but Cordarrelle Patterson takes it home for representing a quarter of Atlanta’s scores and well over a third of their yards on the day, including some absolutely huge carries in the second half. The man impresses, always.

One takeaway

The Falcons have their first win of the season and are figuring out enough on offense to make them a consistently interesting, if likely maddening, team. It’s a start.

Next week

The 2-1 Browns, a talented team that has been playing in close games all season as well. They’ll be a tough test for Atlanta given their potent ground game, a better-than-expected Jacoby Brissett, and tough defensive front, but hopefully the Falcons can string together two wins in a row.

Final word