This Week 18 season finale between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is especially intriguing given that it features potentially the last time the Falcons can for the very first time beat a team led by Tom Brady. However, there is no confirmation that Brady will even play this week, so it may just be an opportunity for the Falcons to break their tie they have against Blaine Gabbert when he’s started against them. They thrashed Gabbert during his rookie season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but then lost to him when he suited up for the San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
It also represents the last game that Desmond Ridder has to impress before the offseason, as part of his audition to be the Falcons starting quarterback in 2023. But that alone is not the only intrigue involved in this game. Rules mandate that only five Falcons can be named each week.
I must admit that this season it has been nearly impossible to name five Falcons, yet I have succeeded in doing so. I will not fail this week, so let’s get started!
For the aforementioned reasons, Ridder is an intriguing player to watch this weekend. In part because in a game of potential firsts against Brady, it would be nice to see Ridder throw his first touchdown pass. As FOX Sports wrote earlier this week, if Ridder fails to throw a touchdown pass in his first four starts, he’ll join a less than illustrious list of NFL passers that failed to do so. Although, if he can manage to avoid an interception for a fourth week, he’ll join a distinguished group that includes Brady.
But let’s be honest, Ridder should have had his first touchdown pass last week versus the Arizona Cardinals. Unfortunately, Cordarrelle Patterson couldn’t secure the catch. But the stat sheets don’t count “almost” touchdowns. So it only helps Ridder if he can get that official mark in the box score on Sunday.
Now when it comes to catching touchdowns, the obvious candidate would be Drake London, who currently leads the Falcons with four scoring receptions. But the player that may be the best bet to actually catch Ridder’s first scoring pass is their unicorn of a tight end in MyCole Pruitt.
When Atlanta first signed Pruitt back in August, there weren’t high expectations for what he’d bring to the Falcons offense besides blocking, but he has exceeded those. Despite only having 13 receptions, Pruitt has seemingly made the most of every opportunity he’s had to catch a football this season. He has more red-zone targets and receptions than any player besides London this year, and thus may be the most reliable option for Ridder to target close to the end zone if he finally wants to throw his first touchdown pass.
Since the Falcons are facing the Bucs, a player that needs to have a big game if the team expects to win is Jarrett. He has appeared in this weekly list of intrigue many times this year due to his prowess as a disruptor on the Falcons' defensive line. But this week, he’s especially intriguing since he seemed like he was a one-man wrecking crew that kept the Falcons far more competitive in their last matchup against the Bucs.
Given the weakness of the Bucs interior offensive line, Jarrett will have to put on his superhero cape once more if the Falcons are going to slow down this Brady or Gabbert-led Bucs offense.
Arnold Ebiketie & Lorenzo Carter
Jarrett shouldn’t have to do it alone, due to the presence of pass-rushers like Ebiketie and Carter. The Bucs will be down left tackle Donovan Smith this week, which means backup Brandon Walton will be making his second career start in his stead. That represents a golden opportunity for either edge-rusher to give Jarrett some much-needed help.
It’s important that one or both step up. All year long, we've searched for a Robin to Jarrett’s Batman. At times, Carter has appeared the top option given his experience. He is an impending free agent that needs to make a stronger case to earn a new contract, whether it be from the Falcons or elsewhere. So a strong closing game against Walton could be exactly the favorable impression he needs to make.
The Falcons have plenty of money to spend this offseason to upgrade their pass rush and how much they spend may rely on how well Ebiketie plays this weekend. A big game for Ebiketie in the season finale can instill a lot more optimism about his potential to be Jarrett’s sidekick moving forward.
Are there other Falcons you can name that intrigue you in this matchup?