The Atlanta Falcons fell to 2-2 on Sunday after a 23-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Wembley Stadium. A slow start once again doomed the club, which could not make up a 17-point deficit to start the second half.
This is a painful loss, if only because many of the same problems that plagued Atlanta against Detroit remained visible. Too often, the offense looked one-dimensional and non-threatening while key players failed to get involved. Defensively, the unit continued to play admirably and held a good offensive group to a low point total.
There will be plenty of time to dig much deeper into what this loss means, but here are some surface takeaways from Sunday.
Another day to forget for Ridder and the offense
The Falcons’ offense started as slowly as possible on Sunday, continuing a troubling trend in 2023. Atlanta was shutout in the first half as Ridder threw two interceptions, including a pick-six that game Jacksonville a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. In three of their four games this season, the Falcons have been shutout in the first quarter. Sunday marked the first time they had failed to score a point before halftime, however.
Ridder was dinged multiple times on the broadcast for staring down his first read, which the announcers believed was the reason for his two interceptions. With only 77 yards in the opening two quarters, Atlanta’s offense clearly has issues that need to be addressed. Whether or not that involves a quarterback change in the coming weeks is becoming the top question.
Things appeared to get so bad in the first half, that this short clip of Mack Hollins seemingly snapping at Ridder made the rounds. The last thing Atlanta needs is trust eroding in the locker room.
dude, mack hollins wanted none of this desmond ridder high five after he missed him on the post pic.twitter.com/mxd4Vg14XV— Austin Gayle (@austingayle_) October 1, 2023
To shine some light on a positive for Ridder, he was sharp on key downs. According to ESPN’s broadcast, Ridder was 9-of-9 on third-down passes with one touchdown and five first-down conversions. That last number is indicative, though, of the types of passes Ridder was mostly throwing on third down – check-down passes short of the sticks. Still, it’s something to build upon, and Ridder needs to have more of those.
Bijan Robinson is amazing in any location
Easily the biggest bright spot for Atlanta’s offense this season, Robinson was once against excellent in London. The rookie dazzled the crowd at Wembley Stadium with ankle-breaking tackles, one-handed catches and full-field vision. During the draft process and throughout training camp, the best way to describe Robinson was through comparisons to other elite players like LaDanian Tomlinson or Barry Sanders.
Now, though, I think it’s safe to say that Robinson is a 1-of-1. His agility is tight and sudden. He keeps his momentum through his cuts, which allows him to string several together in the blink of an eye. As a pass-catcher, Robinson transitions from receiver to runner fluidly and in a continuous motion. About the only thing that was lacking Sunday was the true top-end gear, but Robinson, who had 19 touches for 137 yards, should be the engine behind Atlanta’s offense from here on out.
Atlanta’s defense deserves our attention
For seemingly decades, the Falcons have been defined by their offense. This year’s identity starts on the defensive side of the ball. Jessie Bates, David Onyemata and Calais Campbell all made their presence felt against Jacksonville, and the newcomers continue to reshape our expectations.
Atlanta’s defense allowed just 10 points in the first half – one touchdown occurred via pick-six – and it held the Jaguars to 2-of-7 on third down. Nate Landman performed admirably in his first game as the fill-in for Troy Andersen, finishing second on the team with nine tackles. Jessie Bates forced a fumble, continuing his trend of making plays on the football.
The Falcons’ pass rush also came alive on Sunday and managed to get home. Onyemata registered 1.5 sacks against Jacksonville and Bud Dupree got the other half-sack. It’s telling that the free-agency class is leading the way for Atlanta’s defense – credit to general manager Terry Fontenot and his staff – but familiar faces like A.J. Terrell, Richie Grant and Grady Jarrett have had their moments as well.
Has anyone seen Kyle Pitts?
The highest-drafted tight end in NFL history hasn’t been a top producer so far this season. His talent remains apparent to anyone who see Pitts play, but the connection just hasn’t been there between quarterback and tight end. Pitts entered the Sunday morning game as the team’s second-leading receiver with nine catches for 100 yards and no touchdowns, but that’s hardly an inspiring stat line.
Outside of his rookie season with Matt Ryan at quarterback, Pitts has not consistently proven to be the offensive threat fans envisioned when the team drafted him. There have been opportunities, such as the missed throw early against Detroit when Pitts had several yards on his defender, but they’ve yet to materialize frequently enough.
For as much first-round draft capital the Falcons invested in their skill players, the return hasn’t been great. Pitts finished the game with two catches for 21 yards. Drake London scored the Falcons’ only touchdown, but he also finished with a diminished stat line: three receptions for 28 yards and the score.