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Falcons vs. Titans instant recap: A big change can’t create a big enough spark

The Falcons bench Desmond Ridder, but injuries pile up and the defense collapses as the Falcons drop one on the road.

Atlanta Falcons v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Falcons came into this Titans game first in the NFC South, above .500, and facing an opponent that had struggled for weeks. They left this game in disarray, having benched their starting quarterback, lost multiple key players to injury, and watching their defense surrender multiple explosive plays against a diminished offense.

A week ago, Arthur Smith was going to the mat for Desmond Ridder, who was checked for a concussion and then parked in favor of Taylor Heinicke, who did well. A week ago, the Falcons were smothering the Buccaneers, but in this one they allowed Will Levis to throw three touchdowns to DeAndre Hopkins. A week ago, this was one of the healthiest teams in the league; now they’re dealing with a long list of worrying injuries. They also lost to a previously scuffling team and allowed Levis to throw four touchdowns in his first career start, allowing a season-high number of points and not quite doing enough on offense, though Heinicke piloted this team to an impressive 20 second half points.

It was a reminder that rhetoric is rhetoric and nothing lasts long in the NFL, whether that be success or a starting job, and a sobering effort after the Falcons were better than Tampa Bay in every way yet still only won by a field goal. After many weeks of justified blistering criticism for Ridder for his lack of care with the ball, the defense struggled to overcome injuries and coverage mistakes, the line put together a putrid day of blocking, and Arthur Smith’s decision-making on plays like Jonnu Smith’s second down red zone pass.

The Falcons still had a shot to win the game at the end, and the fact that the game effectively ended with a ball going through Van Jefferson’s hands on a 4th and 1 passing attempt just felt right in the worst way possible. Atlanta drops back to .500 after delivering a wire-to-wire mediocre effort, and we’re left to look at this team askance again and wonder who they really are, and whether the glimpses of greatness we’ve seen from them are ever going to turn into something more sustainable.

Here’s a full drive-by-drive recap of the Atlanta Falcons versus Tennesee Titans game you just watched.

1st Quarter

The Titans got it at their own 25, and Derrick Henry took it a few yards on first down. On second down, Henry powered thorugh tackle, spun, and nearly got a first down. Will Levis then snuck it for a first down. Malik Willis rotated in on the next play, and a high snap got away from him, with the Falcons managing to pick it up and recover the fumble.

Desmond Ridder quickly threw it to Bijan Robinson for no gain, but a penalty on Van Jefferson for an illegal shift was called and then backed them up five yards. Robinson then took it up the middle on the left side and picked up those five yards back up. Ridder then scrambled up the middle for a few yards, and on 3rd and 7, Ridder rifled one in to Drake London for a first down. Tyler Allgeier then took it six yards on first down, a Jonnu Smith pass on second down to MyCole Pruitt (yes, you read that right) fell incomplete, and then Ridder tried to run away from pressure and was quickly and mercilessly sacked. Younghoe Koo drilled the field goal try to put the Falcons up 3-0.

Levis threw a quick swing pass to Tyjae Spears, who was tackled by LaCale London after a gain of a yard. A pitch to Spears went for a couple of yards, and then Levis stood in with pressure closing in, but the Titans faked a punt and picked up a first. Levis took a deep shot but Richie Grant broke it up. On second down, Spears was tripped up for a short gain, but Levis once again threw it short of the sticks. Punt.

Robinson took a first down pitch play seven yards, but Ridder didn’t throw the ball away on second down and took a sack that lost the offense nearly 10 yards. On third down, he launched one for Kyle Pitts that didn’t come close. Punt.

The Titans took it to midfield, but a 10 yard holding penalty backed them up to their own 40. Henry took it about six yards on first down, and then was tackled just shy of the first down. On third down, though, Levis threw a rainbow to Henry that went for a first down. Levis then launched one deep to DeAndre Hopkins against A.J. Terrell, with Terrell looking for a flag he didn’t get after Hopkins appeared to put him in a friendly headlock. 7-3 Titans.

Drake London caught one from Ridder on first down for a first down. Allgeier got a couple of yards on the next play, and then a couple more on second down, and then Ridder hit London just short of the sticks.

2nd Quarter

The Falcons punted and the Titans got it back on their own 12. Henry got a couple of yards on first down, and Kaden Elliss was injured on the play. Levis threw for a first down on the next play, and then Levis tried to get away from pressure before Bud Dupree got him for a two yard loss. The next shot to Spears fell incomplete thanks to a big hit, and the third down pass to Kyle Phillips got more yardage than expected but fell short of a first down. Punt.

Unfortunately, Mike Hughes made an awful decision to return the punt and wound up getting tackled around the five yard line. Bijan Robinson got about three yards on first down, and then Ridder’s pass was batted down at the line on second down. Robinson didn’t turn around in time for Ridder’s pass on third down, and it fell incomplete. Punt.

A pitch to Henry went for at least six yards. Then Levis couldn’t quite get Hopkins before he launched one deep to the sideline that blessedly was a bit out of bounds. Punt.

Allgeier took it eight yards on first down, but he was killed on second down. On third down, Ridder hit Pitts across the middle for a first down and more. He then got Pitts for another first down and then London to the sideline for about five yards. Ridder then stumbled while running on the next play and fumbled it, with the Titans picking it up.

Henry caught it for nine yards, and then on second down the Falcons stuffed Henry trying to dive over the pile. A handoff to the tight end went for a first down. On first down, four yards, and then a pass to DeAndre Hopkins that went for a touchdown. 14-3 Titans.

Ridder kept it on first down and rolled for about 20 yards, with Jonnu Smith contributing a great block. A false start backed the Falcons up five yards, and then Ridder tried London on the sideline but it was broken up. Ridder was then sacked again on second down, and we had 3rd and 24. Ridder hit the pass for 14, but that was 10 yards shy of the first down. Punt.

Henry got about six on first down. and then got a first down. The pass was dropped for Tennessee’s tight end, and then a quick toss went for two yards. Levis had to dump it off and it was a loss of a couple thanks to a great Jeff Okudah tackle. Punt.

Ridder was creamed on first down near the goal line by Arden Key for a big sack. Robinson then got two yards, Then he got nowhere, and the Falcons had to punt again. The Titans got it a little past midfield with 1:02 left and no timeouts.

Levis and the Titans lost five yards on a false start, and then Levis threw it into the dirt. A quick strike to Phillips got eight yards, and then Levis took a deep shot for no good reason to set up a very long field goal.

The Falcons kneeled it out.

3rd Quarter

Taylor Heinicke was in the game right away with Desmond Ridder being evaluated for a concussion, and Bijan Robinson got a carry for a first down and then got another one for four yards. A first down throw from Heinicke was followed by a six yard gain by Allgeier, and a couple more yards for Allgeier on second down. On third down, Heinicke escaped pressure and threw it toward the sideline for an incompletion. Punt.

Derrick Henry picked up five on first down and four on second down, setting up yet another short third down for the Titans. The Titans bullied their way ahead for a first down, and then Levis kept it and ran for five yards. A Henry run went for another first down, and then Levis was almost sacked and managed to throw it away. Hopkins went for about five yards on second down, and then Levis tried to run it and only got a couple of yards. It was 4th and 3, and the Titans elected to go for it and seemingly got it with a quick pass to the sideline, but it was ruled that it didn’t quite get there and there was an offensive pass interference. The Titans punted after a long review.

Cordarrelle Patterson picked up close to five yards on a first down run, and then Heinicke zipped a nice ball in to Kyle Pitts for a first down. Robinson got nowhere on first down, losing three yards, and then Heinicke’s pass to Robinson was a bit high after Robinson was slow to turn around. Heinicke then hit KhaDarel Hodge for a first down. Robinson then picked up seven yards on first down, and then Heinicke found London for a 25 yarder to get the Falcons inside the Titans’ 25. Heinicke then missed Mack Hollins in the end zone, and then Patterson took it about four yards on second down. On third down, pressure came home and Heinicke threw it out of bounds on the run. Koo inevitably hit the field goal try and it was 14-9 Titans.

The Titans swiftly scored a third touchdown, this time on another touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, who slipped by Richie Grant for an easy score. 21-9 Titans.

Heinicke tossed it to KhaDarel Hodge on a nice pass, and then Hodge did an absolutely eye-popping job of turning a first down into over 50 yards by breaking multiple tackles and not giving up on the play. Heinicke then found Hollins for about seven yards.

4th Quarter

Robinson then got rocked after a couple of yards on second down, and then Robinson got the pitch, got some nice blocking, and took it for a touchdown. 21-16 Titans.

A first down and much more for Levis to Chris Moore on first down, but an illegal formation call on the Titans backed things up. Six yards on first down gave way to just a yard on second down for Henry, and then Levis was hit as he threw and tossed it out of bounds. Punt.

Heinicke got a low snap and was forced to throw it away, and then got another low snap and was forced to throw it away under pressure. On third down, Heinicke took the deep shot and the flag for pass interference was picked up. Punt. An unnecessary roughness call on the Titans backed them up.

Tennesee picked up three on a first down carry, and then Spears broke a tackle to pick up another couple of yards. Levis then got the first down throw, and then threw a panic ball under pressure that was nearly picked. Spears then took a carry for over 20 yards and took it past midfield, and then Henry got six yards. Henry then picked up three or four yards on second down, and a defensive holding gave Tennessee a first down. Then Levis took a shot under pressure to the end zone and connected for a touchdown, his fourth of the game, to make it 28-16.

On first down, Heinicke was sacked. He then found Scotty Miller for about 10 yards, and then scrambled under significant pressure to set up a 4th and 1. A pair of quick strikes followed, giving Atlanta a first down and nine yards, with Tyler Allgeier turning a carry into about seven yards on second down. Heinicke then found Hollins for a first down, and a sck turned into a roughing the passer call that gave Atlanta excellent position. Heinicke then tossed a beautiful ball into the end zone to Scotty Miller to score and put the Falcons back in striking distance. 28-23 Titans.

The Titans turned a pair of Henry carries into a first down, and then picked up three on first down. Another couple of yards followed, setting up a 3rd down and 4 yards to go, and Levis stumbled backwards for a sack. Punt.

Heinicke’s first down pass was deflected. On second down, a low snap forced Heinicke to get rid of it quickly, and he found Van Jefferson for six yards. Heinicke then had to scramble, setting up a 4th and 1. A pass to Jefferson went right through his hands.