The Atlanta Falcons took on the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and it was a battle of two injury-marred teams that was as low-scoring as it was frustrating. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they came out on the wrong side of it.
The defense had some major, frustrating lapses, but they also forced two turnovers and got a safety on Josh Dobbs to give this Falcons team a fighting chance. Special teams contributed, too, with good work by Younghoe Koo to cash in four field goals to go along with the safety. In the first half, however, the offense was an absolute liability, managing to set up a couple of field goals but also squandering red zone chances and stalling out in a fashion that made us think this one would be another close, annoying game.
A second half big play broke that open...for a moment. Jonnu Smith took a short pass from Heinicke and took it 60 yards to the house thanks in part to excellent blocking, give Atlanta an eight point lead. Then the defense collapsed in spectacular fashion on the next drive, allowing Josh Dobbs too much time to work and find open men and scramble, including for a touchdown, and the Vikings tied things up. On the very next play, Heinicke stopped flirting with throwing an interception and just straight up threw one, giving the Vikings the ball back.
The offense struggling like this with Taylor Heinicke under center told the tale. Sure, the Falcons missed Drake London, but the coaching staff has to be able to squeeze more out of the team they have on the field and just can’t, with even with the big change under center Atlanta’s offense was far too listless until way too late, with individual heroics from Jonnu Smith, KhaDarel Hodge, and others needed to lift this team above a putrid performance. Blessedly, the ground game delivered late to put them up, but then Dobbs drove downfield to give the Vikings the lead with only 22 seconds left on the clock. The Falcons’ would-be game-winning drive fell well short of, well, winning.
We left this game with no more sense of how good this team is than when we entered, given those myriad struggles, and now they’re under .500 and the heat has to be cranking up team-wide. The quarterback change delivered a small spark if it delivered any spark at all, the ground game was once again stymied for most of the afternoon, and the defense had its huge struggles at the worst possible moments a week after big plays doomed them against Tennessee. Nothing is going well, and a team with heightened expectations is now playing such mediocre football that it’s fair to wonder if they can figure this thing out in the remaining eight games. It’s a dispiriting place to be, and a trip to Arizona might not fix things, even if Drake London and other injured Falcons do return.
Here’s the drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched.
Atlanta received, and it was a touchback. Bijan Robinson took a pitch for about two yards on first down, followed by a very quick hit behind the line of scrimmage to Cordarrelle Patterson that created a couple more yards. Taylor Heinicke then hit Kyle Pitts over the middle for a first down. Jonnu Smith then caught a quick pass and took it for another first down. Tyler Allgeier was hit in the backfield on the next play for a loss. Heinicke then dumped it off to Allgeier for four yards. Heinicke kept getting away from pressure but ultimately had to throw it away due to strong coverage and pressure. Punt.
Alex Mattison got eaten up by Calais Campbell on first down, and then Nate Landman ate up the short passing play on second down. On third down, Jaren Hall stumbled and bumbled his way to about eight yards, but wasn’t able to pick up the first down. Punt.
Heinicke found a wide open KhaDarel Hodge, who then put a guy in the dirt and picked up another 10 or so yards for 31 yards on first down. Patterson picked up a yard on first down, and then Robinson took it about three yards. Heinicke’s third down pass was high over Kyle Pitts, nearly picked off, and that meant it was Younghoe Koo time. He hit it from 52 yards out to put the Falcons up 3-0.
Pressure from Arnold Ebiketie was in Hall’s face immediately, but he got rid of it and Johnny Mundt took it 25-plus yards. A flag backed Minnesota up five yards, and then Zach Harrison got the run stop for one yard against Mattison. On the next play, the Falcons let Mattison get loose and Hall found him down the sideline for a huge gain. Hall then found Brandon Powell for about nine yards and the Vikings were inside the 10. K.J. Osborn then got the first down. Landman showed up immediately on the next play to take down Mattison for a loss and back up Minnesota, and then Hall threw it a little high in the end zone for T.J. Hockenson. Jeff Okudah took down a scrambling Hall just shy of the end zone, and Hall exited the game with an injury scare. The Vikings hit the field goal try. 3-3 tie.
Heinicke looped around out of pressure and found Mack Hollins for a first down on a crosser. On first down, he hit Hollins again after getting away from pressure just shy of a first down. On second down, Robinson picked up about seven and a first down. On the next play, however, Heinicke threw it in the dirt at Robinson’s feet rather than get him hit for a loss. Heinicke hit Pitts for about seven yards on second down, and then took a shot on third down to Hodge that was nowhere near the receiver. On fourth down and 4, the Falcons went for it, with a quick pass to Patterson going for a first down. Unfortunately, an offensive pass interference on Van Jefferson negated that, and the Falcons would have to punt.
On the first down run, Cam Akers was swallowed up by Ta’Quon Graham for a two yard loss. Josh Dobbs tried to find T.J. Hockenson on second down, but Nate Landman did a nice job in coverage against him to prevent the catch. On third down, Calais Campbell got to a hesitant Dobbs in the end zone and took him down for a sack and a safety. 5-3 Falcons.
A short Dee Alford return got the Falcons to about the 40. Allgeier took it about five yards on first down, and then Heinicke threw a high ball that was nearly picked off right toward a defender. On third down, though, Heinicke got Jonnu Smith and he rumbled for about 10 yards. On first down, Robinson picked up two yards, and then Robinson took it again for another couple of yards. Heinicke then got rid of it quickly to Pitts, who picked up a first down. On first down, though, a Robinson toss went nowhere after he ran into his own blocker on a spin move, and then a quick throw to Allgeier in the backfield resulted in a big loss. Heinicke then threw a quick ball to Hollins for about eight yards to set up a field goal try. Naturally, Koo hit it for an 8-3 Falcons lead.
Akers went nowhere—actually, minus three yards—thanks to Alford and the defense. Akers picked up a yard or two on second down before getting stuffed. On third down, the pass fell incomplete, but pass interference on Nate Landman moved the Vikings. Dobbs hung in the pocket too long trying to make a play, and then he fumbled it away with Lorenzo Carter picking it up after Arnold Ebiketie sacked him. The Falcons got the ball back inside the 10.
On first down, a false start backed the Falcons up, but a pass to Jonnu Smith and a rumble from the tight end set up a very short second and goal. Jonnu Smith got nowhere on the jet sweep—yes, you read that right—and then Allgeier’s third down carry lost yards for Atlanta. Koo hit the field goal to make it 11-3 Falcons.
Mattison got nowhere against the Falcons defensive front on back-to-back plays. On third down, Dobbs tried to hit Osborn over the middle of the field, but he bobbled it and took some big hits over the middle and was ultimately down on the field in a scary moment. The Falcons were hit with a pass interference call, it was called a catch, and Osborn luckily was able to get up on the cart and give a thumbs up. A quick pass to Akers went about five yards, and then Akers picked up the first down. Dobbs had his next pass broken up by Okudah, and then Mattison was stopped for a loss of one yard by Kentavius Street and David Onyemata. Jordan Addison then got wide open and Dobbs hit him on the sideline and the Vikings were inside the red zone. Akers then took it and was maybe looking to throw, but instead lost close to seven yards. Hockenson caught a pass for about four yards, and on third down, and the Falcons pressured Dobbs but lost him and saw him scramble for a first down. Akers was tackled after a very short gain, and then Dobbs rolled out and found an open Mattison for a touchdown. 11-10 Falcons.
Robinson picked up about four yards on first down, and then a second down a false start on Matthew Bergeron backed Atlanta up five yards. Heinicke picked up another yard or two on a scramble, and then found Hodge for a first down. They spiked it on first down, and then Heinicke threw it high to Robinson on second down and he couldn’t come down with it. On third down, Heinicke threw it in the vague direction of Pitts, but way over his head. Punt, and a nice return from Minnesota with nine seconds left gave the Vikings a shot to try for the field goal. They elected to kneel it out, and we were at halftime.
Atlanta kicked off. Dobbs got the pass out for about five yards, and then Mattison picked up close to four. Dobbs then tried to throw it away and was hit, and it went right into the hands of Kentavius Street for a fumble recovery.
On first down, Robinson went for a couple of yards, and then Heinicke was sacked. On third down, he threw one down the sideline, but it was a little far and outside for Hodge, who made an excellent diving catch but wasn’t able to get in-bounds. Arthur Smith challenged it, but it was not successful. Younghoe Koo hit the 54 yarder, of course, to put the Falcons up 14-10.
Akers was taken down by Lorenzo Carter and company on first down for no gain. On second down, Hockenson caught it and got away from tacklers to pick up a first and much more. Akers then took it 19 yards or so on the run. Then Dobbs ran for another first down after Nate Landman just missed bringing him down in the backfield. Dobbs then fumbled the snap and Bud Dupree fell on him for a loss, and then Akers picked up about three or four yards on second down. Dobbs tried to go over the middle but the coverage was good and the throw was low. The field goal made it 14-13 Falcons.
Heinicke’s throw was behind Jonnu Smith on first down, and then threw it away under pressure and just missed being intercepted. On third down, thankfully, he connected with Hodge for a first down again. Patterson then picked up nine yards on first down, but an illegal shift cost them that gain and backed them up five yards. Fortunately on the next play, a big blitz from the Vikings gave Jonnu Smith room to work and Heinicke was able to hit him and let him rumble, with Smith cashing in a 60 yard score for the team’s longest play of the year. 21-13 Falcons.
The Vikings got five yards on first down, but then Mattison was stuffed on second down. Jessie Bates then knocked away the third down throw to force the punt.
Atlanta’s first down carry went for a first down and then some, but he had the ball punched out and the Vikings recovered it around the Atlanta 40.
David Onyemata took Josh Oliver down after a two yard catch. On second down, Kaden Elliss was able to swat the pass to Hockenson down, and then Hockenson caught it for a first down. Mattison then picked up about six yards on first down, and then Mattison picked up a first down. Dobbs then got away from pressure and scrambled into the end zone for a touchdown. The Falcons gave Dobbs too much time to work, and he was able to hit the two point conversion. 21-21 tie.
Heinicke threw an interception on the very next play right to Byron Murphy.
Akers caught a quick pass for a first down. On the next play, the Falcons swallowed them up for a one yard loss, and then Akers caught a quick pass and A.J. Terrell made the instant stop.
Mattison took it a few yards and the Vikings played for the field goal. It was 24-21 Vikings after Greg Joseph banged it home.
Heinicke tried to hand the ball off and was not successful as the back breezed right by him, and then he was forced to run for a yard and fumbled, but he hit the deck and the ruling on the field was that he was down before the ball squirted loose. A challenge was unsuccessful, and then Kyle Pitts caught it and rumbled for 27 yards. Allgeier then went for a couple of yards, and then Heinicke missed a tightly covered Van Jefferson. On third down, he missed Jefferson again. Punt.
Zach Harrison had nice pressure on first down to force a throwaway. Mattison then took it close to four yards, and then Hockenson reeled one in for a first down. Hockenson then picked up six on first down, and then Mattison got a first down. A couple yards for Mattison, maybe five on second down with a quick pass, and then tight coverage stopped the Vikings on third down. Punt.
Heinicke hit Jefferson on the sideline for a first down. Then Robinson took it about three yards on first down, and then he picked up another four yards on second down. Then a toss to Robinson went for a first down and more, blessedly. Allgeier then took it eight yards on first down, but then Allgeier was hit in the backfield on second down for a loss of a yard. A false start moved the Falcons back to 3rd and 8, and then Heinicke ran for the first down. Allgeier then took it six yards on first down, and then just a yard on second down. Thankfully, Allgeier found a well-blocked hole on the right side of the line with a nice block from Tucker Fisk to give him a shot at a first down, and he took advantage. Allgeier then bulldozed his way for another first down. Allgeier got nothing on the next carry, but then plowed in for a touchdown on the next carry, with a flag coming in. It was a post-score foul, however, on Van Jefferson, so the score stuck. 28-24 Falcons after Koo hit a 48 yard extra point.
The Vikings didn’t get far on their first two plays, but a Hockenson catch past the marker gave them a first down catch. Addison caught it on the sideline for a pretty big gain despite Richie Grant popping him, and at the 37 yard the officiating crew reviewed the play and it stood. Dobbs then hit Hockenson, but Grant punched it out for an incompletion. Dobbs had time but was flushed out and ultimately ran it out of bounds for a three yard gain. With a bit of pressure coming from Street, Dobbs simply missed the throw. On fourth down, Dobbs got away from pressure and scrambled for a first down and then got out of bounds. On the next play, Nate Landman delivered the bit hit to break the pass up. Hockenson then caught it for five yards and took their second timeout. Brandon Powell then caught the touchdown from Dobbs to put the Vikings back up. 31-28 Vikings.
Heinicke then hit Jonnu Smith for nine yards and the Falcons took a timeout. Heinicke’s throw to Hodge was off the mark, and then he hit Robinson and the back went out of bounds for a first down, but that left the team with five seconds and one timeout. A Hail Mary fell short of the end zone and was knocked down, and the Falcons lost the game.