Oh, remember this place? Yeah, this place is the worst. Another week, another game that we might one day look back upon as the day things became different for the Falcons. Nope, here we are once again.
The Atlanta Falcons are right back in the thick of things after failing to sweep the leg. As with the vast majority of Atlanta’s games this season, there were some genuine bright spots blotted out by gigantic black holes of momentum death.
Let’s sort through that all, shall we? Here are the players and units who nearly pulled the Falcons to victory, and those who didn’t have the best day.
Of all three first-round picks in the Fontenot-Smith era, London may end up being the best. That’s no slight to either Bijan Robinson or Kyle Pitts, but London’s production continues to tick upward while becoming a bit more consistent. In other words, he’s showing exactly the type of growth you’d want from a young No. 1 receiver. His 10 catches and 172 yards on Sunday were both career highs and London will very likely surpass Julio Jones—perhaps this weekend—for the most receptions in a player’s first two seasons. In fact, London had the most receiving yards by a Falcon since Julio Jones’s 173-yard performance against the Bengals in Week 4 of the 2018 season.
What an adjustment in the air and catch by Drake London pic.twitter.com/HUjRwUoz4a— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) December 11, 2023
Offensive line depth
If the Falcons had won this game, one of the positive story lines would have been the performance of Atlanta’s backup offensive linemen. Yes, Vita Vea was out for this game, but the Bucs are still a big-boy defensive front to match up against and the Falcons picked up 23 first downs and over 430 yards.
Tampa Bay did sack Desmond Ridder three times, but all three involved other factors than pure offensive line play. I’m not saying the offensive line was excellent on Sunday, but they did more than we could have expected.
Clark Phillips III
This is his second straight appearance on this list, so I’ll keep it short. Phillips earned his first start on Sunday, and he handled himself very well. Mike Evans barely scratched the stat sheet, and Chris Godwin was held to 53 yards; Phillips had a big hand in that. He broke up two passes and didn’t allow a catch on six targets. If the Falcons do decide to not get in on a Jeff Okudah sweepstakes this offseason, Phillips could be the reason why.
Falcons’ injury luck
Injuries have been a relatively minor concern for most of the season, and it’s a shame the Falcons didn’t do a better job capitalizing on that good fortune—because it has come to an end. These last two weeks have been brutal from an injury standpoint. At one point, rookie Matthew Bergeron was the only regular starter in the game for Atlanta’s offensive line yesterday. It’s actually very commendable that they gained over 400 yards of offense with so many guys out.
Defensively, the next-man-up mentality was real and discussed by every player I talked to in the locker room. And yet, by the fourth quarter, you could feel how tired that side of the ball was. They played valiantly, and they had another late-game letdown. Both things are true. The injuries will only make things harder the rest of the way, but nobody said making the playoffs was easy.
There were a few key lapses by the Falcons’ secondary late in the game, but it’s Grant who gave up the game-winning touchdown to Cade Otton. I thought Grant had a much better afternoon as a tackler on Sunday, which is a nice change of pace, but he continues to allow back-breaking plays. Again, he’s not alone in allowing Tampa Bay to make plays through the air, but he’s also been the most inconsistent player in the secondary this season.
He’s only fallen from 1A to 1A- in this stock maker’s opinion, but there’s no sugar-coating it: Koo’s two misses on Sunday were the difference in the outcome. More importantly, they sucked a lot of momentum and energy out of the building. Koo’s missed kick before halftime really felt deflating and it took a long time for the Falcons to muster any life offensively in the second half.
Both of Koo’s misses came from long range, and he said all the right things after the game. He’s going to be fine, but this one hurts.
Do you have any shoutouts or callouts from Sunday’s game? Let us know in the comments.