From beginning to end, this was a rivalry game. The energy was palpable in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Atlanta Falcons’ season opener against the Carolina Panthers, and although the play was a little bit sloppy, it was very nice to have football back in our lives.
With mounting excitement surrounding the team, there was an abnormal amount of pressure on the Falcons to win this Week 1 matchup. It was a true complementary effort, and Atlanta out-scratched and out-clawed the Panthers to emerge with a 24-10 victory.
The overall lackluster performance, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, will linger for a little while and may dampen some of that excitement. But consider this your reminder that what we see in September is rarely what we see in October.
So, with that, let’s get to the first takeaways of the 2023 season.
Jessie Bates’s presence already felt in a big way
The kind of streaking interception Bates made look routine in the first quarter of Sunday’s game is anything but. It takes a near-perfect jump and a quarterback who hasn’t been burned like that before to make something like that happen, and Bates did it twice. Bates was unquestionably the player of the game for Atlanta, and his turnovers were truly the difference.
INTERCEPTED— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 10, 2023
Jessie Bates picks Bryce Young!
: FOX pic.twitter.com/zcbWEw67Tt
Bates set a career-high with four interceptions last season, and he’s already halfway to matching that mark. It’s his instinctive playmaking Atlanta was counting on when it signed him to a four-year contract worth $64 million, and they got it in Week 1. The veteran team captain should also be an asset as a run defender, where his nose for the football really shines through as it did with a forced fumble late in the third quarter.
The Falcons need more difference-makers on their defense, and it’s clear they’ve got one in Bates.
A day to forget for Desmond Ridder and the passing game
We knew the Falcons could run the ball, and they certainly needed to in this one. Desmond Ridder’s first pass of the game was batted high up in the air at the line of scrimmage and landed in his arms for a 6-yard loss. It was indicative of what was to come.
Officially, the Falcons had zero passing yards at halftime because of 24 yards in sacks that negated the 24 yards through the air. Pressure from Carolina’s impressive defensive line robbed Ridder of the time to find his big receivers downfield, and it resulted in a diminished performance from the entire unit.
Ridder finally hit Kyle Pitts for an explosive play late in the fourth quarter to help secure a victory, but that stands as one of the few high points to build upon. Pitts finished the game with two catches for a team-high 45 yards. Drake London did not record a catch in Week 1, and Mack Hollins reeled in three grabs for 31 yards.
Ridder’s final stat line for the game was 15-of-18 for 116 yards and one touchdown. And he got the job done.
Bijan Robinson's first career touchdown is one to remember
It’s not often that storybook moments happen, but Robinson’s 11-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the second quarter was one scripted to perfection. In one spectacular sequence, Robinson showed his elite stop-start ability, elusiveness and contact balance while leaving three Panthers defenders in his wake.
TOUCHDOWN, ATLANTA— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) September 10, 2023
Bijan Robinson scores the first TD of the season for the Falcons! pic.twitter.com/OBOw9KFjAF
The touchdown reception was only the second by a Falcons running back in his NFL debut, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Robinson’s talent is undeniable, and it’s apparent in a way that electrifies those watching. It’s unlikely many people will forget where they were when they saw Robinson’s first NFL touchdown.
Give Brian Burns his money
I don’t know how much the price of Burns went up during the duration of Sunday’s game, but he’s worth every penny. Burns was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half, and he set the tone for a great defensive performance from Carolina. Burns consistently won with both speed and power, getting by both Falcons tackles throughout the afternoon.
The Panthers’ star pass rusher finished the game with six tackles and 1.5 sacks. Atlanta did a commendable job neutralizing him in the second half, but his early success is something to file away in the concern folder.