Atlanta pursued Jessie Bates with the kind of ardor we Falcons fans really hoped for, given that Bates was one of the crown jewels of this free agency class. This team badly needed a tone setter at safety and a playmaker who could punish the kinds of mistakes we hoped a rebuilt defensive front coached by Ryan Nielsen would deliver, and they got Bates to do just that.
The content gods would tell me to create a little intrigue here if I still listened to them and ask you to vote on the team’s MVP for Week 1. The truth is that there’s genuinely no debate: The Bates that the Falcons went so hard after and gave a giant cartoon bag of money was the Bates they got on Sunday and then some, and he was easily the most valuable player on the field despite great days from Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson, and others.
Bates had ten combined tackles on the day and showed well in that critical, responsible duty, which would have been enough to earn at least faint praise. But it was the forced fumble and two interceptions that really stood out in this one.
Bates caught Bryce Young lollygagging twice, throwing a ball over the middle that a lesser safety might not have punished. Bates is too good, though, and read both plays effectively, stepped in the way of both throws at the right time, and brought both in. Considering that those three turnovers Bates forced directly lead to 17 of Atlanta’s 24 points, they were absolutely vital to the win and absolutely demoralizing for Carolina, making them the most pivotal plays of the day outside of Robinson and Allgeier’s touchdowns. The fact that Bates authored all of them made him easily the most valuable and important player on the field Sunday.
He won’t have these kinds of games on a weekly basis, but it’s evident that Bates is absolutely the caliber of player the Falcons wanted in Atlanta. He’s going to be a difference maker for the Falcons all year long, and I’m awfully glad he’s here.