clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

3 Up, 3 Down: Jessie Bates & Bijan Robinson shine in Falcons debut

Whose stock is rising and whose is falling after Week 1?

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It wasn’t exactly pretty but any win—especially those in Week 1—is worth accepting, no matter how they occur. The further we get away from Sunday, Sept. 10, the more I suspect we’ll feel better about this victory.

Good teams find a way to win when they are forced to play left-handed. As a lefty, myself, that phrase has always rankled me a little bit, but I understand the meaning, nonetheless. And the Falcons absolutely did that against the Panthers. A run game like Atlanta’s is perhaps the best Plan B in the NFL, and it carried the team to a victory in the season opener for the first time since 2017.

For those new to this piece or in need of a refresher, I’ll name three players who are generally on the rise in terms of their play and three who struggle in the previous game. It’s purely subjective, and I’ll lay out my reasoning as best I can. As always, share your nominees in the comments!

Let’s get started.

Three Up

Jessie Bates

Lest we all forget Jessie Bates was the premier free agent signing for the Falcons this offseason, he offered an unmistakable reminder. There’s absolutely no doubt: he was the player of the game.

Bates pulled an act of déjà vu, recording an interception on two identical plays where he perfectly jumped a pass over the middle. He also led the team with 10 tackles and forced a crucial fumble in the second half. I’ll say it again: Bates was the player of the game. If he doesn’t win NFL Defensive Player of the Week, we ride at dawn.

Tyler Allgeier & Bijan Robinson

“What you saw is when you go from Bijan to Tyler, two pretty damn good football players,” Arthur Smith said after the game, which is why these two deserve a spot on this list. Combined, they accounted for 177 of the team’s 221 yards and all three of the Falcons’ touchdowns. Robinson’s first NFL score was the stuff fans won’t soon forget, and it showed exactly why Atlanta selected him with the No. 8 pick.

As for Allgeier. He was the ignition to Atlanta’s offense early in the game. Following the Falcons’ three-and-out to start the game, the second-year back out of BYU rattled off runs of 19 and 22 yards, providing a blueprint for the game plan to come. He then shouldered the scoring workload with two touchdowns, including a beauty along the sidelines that was the definition of a bang-bang extension of the ball.

Second-half adjustments

This was a game that looked like it could get away from the Falcons in the first half. The Panthers' defense was swarming, and their ground game was helping them sustain drives offensively. Atlanta pivoted in the second half, and it flipped the script.

Carolina’s defense still made its share of plays, but the Falcons had some counter-punches at the ready. I wouldn’t be surprised if some share of any blame fans might feel is aimed at Smith and the coaching staff, but that’s misplaced in my mind. Their job is to win the game by any means necessary, and they did that. Let them worry about cleaning up the mistakes in practice this week.

“Burns, give him a lot of credit with the way he started the game, but we weren’t going to sit there and repeat the same mistakes and let him wreck the game,” Smith said after the game. “Thankfully we pivoted and our guys didn’t blink, and we came away with the win.”

Three Down

Drake London

Let me be very clear, London’s spot on this has far less to do with his play than just the way Sunday’s game unfolded. He was targeted just one time, and although he did drop that pass, it’s hard for a receiver to get involved when the ball isn’t coming his way. However, London is a critical part of this offense and needs to be part of the production moving forward.

I wouldn’t be at all shocked if the Falcons implement some designed looks for him early next week, but that also assumes the defense isn’t one meant to take that look away. Wide receiver can be a give-and-take position at times, but the Falcons need to give London more opportunities moving forward.

Kaleb McGary

Drawing the Panthers’ defensive line in Week 1 is no easy feat, but McGary, who was signed to a new contract this offseason, struggled early in this one. He eventually settled down along with the rest of the offense, but it will be hard to get the image of Burns running right through McGary out of our collective minds.

I’ve been a longtime McGary defender because I believe playing tackle in the NFL is about the equivalent of Sisyphus carrying a boulder up a mountain every day only to have it roll back down the hill, but this was not a great 2023 debut for him. He’s been more steady than not under Smith, and when the offense is clicking, I expect McGary to be a big part of that.

Run Defense

This is a little bit of a catch-all for the defense. On a day when the opponent scores 10 points, it’s probably not fair for any one player to catch blame – they all performed fairly well. However, the run defense was concerningly leaky at times.

In a one-gap defense like this, the second-level defenders need to fill their gaps quickly, and there were too many moments when that wasn’t the case. The result of those relapses is often a 5-plus-yard gain on the ground, and the Panthers had a bunch of those en route to picking up 154 rushing yards. That outpaced the Falcons’ total, which is not something I expected.