Have the Atlanta Falcons Found Their Closers? 

Atlanta Falcons closer Grady Jarrett
Photo Credit: Todd Kirkland – Getty Images

The top teams in the NFL all have closers. Yes, like in baseball. When it’s the fourth quarter with the game on the line, a closer is someone you can trust to put the game away for your team. For the teams that are constantly competing, you can find them on both sides of the football: Justin Herbert and Nick Bosa, Aaron Rodgers and Jaire Alexander, Josh Allen and Von Miller, to name a few. When you look at Atlanta Falcons teams in the recent past, there haven’t been any closers to speak of.

That is, maybe, until now. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith may have found themselves two bonafide closers, one that fell in their lap, one that needed a bit more work to find.

(All stats come from Pro Football Reference and rbsdm.com unless otherwise stated)

The Falcons May Have Found Their Closers

Cordarrelle Patterson

Or should we say “Scordarrelle Patterson”?

*crickets* *crickets*

Even if you don’t like the nickname, you can’t say that he hasn’t deserved the recognition. Out of 38 touchdowns scored since he has been on the roster, Patterson has scored 13 of them. That accounts for more than one-third of the end zone trips for the Atlanta Falcons.

That may not make you a closer, but consistent play at the end of games will. On the drive that ended unceremoniously in a Marcus Mariota lost fumble, Patterson showed off his ability to keep the Atlanta Falcons offense on the field. Patterson kept them on schedule with an average of 7.5 yards per carry, including an 18-yard romp off left tackle to get the Falcons toward mid-field. The drive ended up in field goal range before the turnover, and when Richie Grant did get the ball back to the offense, Patterson decided to put them away for good.

Patterson’s two five-yard gains on the final drive eradicated the last few percentage points on the probability scale that offenses in the past had trouble eliminating.

That’s right. The entire stadium knew where the ball was headed, and the closer for this Atlanta Falcons offense decided it didn’t matter.

Every broadcast discusses his kick-return prowess and how it contributes to his one-cut ability as a running back. What is not being discussed is how his 6.2 yards per carry are sixth-most in the league and the most by anyone with over 50 rushing attempts. Or how his 100.7 yards per game is the third-most in the league, and his 17 first downs by rushing, the most in the league.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: The Atlanta Falcons have a running back that they can rely on again.

Grady Jarrett

While the offense thrives, the defense hasn’t necessarily been stout in 2022. There have been flashes and bright spots that can give the Falcons fans hope for improvement, but to push them over the top, they need somebody to make a play at the end of games.

Geno Smith and company got the ball off the Mariota turnover and drove down the field. Then, the Seattle defense showed a hole in their armor. Mykal Walker forced a hold on offensive guard Damien Lewis to force them into a second and long. A slight inconvenience that is followed by a six-yard screen that made a would-be third-and-long, third and eight. Much more manageable.

Defenses of old would find a way to give Geno Smith four or five seconds to find the open receiver and keep the drive alive. But not this one. Not this iteration of the Falcons defense. Grady Jarrett would not allow center Austin Blythe to touch his hands as he chopped his way into the pocket and demolished Geno Smith and any momentum that Seattle had mustered.

And, for Jarrett, that wasn’t enough, early pressure on the 4th down attempt forced Smith out of the pocket and into a bad throw that ultimately ended up in the hands of Grant. The ball game was over.

Atlanta’s defense has been quite underwhelming throughout the season but Jarrett’s ability to help finish off this game gives hope that things may be looking up for the future. His leadership ability will be the saving grace for a particularly young Falcons defense.

Future Atlanta Falcons Closers?

In a rebuild, you would think that the primetime performers at the end of the games may be a bit younger. It makes sense. The entire foundation of a rebuild is built on the long-term productivity of the team’s young talent.

And for the most part, the Falcons are relying on their young talent for production. Their top talents in the receiving game are two top-ten draft picks in the last two seasons. Outside of Grady Jarrett and Lorenzo Carter, the defensive line is littered with individual contributors from the last two drafts. From Arnold Ebiketie and Deangelo Malone to Ta’Quon Graham.

It’s an exciting and fun time to be a Falcons fan (never thought I’d say that again). If there is anything that this trip to the west coast has taught us, it is that this team is young, scrappy, and won’t go down without a fight.

As Terry Fontenot builds this roster back up, the Atlanta Falcons faithful will find other potential closers emerge. However, having veterans like Patterson and Jarrett take the pressure off these young, talented players and allow them to develop their leadership abilities. Hell, A.J. Terrell has already reached captain status in only year three. Who’s next? Kyle Pitts? Drake London? Mykal Walker?

After years of wondering how much talent is on this roster, it’s nice to have a bit of hope going into the future.

Atlanta Falcons Rebuild: This Team is Similar to the 2021 Lions

As the 2022 Atlanta Falcons prepare for their first preseason game, their opponent might have more in common with this current regime than people think?

The rebuild for the Atlanta Falcons in Flowery Branch has reached new levels of optimism. Even I have succumbed to looking at this season through training camp goggles. But deep below the surface of A.J. Terrell pass breakups and Feliepe Franks truck sticks is a reality that has not changed: this is still a rebuilding roster.

They are taking proper steps towards competency in the NFC, but there’s still much to do before they’re ready to take that next step. But, when you mix the current quarterback situation with the insane strength of schedule (10th in the league), this step in the rebuild will not be measured in wins and losses.

The Falcons have been preaching competitiveness for the better part of this off-season, a very similar focus made by a team last season that most pundits feel is moving in the right direction: The Detroit Lions.

Comparing the 2021 Detroit Lions and the 2022 Atlanta Falcons

Both teams have not seen a .500 record since 2017. They also both recently let go of their long-time franchise quarterbacks, thus causing uncertainty at the position. Finally, both teams have recently brought in a new head coach to give them an identity.

To add to the similarities, three players highlight the similarities of their respective situations. Three heroes of their rebuilds, if you will.

The Unlikely Hero

For Detroit, the unlikely hero last season was wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The fourth-round pick out of USC came into the league as a surprisingly complete receiver. He needed his time to get acclimated to the speed of the NFL, and for St. Brown, it took only 11 games. St. Brown’s final six games of his rookie campaign ended with 51 receptions on 67 targets and 560 yards, which accounted for about 60% of his production receiving for the year.

For Atlanta, expect that unlikely hero to be rookie running back Tyler Allgeier. The Falcons were 30th in yards per attempt last season and 31st in total rushing yards. They also did not get much push from the offensive line as they were 29th in yards before contact.

The offensive line has remained about the same, unfortunately. However, mobile quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder open up another aspect of the offense — the run/pass option that Ryan Tannehill ran so well when Arthur Smith was in Tennessee. And with Tannehill came a running back that got better as the game progressed with his physicality.

This is not implying that Allgeier is Derrick Henry; nobody will ever be Derrick Henry. But Allgeier can alleviate some of the carries from Cordarrelle Patterson, allowing him to be more of an offensive weapon than a traditional running back. He will have to beat out Damien Williams, the free agent from Kansas City that shined in Super Bowl LIV. But make no mistake, Allgeier has been brought here to be the feature back for years to come for the Falcons, and it starts with this year.

The Antihero

The comparisons between the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons don’t stop with the unlikely hero. Both teams have an antihero to deal with despite their shortcomings as players. In Detroit, the antihero was quarterback Jared Goff.

The Los Angeles Rams traded Jared Goff in the offseason going into the 2021 season. Goff didn’t have that X-factor to take Sean McVay’s offense to the next level. He doesn’t add anything to the offense past what is on the play-call sheet. But he did keep the ball out of harm’s way, was 12th in completion percentage, and the bottom quarter in interceptions — but dead last in intended air yards per pass attempt. With Goff, you take the good with the bad.

Atlanta will have to do the same with Deion Jones this season. Jones’ production had been steadily declining since his foot injury in 2018. In the Atlanta defense, Deion Jones was known for his coverage ability. However, starting with 2019, his quarterback rating when targeted has been 92.3, 114.0, and 115.5, according to Pro Football Reference.

However, he does still have the speed to go sideline-to-sideline. He was hurt last year, which could explain his hesitancy to seek out contact. Since the Falcons couldn’t trade Jones this offseason, they are ultimately stuck with the seventh-year linebacker. Let’s hope that he can resemble his former self.

The Superhero

Finally, we have the superhero. The most vital hero of the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons rebuilds. For Detroit, the war hero is D’Andre Swift. Don’t let last year’s performance fool you about Swift; he is still the same dawg that came out in 2019. His workload dipped due to a lingering injury, but he has some durability concerns. They stem mainly from him having to shoulder so much of the load offensively.

But all of that is about to change. The Lions have outfitted themselves with D.J. Chark, St. Brown, and rookie Jameson Williams to ease the carry load. The Lions are doing what they can to elongate the career of their feature back. 

For the Falcons, their superhero is none other than the unicorn himself, Kyle Pitts. He ran out of gas and pulled his hamstring with how much of the offense he had to shoulder last season. The only two players that were legitimate threats on the Falcons offense in 2021 were Cordarrelle Patterson and Pitts, which is insane to think about when you see that Pitts only registered one touchdown the entire season.

Defensive coordinators keyed in on Pitts and forced them to go to any other option in that barren offense. But, just like Swift, the Falcons decided to outfit the rest of the offense around Pitts. Drake London, Bryan Edwards, and Auden Tate to the passing game and Allgeier and Damien Williams to a physical running game as a complement. Making Pitts the focal point of this offense and allowing him to be the superhero of the team should make for an exciting brand of Falcons football in 2022.

The Road Not Taken: The 2022 Atlanta Falcons Quarterbacks

Quarterback is easily the most important position in football.

In 1915, acclaimed American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem. It was four stanzas, five lines a piece. This poem intended to mock his friend Edward Thomas, another acclaimed poet, for his indecisive nature on their walks. It turned out to be one of the most influential works of its time due to its trailblazing ideas. I am sure Frost had no intentions for his work to describe anything in the realm of American football. However, when you look at the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks going into 2022, there are some glaring similarities to the wartime literature piece.

“Poetry is play. I’d even rather have you think of it as a sport. For instance, like football”

Robert Frost

I want to give thanks to the Poetry Foundation and their in-depth analysis of Robert Frost’s work. Their detailed look at the piece helped shed even more light on my article.

Stanza One

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

General manager Terry Fontenot and the rest of the front office were at a crossroads as they entered the 2022 off-season. Do they or do they not hit the reset button for the quarterbacks for the Atlanta Falcons? This would effectively end Matt Ryan’s tenure in Atlanta. An end to 14 years of stability at the quarterback position. Would they have liked to keep Matt and have him mentor the next quarterback of the future? Sure. Matt Ryan is the consummate professional. Over his tenure, he has seen tons of defenses, blitzes, coverages, schemes, and knowledge he could pass down to the next generation of Falcons quarterbacks. But given the current deplorable state of the team, it would not have been fair to keep him while also building towards the future. Ryan deserved to win now, even if it was not in Atlanta. 

Day by day, the front office looked into the Ryan situation. They deliberated to the point of wondering if an extension of the aging quarterback was the correct decision. Give this new regime time to build a team around the long-time franchise centerpiece. But as they looked further, the front office realized they needed to look elsewhere. And just as the yellowing leaves of the alder trees in New England signified the beginnings of autumn, the pursuit of Deshaun Watson signified the end of the Matt Ryan era in Atlanta.

Stanza Two

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

According to American literary critic William Pritchard, Frost showcased how decision-making was not a matter of meditation or choice. On the contrary; decision-making is usually a matter of impulse. And sometimes, as Frost did in the latter part of the stanza, you have to learn that that impulse may not have led to the best results. 

Many in the court of public opinion would call the pursuit of Deshaun Watson an incredibly impulsive decision. As a highly controversial topic with legal implications, I will not go deeper into the subject. However, according to Ryan, this action marked the beginning of the end of his tenure as the quarterback in Atlanta.

Stanza Three

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Frost examines his decision and realizes the finality of it. As such with all decisions, Frost decides to embrace it wholeheartedly. “Oh, I kept the first for another day!”, a declaration of decisiveness from Frost stating ‘yes, this is the decision I have chosen’ and “I doubted if I should ever come back”. 

There was no coming back. Ryan was gone and shipped out to Indianapolis. Watson had chosen to be a Cleveland Brown. And the Falcons had a void at the quarterback position that they had not seen since the turbulent, roller-coaster season of 2007. They did not have the cap space to bring in one of the top names like Russell Wilson. Not to mention they were void of the talent necessary to attract any other big names in free agency. How would the Falcons decide to fill that void?

Final Stanza

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The new era for the quarterbacks position for the Atlanta Falcons starts with yet another fork in the road. There is the veteran Marcus Mariota, the former number two overall pick that had underachieved his first go-round with Arthur Smith in Tennessee. Mariota has shown flashes of good quarterback play throughout his seven-year career but has never brought it all together as the franchise quarterback he was expected to be coming out of Oregon in 2014. He has a chance to give his career a resurgence just like Arthur Smith gave to his former teammate: Ryan Tannehill. He has the potential to be the answer in Atlanta. But his inconsistent play, coupled with an inclination for stinger-type injuries, left Atlanta with a sticky situation heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. 

In the third round, at pick 74, the second road was paved for the Atlanta Falcons. Desmond Ridder, the former Cincinnati Bearcat, was drafted as the potential future at the position. As a third-round pick, it may seem that he was no more than a consolation prize in a draft full of mid-round talent. But I believe his lower draft stock is more attributed to Terry Fontenot playing the draft game. Fontenot did not allow his want for a prospect to overweigh the flow and momentum of the draft. But make no mistake, the Falcons loved Desmond Ridder. His intangibles have jumped out to the brass in Atlanta, even impressing head coach Arthur Smith enough to comment on it in a press conference *gasp*.

The beauty of this poem is that the last stanza is not inherently positive. Frost started the stanza by saying that he is “telling this with a sigh”, can that be assumed to be a positive statement? What type of sigh is it? A deep sigh of relief that everything is going to be okay? An exasperated sigh of frustration that the decision has not panned out? Will Mariota be able to keep the job outright? Will Ridder be ready if his name is called week one? Nobody outside of the building in Flowery Branch can say for sure. But one thing is for sure. Somewhere far down the road, wherever this decision takes us, whatever direction these quarterbacks for these Atlanta Falcons takes. Falcons fans will look on this off-season and state that this one decision “has made all the difference”.