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.
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.
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.
The Atlanta Falcons west coast trip has come to an end, and the team went 1-1 on their trip. Back-to-back west coast games are notoriously tough on east coast teams, but Atlanta showed a lot of resolve. It’s still early in the year, but we’ve learned a lot about the team since their deflating Week 1 loss. I was able to attend both games and came away with a few thoughts after watching the team up close.
Drake London is the real deal
Whether you think it’s fair or not, top 10 picks in the NFL Draft come with instant impact expectations. Well, Drake London met all of them on this Atlanta Falcons west coast trip. The rookie wide receiver had 50+ yards and a touchdown in each game, finishing with 140 yards for the entire trip. The game looks easy for Drake, and watching him from the stands I can see why. The kid is built like a freak and fits right in with Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson. London was known as a physical WR coming out of USC, and he shows it on this TD against Seattle.
The Defensive culture still hasn’t changed
Dean Pees’s now infamous rant about changing the culture of Atlanta’s defense hasn’t aged well. After a four sack game on opening weekend, the team had a combined total of three over this trip. Furthermore, the defense is giving up 27 points per game, 4.8 yards per rush, and is 27th in passing yards allowed per game at 271.3. There have, of course, been bright spots, like the play of Mykal Walker, but not enough to give fans confidence that change is finally here.
Hello run game, its been a while
The Falcons are running the ball with success at a rate we haven’t seen for some time. The team is averaging 156.7 rushing yards per game on the season, fifth-best in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons west coast trip revealed what many Falcons fans already believed: Cordarrelle PattersonIS HIM. Hurdling would-be tacklers and trucking their teammates immediately afterwards is how you win the hearts of fans.
It’s not just the highlight plays either. Patterson has done a great job of picking up tough yardage in key down-and-distance situations, like the play below against the Rams. This helped set up the touchdown that ignited the team’s comeback.
This team has resolve
This Atlanta Falcons west coast trip could’ve easily ended in a 0-2 effort. After the first three quarters of the Rams game, it looked like the team was headed for 0-17. I can tell you personally that being in SoFi Stadium when the scoreboard read 28-3 felt like the seven levels of hell. Rams fans took advantage and tormented us fans in the stadium. But then, something amazing happened — the Falcons came back.
What the team showed in the final quarter of that game was something fans needed to see. After an inept start on both sides of the ball, the team started putting together successful plays, giving themselves a chance to win in the final moment. From the stands, the energy on the sideline never wavered and felt like this team truly believed in themselves.
That’s what matters most. It felt like they carried that fight into the Seattle game where they faced an opponent that also wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Falcons fans, take a bow
It’s not easy being a Falcons fan in any scenario, but being one at an opposing team’s stadium feels like being the clown at a kids party. Jokes are hurled at you constantly, and people genuinely find the idea of cheering for the Dirty Birds hilarious.
There really isn’t much respect for the team outside of Atlanta, but that didn’t stop fans from showing up. Fans represented well and were cheering their hearts out at both games. So often Atlanta fans are forced to take the brunt of the jokes their teams create and still consistently fight. As an attending fan, I have to say this Atlanta Falcons west coast trip was worth the price of admission.
The team is 1-2 and faces a tough Cleveland defense and run game next week. The Falcons are coming off their most complete game of the year, and I expect that momentum to carry over. I’m not sure what the result of the game will be, but I can confidently say they will fight until the final play.
The NFC South saw a lot of changes this off-season with stars leaving and joining like crazy. Tom Brady faked a retirement and now the NFC South will continue to run through Tampa. Will there be a team to knock off the GOAT? Here’s a look at the offseason moves and a preview of predictions for the NFC South.
NFC South Preview
4. Atlanta Falcons
Key losses – RB Mike Davis, DE Steven Means, TE Hayden Hurst, OLB Dante Fowler Jr., CB Fabian Moreau, LB Foyesade Oluokun, LS Josh Harris, SS Duron Harmon, WR Russell Gage, P Thomas Morstead. QB Matt Ryan
Key additions – QB Marcus Mariota, CB Casey Hayward, OLB Lorenzo Carter, LB Rashaan Evans, RB Damien Williams, WR Bryan Edwards, WR Drake London, DE Arnold Ebiketie, LB Troy Anderson, QB Desmond Ridder, RB Tyler Allgeier
Re-signed – RB Cordarrelle Patterson (2-years), CB Isaiah Oliver (1-year), S Erik Harris (1-year)
In head coach Arthur Smith’s first season in Atlanta, the Falcons went 7-10, finishing 3rd in the NFC South. This would be quarterback Matt Ryan’as last season in red, as he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The rebuild is underway for the Falcons and they need to find their franchise QB.
The offense last season finished 29th in the NFL in total offense. They were horrible running the ball, finishing in the bottom three of the league in both yards per carry and yards, and it doesn’t look like it’ll get better this season.
The offensive line is one of the worst in the league, with only two quality starters: tackle Jake Matthews and guard Chris Lindstrom. This doesn’t seem to bode well for Cordarrelle Patterson, who is looking to prove last year’s breakout wasn’t a fluke.
Tight end Kyle Pitts looked good in his rookie season, but is hoping to breakout in a big way this season. The receiving weapons are weak, so Pitts needs to step up. The next most important wideout is rookie Drake London. Two young players could be the focal point this season, and possibly a third if quarterback Desmond Ridder ends up playing. It’ll be another long season for this Falcons offense, as they look to find their identity without Matt Ryan.
It wasn’t pretty on the defensive side last season for the Falcons, either. They finished 26th in total defense, as they were one of the worst teams against the run. The defensive line is better, but still one of the worst in the league. Lorenzo Carter was their biggest upgrade this offseason, so they won’t have to worry about defensive tackles Grady Jarrett getting all the attention.
The linebacker corps isn’t any better than the defensive line. Deion Jones was once thought to be the next great linebacker, but that is proving to be wrong. Rookie Troy Anderson will be the one to watch this year, as he looks to be the spark in the group.
The secondary is the lone bright spot of this defense. A.J. Terrell is one of the best corners in the NFL, with Casey Hayward and Isaiah Oliver creating a solid trio at that position. Erik Harris and Jaylinn Hawkins still have a lot to prove as the safety tandem, but are above average. This defense looks to struggle again this season, hoping to find their long-term solutions at several positions.
The Falcons continue to try to find a way back to the playoffs, and I don’t see that happening this year. They’ll be one of the worst teams in football, finishing 4-13 and will go 1-5 against the NFC South this season.
Key additions – OG Austin Corbett, S Xavier Woods, P Johnny Hekker, LB Damien Wilson, DE Matthew Ioannidis, C Bradley Bozeman, QB Baker Mayfield, OT Ikem Ekwonu, QB Matt Coral
Re-signed – CB Donte Jackson (3-years), CB Rashaan Melvin (1-year), TE Ian Thomas (3-years)
Extensions – K Zane Gonzalez (2-years, $4.5 million), D.J. Moore (3-years, $61 million)
The Panthers finished dead last in the NFC South last season after going 5-12. However, they traded for quarterback Baker Mayfield to take over. They now have two of the top three picks, both quarterbacks, from the 2018 NFL draft. We’ll have to see if Baker can turn it around in Carolina.
Last year’s offense was ranked 30th in the NFL, and that’s part of the reason they brought in Mayfield. He is hoping to help improve from being the 29th ranked passing attack from last season. Wideouts D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson provide solid weapons for Baker to throw to. Moore specifically was given an extension and is looking to prove the money was worth it.
The offensive line is below average, as a lot depends on how rookie tackle Ikem Ekwonu will translate to the NFL. They have potential to become an average line this season, if Ekwonu can breakout. The line will look better if running back Christian McCaffery can stay healthy. He is the most electric back in the league when healthy, as he is elite in both the run and pass game. This offense’s success will ultimately come down to Baker Mayfield and if he can turn it around from last season.
The defense was a different story last season. They finished second in total defense after being lockdown against the pass. They lost some pieces to that defense, so I expect a dip in production. The line is young, with veteran defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis now leading the way. I have this group as borderline top 20 in the league.
The linebacker corps is the best part of the defense, with Shaq Thompson looking like a star. They have Frankie Luvu next to him to provide a solid duo in the group. Even after losing Stephon Gilmore, the cornerbacks are still solid. Jaycee Horn looks to come back as strong as he was before the injury, and Donte Jackson is a consistent corner next to him. The safety duo of Xavier Woods and Jeremy Chinn is solid, as they both thrive in different areas of the game.
Going from Sam Darnold to Baker Mayfield is an upgrade, but won’t be enough for the Panthers this season. I believe they will finish 6-11, going 2-4 in the NFC South. This will be the year to see if Mayfield can be a starter down the road.
2. New Orleans Saints
Key losses – FS Marcus Williams, QB Trevor Siemian, OT Terron Armstead, WR Ty Montgomery, ILB Kwon Alexander, S C.J. Gardner-Johnson
Key additions – HC Dennis Allen, FS Tyrann Mathieu, FS Marcus Maye, QB Andy Dalton, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Chris Olave, OL Trevor Penning, CB Alontae Taylor
Re-signed – QB Jameis Winston (2-years), WR Tre’quan Smith (2-years), CB P.J. Williams (1-year)
In Sean Payton’s last season as the Saints head coach, they went 9-8, just missing the playoffs. New head coach Dennis Allen will look to do better this season and challenge the Buccaneers for the division title. A solid offseason will give them a chance in a weak NFC.
The offense in 2021 finished 28th in the NFL, and was easily the weak point in this team. They have Jameis Winston at quarterback, who is fully capable of leading the passing attack. He gets some weapons this year, with wideouts Michael Thomas coming back from injury, and Jarvis Landry coming over from Cleveland. Add rookie Chris Olave to the mix, and they should jump up from their 32nd ranked passing attack last season.
The run game is still elite, with Alvin Kamara leading the way. He is a key part to this team’s success, and could be heavily leaned on. The offensive line will be key, as they have rookie Trevor Penning eyeing to show he is the future at left tackle. Besides Penning, they need to get more from their offensive line, as it’s a top 20 group at-best.
The strong point of this team was the defense. They finished seventh in total defense and will be looking to continue their greatness. They have a top ten defensive line that includes edge rusher Cameron Jordan bringing the pressure. The linebacker corps is one of the best in the league, headlined by Demario Davis, who is back on a one-year deal.
The defense is backed by a strong secondary. Marshon Lattimore is one of the league’s best corners, and Paulson Adebo is looking to improve going into his sophomore season across from him. They have Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu deep as the safety tandem, and that should be a top duo.
The Saints are still looking for their identity on offense since Brees retired, and I believe Jameis Winston can be the guy to help find it. I have the Saints finishing 10-7 and going 4-2 in the NFC South.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Key losses – P Bradley Pinion, OG Alex Cappa, RB Ronald Jones II, S Jordan Whitehead, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Ndamukong Suh, TE Rob Gronkowski, OG Ali Marpet
Key additions – WR Russell Gage, DE Akiem Hicks, WR Julio Jones, TE Kyle Rudolph, SS Keanu Neal, CB Logan Ryan, DL Logan Hall, OL Luke Geodeke, RB Rachaad White
Re-signed – RB Leonard Fournette (3-years), DE William Gholston (1-year), LS Zach Triner (2-years), QB Blaine Gabbert (1-year), CB Carlton Davis III (3-years, $44 million), C Ryan Jensen (3-years),
Extensions – WR Chris Godwin (3-years, $60 million), DT Vita Vea (4-years, $73 million)
The 2021 Buccaneers would finish last season losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. It was still a successful season as they went 13-4, running away with the NFC South. With Tom Brady back at quarterback, they should have another successful season.
The offense ranked secnod in the NFL last season, with the top passing game in the league. They should still be ranked in the top five in passing this season. Brady has weapons to throw to with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin still there, and tight end Cameron Brate looking to make a huge impact.
The offensive line is still elite, even with the losses they’ve endured. Shaq Mason and Tristan Wirfs lock down the right side of the line as an elite duo. This should open up lanes for running back Leonard Fournette, who is looking to help Tampa rise from the 26th ranked rushing attack last season. With the GOAT at quarterback, the Bucs should scare any defense.
Defensively, the Buccaneers finished 13th in the NFL last season. They didn’t lose anyone who would change that either. With Vita Vea and Shaquil Barrett, they will be bringing pressure from all over. On top of that, a top ten linebacker trio doesn’t hurt either. Lavonte David has been elite for years now, and Devin White is looking to get back on track next to him this season.
The scariest part of the defense is the secondary. Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting create a top-tier trio that can be lockdown every week. Add in elite safety in Antoine Winfield Jr. next to a high-quality starter in Logan Ryan as the safety tandem, and it becomes a top five secondary in the league, easily. This defense could be the strongest part of this team this year, and will look to lead them to a playoff run.
They ran away with the NFC South last season, and I expect the same this year. I have Tampa Bay going 13-4 after going 5-1 against the rest of the NFC South. Tom Brady is still there — and won’t be missing the playoffs any time soon.
With the Falcons officially beginning a new era, what should the front office and fans think of the primary man leading the charge?
The Atlanta Falcons are in uncharted waters. For the first time since 2008, Matthew Thomas Ryan is no longer the team’s quarterback. After losing out on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, the Falcons traded Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts on March 21st 2022 for a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Subsequently, that turned into rookie EDGE DeAngelo Malone.
Every Falcons fans has their own opinions about the decision to move on from the veteran signal caller. But now, the question is: what’s next for the Falcons?
New Sheriff in Town: Marcus Mariota
In the aftermath, the Falcons turned around and signed veteran journeyman quarterback and former first round pick Marcus Mariota. Mariota, a former Raider and Titan was one of the bigger names on the quarterback market this offseason. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has familiarity with Mariota, who went on to lose his starting job to current Titans starter Ryan Tannehill in 2019 while Smith was the offensive coordinator.
After leaving the Titans in 2020, Mariota then became the backup quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders under Derek Carr. There, he seemed to re-establish himself as the quarterback he wants to be. Mariota has previously stated “I know that I have an opportunity to get better and work with a really awesome offensive staff. I’ll be able to grow in that sense. So at the end of the day, my goal is always to be a starter and to be successful at it. I’m working towards that.”
Mariota, the former Heisman winner, is bringing that mindset of always wanting to get better and be successful to a roster in Atlanta that is in the midst of a rebuild. The franchise’s direction is changing after trading the franchise’s top two players in consecutive years.
But what does Mariota bring to the new look Falcons roster as their newest starting quarterback? Outside of Mariota’s familiarity with Smith and his offense, he brings a skillset that is very different from Ryan’s. Mariota is much more of the modern mold of quarterback that teams are looking for.
Mariota’s Dual-Threat Capabilities are Intriguing
In this play above, Marcus Mariota keeps the read option himself for a large gain on the ground. That is something the Falcons haven’t been able to do since Mike Vick was the quarterback. In today’s NFL, teams are using quarterbacks as more than just pocket passers; Mariota lets the play calling get more creative and gives Arthur Smith the freedom to call the offense he wants.
Here is another play of the Raiders relying on Mariota’s legs to make a play with another read option. Against Dallas, he breaks around the edge to scamper in for the touchdown. The way that Vegas factored in Mariota’s legs into the game plan is a way that the Falcons might choose to mimic.
Even looking at this play above from current Titans starter, Ryan Tannehill, Smith as a play caller likes to incorporate concepts that let a quarterback show off his legs if he has the ability.
But Mariota isn’t strictly a running quarterback; the former Heisman winner has the ability to sling it as a passer.
In this play above, Mariota does a great job of maintaining his poise in the pocket under pressure from the Chargers defense and delivers a bomb to Waller in stride for the touchdown.
Here, Mariota goes again hitting Pitts in stride in a similar fashion during training camp, leading the target down the sideline for what would have been a big gain if it were live.
What is Mariota’s Ceiling for the Atlanta Falcons?
As a pure player, Marcus Mariota is bringing a skillset that will bring a new energy to the team. Furthermore, it gives Arthur Smith the ability to open up the play calling to introduce some new creativity. Creativity that the team was lacking last season.
But one of the biggest things that the Falcons should expect to see? A tough player who is respected by his teammates and viewed as a leader during this rebuild. An example of that is above; Mariota throws his body on the line against the Chargers to tie the game late.
Mariota feels like the type of guy who will embrace this team and embrace this fanbase. He is one of the most notable “nice guys” of the NFL and has always been loved and respected by his fans and his teammates. In the clip above you see Mariota take time to just hang out with a fan before the game. It isn’t long, it isn’t anything major but you know an interaction like that will leave a lasting impression. And that is what being a fan favorite is about.
He isn’t Matt Ryan, he will never be Matt Ryan, but Mariota is a guy who is going to be great for the team and for the locker room. He brings a different skillset and demeanor to the fold, and that isn’t a bad thing for the rebuilding Falcons.
The Atlanta Falcons preseason started with a surprisingly fun game that featured some late-game heroics from the future star under center.
Football is Back (somewhat)
I sat through the entire Atlanta Falcons’ 27-23 preseason win over the Lions (by choice) so you didn’t have to, which means, the NFL is back…kind of.
It’s only the NFL preseason; these games are meaningless on the surface, but still fans can’t help but get excited by what they see. Falcons fans are cheering after watching their new potential franchise QB Desmond Ridder put together a game-winning drive in his first NFL game.
The team witnessed a few standout players tonight, for better and for worse. Reminder, it’s only preseason and everything is written in sand, but football is back and there’s finally Falcons football to discuss.
LB Rashaan Evans showed early why he’s locked down the starting iLB position. He was running sideline to sideline and finishing tackles. You could see he was very comfortable in Dean Pees’s scheme. Coverage still needs improvement but for only a short outing, Evans impressed.
Rookie EDGE Arnold Ebiketie had some first day jitters on the opening drives, where he lost contain of the run multiple times. However, AK settled in nicely and generated pressure on multiple pass plays, something Falcons fans have been begging for. The rookie drew a hold that most likely would’ve lead to a sack and also recorded a QB hit.
DB Dee Alford was another young defender that stood out tonight. He hauled in an interception, led the team in tackles and had serviceable coverage throughout the game. He looks like he could be a depth piece for a secondary with high expectations for itself in 2022.
DB Mike Ford stood out for the wrong reasons. He played early in the game and was consistently beaten in coverage until the Lions got deeper into their reserves. This is disappointing since his name is one we’ve been hearing a lot this training camp.
QB Marcus Mariota looked the part of the calm veteran. He immediately answered the Lions opening drive touchdown with one of his own. He led the offense down the field, mostly with his legs, before capping off the drive with a diving pylon touchdown.
TE Felipe Franks didn’t live up to the hype. Franks was one of the players I was most excited to see after his recent position change and training camp stardom. The new TE recorded one big drop and a five-yard reception, underwhelming to say the least. The Felipe Franks experiment is still in its early stages.
QB Desmond Ridder stole the show today. He got more playtime than anyone and took full advantage of it. Ridder wasn’t necessarily lights out in the game, (10/22), but he showed poise in the pocket. The only negatives? An interception called back thanks to a questionable roughing the passer call and a dropped interception later in the second half. The rookie QB also had to deal with quite a few drops from his WR corps.
Still, he showed why the Falcons front office believe in his potential. Ridder showed poise in the pocket, made plays with his feet, and displayed he could run the offense how Arthur Smith envisions. All of these abilities were on display when he lead the team on a game winning drive under two minutes after a Timmy Horne fumble recovery.
What’s this all mean?
Absolutely nothing. The preseason is less of a preview and more of a dress rehearsal, especially Week 1. Take the highs and lows as they come and don’t let them ruin your week. It’s good to see your team look competent and fun, but its also good for them to get plenty of mistakes out of the way as well. There’s still a ways to go before the season begins, but it is nice starting off with a win.
Let us know your thoughts about the Falcons first preseason game on Twitter @falcons_atb.