Riding on otherworldly levels of low, the Atlanta Falcons entered Week 12 of the 2021 season 4-6 and once again in the cellar of the NFC South. To make matters worse, Tom Brady and the Bucs managed to force the Giants to fire Jason Garrett, the Panthers went back to the Superman well, and the Saints are in a tailspin, it’s hard to tell who’s worse: us or them.
To make matters worse, in the last two games, the Falcons surrendered 68 points in a five-day span, first becoming the Cowboys’ “get right” game and then being blanked at home in primetime to the Patriots. And in those contests, Atlanta mustered only three points, with Matt Ryan’s play bringing up (valid) discussion about whether Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot butchered the previous draft.
Enter this contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars. For weeks, it was a topic about Urban Meyer’s job security. If not that, it was whether Trevor Lawrence was the answer (spoiler: he might).
Not only that, but while the Jags (2-9) record is dismal, one of those wins came in the perfect fashion for a Florida-based team: defeating Buffalo 6-9.
So how could the Falcons manage to try and fix the ship against arguably a weaker opponent? They simply flashed the “Pat” signal.
Cordarrelle Patterson’s return to the Atlanta Falcons’ offense sparked the listlessness to a victory.
Before kickoff, the Falcons got a huge boost on offense when Cordarrelle Patterson was announced to be returning. This was both positive and negative: positive to get help, negative because he’s essentially the entire offense.
However, his return did provide a spark for the Falcons, as after their first drive stalled, Patterson scored two rushing touchdowns to build an early 14-3 lead entering the half. Atlanta also stretched their streak of failing to score a touchdown on the opening drive to 13 straight games, further confirmation that this offense is dismal at best.
Patterson also provided the team’s first rush of 20+ yards, gaining 27 on one carry. This is also a little sad because it took this late into the season.
Furthermore, fullback Keith Smith decided to get tough on a catch, stiff-arming a Jaguars defender into the turf on a third-down conversion pass.
This game, however, was the final nail in the coffin for this thought:
Kyle Pitts is a superstar for the Atlanta Falcons.
Now, at first glance, two catches for 26 yards is not a superstar stat line. However, a closer look at this game shows that Jacksonville is doing what Carolina did to success: bracket coverage. The one interception by Ryan was a target to Pitts (and his only pass of 10+ yards downfield) that saw cornerback Tyson Campbell shadow Olamide Zaccheaus before breaking off and securing the ball for his team.
Also offensively, while the line still isn’t great, it was interesting to see Arthur Smith rotating centers Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman. To an extent, this did work at times, none more evident than the final box score: even with the rotation, this line only gave up one sack, and it was a coverage one for Roy Robertson-Harris.
Defensively, there are still some problems throughout. When Patterson was announced to play, that was good. However, it came at a cost: the team deactivated linebacker Deion Jones, who turned up late on the injury report with a shoulder injury.
This gave Mychal Walker a chance to start alongside Foye Oluokun, and while he made some tackles, it’s clear why he’s a rotational player.
Then there’s Dante Fowler, who was making a return to the city and field he was drafted to out of the University of Florida. And he made some nice plays, most notably a strip-sack of Lawrence (granted, it was recovered by the offense, who then proceeded to convert a 3rd-and-22 the very next play).
Also, in the secondary, for consecutive games, this squad managed a takeaway, with Duron Harmon snagging a deep pass by Lawrence at the Falcons’ 1. Also, Fabian Moreau had a couple nice PBUs throughout, and AJ Terrell managed to survive a scary fall and return to the contest after he fell ribcage first into a Jaguars’ receiver’s foot.
Finally, there’s the special teams unit. Normally, it’s rare to see these guys outside of Younghoe Koo get any recognition, but there’s one person in particular who does: Thomas Morstead. Yes, that Thomas Morstead, who previously punted for the Jets and someone else. He had five punts in this contest, and three of them pinned Jacksonville inside their own 20.
Even better, on one of these snaps, the Jaguars jumped offsides, giving the Falcons a first down. On another, which was a field goal attempt, the Jags tried to get leverage on the line, and that led to Patterson’s second score.
The Atlanta Falcons now enter what is assuredly a loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is coming off their own thrilling 38-31 win on the road against Indianapolis. In the current NFC playoff picture, if the season were to end, Atlanta is the first team out by virtue of NFL tiebreaking procedures. This could potentially change when they play San Francisco, as that’s the first criteria to break ties.
That said, we’re not talking playoffs here, because that’s trivial at this point. Here’s the real question that needs to be asked:
After watching the Falcons look listless in a five-day period, did you see this team in second place in the division entering December?
We sure didn’t. And now it’s time to see what happens in the final six weeks.