Atlanta Falcons: Oluokun delivers home win to Santa Arthur

Joe Carlino
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 26: Foye Oluokun #54 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts with teammates after an interception in the fourth quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 26: Foye Oluokun #54 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts with teammates after an interception in the fourth quarter of the game against the Detroit Lions at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

Coming into the game against the Detroit Lions, the Atlanta Falcons somehow were staying alive in the playoff picture. Yes, as stated prior, this is a pipe dream, but it must be acknowledged, even if we’re realists.

That said, this is the more important stat: 392 days. That’s how long the Falcons have gone since winning a game at home in the state’s capital. And we remember that game; they absolutely obliterated a bad Raiders team that begun a freefall at the end of last year.

For the first time since 2020, the Atlanta Falcons have won a game in front of Falcons Nation!

That number is now officially at zero. And Atlanta Falcons fans have one man in particular to thank: linebacker Foye Oluokun.

After a game between two bottom-tier teams in the NFC, the Falcons managed to take a lead, then attempted to give it away via a Russell Gage fumble on a second effort to ice the game before Oluokun picked off a pass intended for Kalif Raymond to seal a 20-16 victory.

Let’s be real here: there’s hardly any positives to take from this contest. The Lions honestly should’ve won this game; they dominated time of possession (38:05 to Atlanta’s 21:55), had the edge in sacks (3-0), had more first downs (19-14), and more total yards (338-254). If they weren’t sidelined with multiple players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, which forced them to start Tim Boyle, Detroit could’ve easily won this game because they’re playing for head coach Dan Campbell.

Want real evidence for this? How about the fact that they managed to win against the Minnesota Vikings AND the Arizona Cardinals? Especially that Cardinals game; they basically made a top team in this year’s conference look vulnerable and obsolete.

Or more recently, let’s look at the setup for their only touchdown of this contest. Facing a fourth-and-one from the Atlanta 40, the Lions were pushed back because of a false start. Campbell sends out the punt team, and they convert on a 21-yard pass from punter Jack Fox to KhaDarel Hodge. From there, Detroit gradually got into the redzone, and on a third-and-six from the Atlanta 20, Boyle found wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for a touchdown in which he barely managed to get it past AJ Terrell in coverage.

That’s not to say the Falcons aren’t playing for Arthur Smith, because it’s clear they are. The games against teams with winning records were evidence that this team has not been, and won’t be, a true contender anytime soon. But that’s what Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot said back in February, and the team is buying into this belief.

The running game was virtually nonexistent. Detroit basically dared the Falcons to beat them through the air, and to Atlanta’s credit, they mostly did. The only exceptions: somehow, Matt Ryan is SNEAKING?!, and, on the first touchdown drive, Arthur Smith rolled the dice baiting the Lions into expecting the sneak and ran a toss play to Patterson (which was aided by a Lee Smith block). Meanwhile, while former Georgia Bulldog D’Andre Swift was out, his running mate Jamaal Williams ran for 77 of the Lions’ 130 yards on the ground.

Now, let’s look at Atlanta’s passing game. On their first offensive possession, the line once again tried to play “How can we try and hurt Matt Ryan today?”. Granted, from this drive, Detroit never got to Ryan again, so consider that the “working out the kinks” phase of this contest.

Once Ryan got time to throw, he was finding receivers and putting the ball in good locations. Take the first touchdown drive, where he found Marvin Hall on a crosser for 15 yards and hit him in stride. Recently, he’s been having to make his receivers stop their momentum, but on occasion, he still can get them for some extra YAC.

However, Ryan had one target he favored all game: the rookie, Kyle Pitts. Coming into the contest, the Falcons rookie was sitting at 849 receiving yards, which was second in the modern era for the position (Jeremy Shockey had more in 2002).

This game was when Pitts came out, and much like in the loss to San Francisco, he showcased why, when given a chance to run outside the numbers, he’s still got that old wide receiver tendencies.

In fact, in this game for Pitts, in which he caught all six passes for 102 yards, his last catch was the most important. Why is this? Because by hitting him over the middle for 19 yards, the Falcons managed to get Detroit to double him up. This led the Lions to use former Falcons (and Dolphins) linebacker Charles Harris to cover Hayden Hurst. Advantage: Atlanta, because Hurst made a heck of a catch to stay in bounds on a poorly-placed ball by Ryan.

Now, once again, the Falcons manage to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture. Again, we know they’re not a playoff team, and if they did, they’re the easiest pick to be one-and-done. It’s just imperative to at least acknowledge their chances, which as of publication remain at a cordial 2%. Depending on the Saints game tomorrow, that number could either stay or increase to (wait for it) 3%! Crazy, right?

Next up: Atlanta’s going north. Into the snowy tundra that is Floral Park, New York for a game against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Interesting point: this will be the Falcons’ first game of the New Year since the game takes place on January 2nd. Buffalo most likely will truly start up the mock draft season for the Falcons, if it hasn’t already begun.

Let’s see how the Atlanta Falcons will ring in 2022 with two contests to wrap up 2021.