Local Atlanta Falcons are helping the Dirty Birds soar
With the Atlanta Falcons on a two-game winning streak, it’s not the team’s superstars getting the team over the line…
As the Atlanta Falcons lined up in victory formation, a rare sound bellowed around the Mercedes-Benz Stadium: cheering. For the second week in a row, the Atlanta Falcons had squeaked out a win. This time against an opposition expected to be in contention for post-season football, and, crucially, this time, at home. The Falcons beat the Cleveland Browns to take them to 2-2, and joint top of the NFC South.
But it wasn’t their superstars that got it done. Kyle Pitts and Drake London played their part, of course. Cordarrelle Patterson managed a touchdown but was hampered mightily by a knee injury that has ultimately seen him wind up on IR. It was a pair of relative unknowns that got it done, Caleb Huntley and Dee Alford.
The former of whom started the week on the Falcons’ practice squad, the latter of whom played in the Canadian Football League last season. Huntley entered the game on an offense struggling to move the ball in any capacity and found himself taking on a starring role on an all-rushing offensive drive that resulted in his first professional touchdown.
Alford struggled mightily in the Falcons’ nickel package all afternoon, but came up clutch with a game-winning interception.
Birds of a feather
The interesting thing about this pair isn’t their rise to prominence. It’s that they’re actually local kids. Both Huntley and Alford were schooled in Georgia (Huntley at Locust Grove, and Alford at Spalding High), and attended a pads-on football camp together growing up.
The Falcons’ biggest win of the season was ultimately decided by two hometown products, and that, in itself, is a very, very cool thing.
What’s even cooler, however, is just how much of the Falcons’ roster is tinged with a Georgian flavor. Grady Jarrett, AJ Terrell, Chuma Edoga, Colby Gossett, DeAngelo Malone, and Casey Hayward, PLUS Caleb Huntley and Dee Alford. That’s eight names on the Falcons 55 man squad that were either born in Georgia, or grew up in the State.
Add Lorenzo Carter and Younghoe Koo, plus John FitzPatrick and Justin Schaffer (if we’re counting IR/Practice squad players), and there are a total of 11 players hanging around Flowery Branch that received some form of education in Georgia.
A lost connection
The Falcons moved from the Georgia Dome to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017. In that time, it feels like something has been lost in the move. The city seemed to get behind the team in 2017 and 2018, but the crowds began to diminish, and the general support felt weaker. Granted, that coincided with the team’s demise to one of the league’s bottom dwellers, but I can’t help but feel a connection was severed with that move.
It’s interesting watching this team in 2022 and seeing a largely full stadium, with a very passionate, and very loud crowd. The Falcons aren’t likely to be overly successful on the field in 2022, but, if they can put butts on seats in 2022, that should be considered a huge step forward.
Perhaps, then, that was the plan all along. When the Falcons have been good, they’ve felt like an extension of the city of Atlanta, and the state of Georgia as a whole. Not to say it’s as simple as fielding 50 dawgs and yellow jackets each week, but having that local connection really does make the team easier to root for. It goes from being about watching a team that plays in Georgia, to watching Georgia itself.
Back to our roots
Which, I guess, brings back right back to the start. Success for the Falcons this season is about presenting a product that the public can buy into. And what’s easier to buy than something local?
By going back to their roots, and playing a hardnosed, ground-focused offense, with playmakers at the back end, being carried out by locally grown products, the people of Georgia have plenty to look forward to, both this season and beyond. The Atlanta Falcons feel like they belong to the Peach State again, and it’s thanks to the kids from down the road.