Controversial penalty dooms valiant Atlanta Falcons comeback
By Joe Carlino
Before the 2022 season began, if someone ever thought of the Atlanta Falcons as either A) having a winning record or B) being in an early spot to have first place in the division, they might’ve been called every name in the book. In all fairness, everyone’s entitled to their opinions, and it fully begins the dialogue process. The same could be said of the Falcons, and yes, the previous claims did have legitimate arguments.
A team without a reliable starting quarterback? With a subpar offensive line the previous year? A defensive line that had fewer sacks than individual players? A secondary that was much maligned throughout the year? Essentially, there are a lot more of these, and yes they had early merit.
So, when the Falcons managed to fight their way to a 2-2 record and tie the Tampa Bay Buccaneers entering their Week Five matchup, not only was it another chance to move past .500 for the first time since 2017, but it also provided a chance to finally defeat Tom Brady, who up until this point was a perfect 10-0 against Atlanta. They also mentioned something about a Super Bowl comeback on the broadcast, but something didn’t add up there.
Well, for the most part of this contest, it appeared that Tampa was going to have their way despite the first quarter ending scoreless (didn’t have that on the bingo card), but Atlanta mounted a furious comeback once again and very nearly had a chance to pull it out before a Grady Jarrett third down sack (his third in three weeks in late game situations) was ruled roughing the passer, giving the Buccaneers a chance to convert and win this pivotal NFC South showdown, 21-15.
In the first half, Brady basically did what he’s known for against the Atlanta Falcons: he kept on torching them with great pass after check-down after wide-open man after another. Before the first half ended, he managed to have nearly triple the number of passing yards that the Falcons had for the entire first half. Furthermore, he was aided by Leonard Fournette, who ran the ball 14 times for 56 yards while also catching 10 balls for 83 yards. Fournette also added the only two times the Buccaneers managed to find the endzone on the Falcons’ defense, one on the ground and the other through the air.
Meanwhile, for the Falcons’ offense, they were stuck in neutral and a little bit of reverse with a side of Mr. Moseby wanting to turn on the radio and asking “WOULD YOU LIKE AM? OR FM?” Early on, Mariota still struggled with his deep ball accuracy, though dialing up a surprise play-action pass to Feleipe Franks was clear that it would’ve been Pitts had he been healthy.
Also, while this is just as much on the quarterback as the guys in front, the offensive line had a day to forget, with Mariota being sacked five times and hit 10 times on dropbacks. There were also a couple of dropped passes by some receivers, but again, that’s nothing to write home about; those happen all the time and don’t discriminate by team or player.
However, despite being down three scores, Atlanta did something that is pretty judgmental of their season to date: they fought back. A long return by Avery Williams led to the first rushing touchdown of the young converted defensive back’s career, and with the defense playing lights out and forcing three and outs left and right, Atlanta came back to within six points on a catch-and-run touchdown from Olamide Zaccheaus and the resulting two-point conversion by Khadarel Hodge.
And then, on the ensuing Bucs drive to attempt and ice the game, the play happened. Facing a third down from the Atlanta 47, Grady wrapped around the left side of the offensive line, wrapped Brady up from his midsection, and both went down to the ground. Perfect sack and Jarrett once again stepped up to give the offense one final chance.
Until the yellow hanky came out, giving Tampa a fresh set of downs.
Folks, let’s be clear about one thing: it’s easy to come out against the officials for this blatant misuse of the rule. Atlanta was really on a roll and maybe could’ve pulled something out in the end. However, if the Bucs’ defense stopped us, then it’s all for naught, but the Falcons at least were given a chance.
Bucs fans are also quick to point out that the Atlanta Falcons were aided on a missed defensive pass interference call by Dee Alford on Scotty Miller, and to their credit, they have some merit there as well. Alford did get there a little early, and maybe Miller could’ve caught it if he wasn’t there. The only thing that really mattered there which truly kept the flag in the belt? Alford turned his head around. Coaches are quick to point that out: turn your head, and you’re most likely going to get some leniency because you’re given a chance to play the ball.
It’s one thing to get away with calls. It’s another when the rules are interpreted in such a way that a textbook sack is now considered “roughing the passer”. However, right now, Falcons fans are almost like Saints fans in a sense of complaining about some, to quote Shannon Sharpe, “BULLJIVE” officiating. Granted, even Falcons fans can admit the Saints were hosed on that no-call in the NFC Championship, but we’re also quick to point out they had their chances to make that a moot point and failed.
So instead of returning home with a three-game win streak, first place in the division, and the first win against Brady, the Falcons instead head home looking up at the Bucs, the Saints (by virtue of the Week One loss), fall to 0-2 in the division, and now face the resurgent San Francisco 49ers. This is also when Atlanta’s returning the fabled red helmets for their throwback jersey design, so the stadium will be rocking for that.
Another silver lining? This team is fighting. And that’s something we’ve been waiting to see for a long time.