I think most of us are still trying to comprehend what just happened in that game for the Atlanta Falcons against the Carolina Panthers.
It was a lot of chaos and at times felt like a brutal punch to the gut as it seemed nearly certain that the Panthers would end the day leading the NFC South, but somehow the Falcons were able to pull out a victory.
The play that nearly cost the Falcons the game happened because they had doubts about the Panthers QB P.J. Walker’s talent, and he came so close to ruining their day as he proved them wrong.
The Atlanta Falcons underestimated the talent of P.J. Walker
As the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers played through the first quarter on Sunday, it was evident that both sides did not have elite quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota was struggling to find targets in the passing game while P.J. Walker seemingly could not throw an accurate pass to save his life.
It was shaping up to be a game that would come down to which team would be able to run the ball and make fewer mistakes.
However, to their credit, both quarterbacks settled into the game, especially during the third and fourth quarters. Each team’s offense was strolling right down the field as they exchanged scores.
It looked as though this game had already been decided as the Carolina Panthers would have to do the impossible by moving the ball 62 yards down the field in 23 seconds with zero timeouts.
To the average viewer, it looked like the Atlanta Falcons came out in a cover three prevent defense with Rashaan Evans playing as the deep-middle-third safety which seemed like a terrible idea, but Arthur Smith clarified in his post game interview that they were in a cover two defense, which makes a lot more sense.
Rashaan Evans was essentially playing the vertical seam zone, so it was basically a Tampa 2 defense with him lined way further back than you would see in normal circumstances.
The Falcons were not expecting the Panthers to go for it all in one play quite yet, so they played with just two deep safeties and focused on the sidelines expecting their opponent to go for the chunk plays and get out of bounds. But, that obviously did not end up happening as P.J. Walker went for it all.
Dean Marlowe was the one responsible for covering any unexpected deep passes to that side of the field. Rashaan Evans was more focused on not allowing any run after catch on a pass caught down the middle but he quickly realized that they Walker was making the decision to go for the end zone and you know the result.
Honestly, I don’t think the Atlanta Falcons made the wrong decision on how to play it in the moment, which might seem crazy to say but hear me out.
How often do you see teams that try to get the ball as far down the field as they can before they take the hail mary shot? The Panthers still had 23 seconds to move the ball, again, you usually don’t see teams go for it all when there is still 20 seconds left.
Not to mention, who knew Walker could make that throw? I don’t even think Walker himself knew he could make that throw.
It was the longest completion when it comes to air yards in at least eight years (since Next Gen Stats started charting the statistic). They were playing the odds, the odds that were screaming at you to focus on stopping the sideline passes, not the 60 yards completion into the end zone.
Thankfully, the game ended the way it did because it is much easier to talk about knowing that the Falcons still kept the division lead in the end. The coaches, rightfully, doubted the Panthers willingness to go for it all and P.J. Walker’s arm and it did nearly lost them the game.
Hindsight is 20/20 and they would have played it differently if they had evidence that Walker could complete the longest air pass in eight years, but they were proven that sometimes talent can come from anywhere and we are all happy that D.J. Moore had a “natural reaction” to catching the touchdown pass.