Negative Play #1: Mariota’s First INT
Well, this one was brutal early, and most Falcons fans, they probably were readying the pitchforks and torches for Mariota here. On only the second play of the game, Arthur Smith dialed up another deep pass to Damiere Byrd, trying to take the top off the Panthers’ secondary early. Only problem? Donte Jackson essentially ran the route for Byrd, so he was playing the receiver position instead. And while Mariota did manage to make it the “intended” distance, Jackson was right there and managed to snag it with only one hand. Also, Kyle Pitts did look open underneath on the deep over the route, so a bad decision by Mariota there, but not terrible (more down below)
It’s more fortunate that Byrd was there to at least play defense because chances are Jackson could’ve returned that for big yardage, maybe even a touchdown.
Negative Moment #2: D’Onta Foreman with three TDs
To be honest, I didn’t know that D’Onta Foreman was on the Falcons’ practice squad last season. Perhaps it was an oversight, but this dude just wanted an opportunity, and over in Carolina, he was given one on multiple limited chances when Christian McCaffrey was there, but none more so than the current state of the Panthers, where they run him and Chuba Hubbard in a one-two combination. Keep in mind, Foreman and Hubbard are two players who once amassed 2,000+ rushing yards in a single college football season, so that’s impressive.
And with his running mate Hubbard out due to injury, Carolina’s coaching staff (much kudos to Steve Wilks) said to Atlanta “We’re going to do what you like to do: run the football. Try and stop this guy, if you can”.
Unfortunately, for the most part, Atlanta couldn’t contain Foreman at all, and he routinely managed to make the second level on most of his 26 carries during this contest. The real gasher, however, is the fact that Atlanta’s run defense surrendered not one, not two, but three touchdowns on the ground to him. The first one was on a third and goal that he impressively got through the initial contact and scored from two yards out, while the second was on a fourth and goal from a yard away.
His third, however, was a backbreaker as he broke through the line and wasn’t touched by a single Falcons player until he was essentially three yards out, and from there, it was child’s play to score.
Tough sledding for the Falcons’ defense against a “castaway” from the Smith regime.
Negative Moment #3: Terrace Marshall’s 39-yard catch-and-run
Oh, Isaiah Oliver. We get that you’re one of the few “quality” starters the Falcons had to roll out in this contest, and for the most part, he performed well with multiple deflected passes and some timely tackles to stop plays from exploding.
However, he couldn’t avoid this play from Terrace Marshall. Facing a second down following multiple Panthers penalties, Walker found the tight end on a crossing route, and Oliver was beat from the beginning and couldn’t do much of anything trying to catch up, making a weak tackle effort as a last resort. That failed, and Marshall just blasted his way up to the Falcons’ 12-yard line, which resulted in Foreman scoring the very next play.
Oliver’s been good this year since coming off IR with that ACL injury. This play sadly falls in the negative because he should’ve played more of a press setup; it would’ve provided a better chance at stopping Marshall earlier rather than him rumbling down the sideline.
Negative Play #4: PJ Walker Hail Mary to DJ Moore
Honestly, of every negative play/moment which occurred in this game, this one is not only the most egregious, but the most unforgivable. The Falcons had just managed to take the lead following Byrd’s touchdown and extended the lead with Younghoe’s field goal following a fourth down stop. Inexplicably, however, facing a first down from their own 38-yard line, Walker managed to escape the pocket and, in a very similar fashion to how Matt Ryan and Julio Jones did in 2015, heaved up a wing and a prayer to DJ Moore, who was covered by Dean Marlowe and Rashaan Evans (!) of all players. And it was caught by Moore, giving the Panthers a chance to take the lead, but Moore had a boneheaded moment during his celebration and removed his helmet, which resulted in the PAT being moved back 15 yards, resulting in Eddy Pineiro missing and forcing overtime.
Folks, it’s almost a guarantee at this point that Dean Pees is going to lay into this defense during meetings this week, and for good measure. Any coach worth their salt will agree with this sentiment: if they score a touchdown because of missed tackles/redirection, okay that’s bad but correctable. But you NEVER ARE SUPPOSED TO GET BEAT OVER THE TOP, regardless of the position you play on the defense. That’s almost a cardinal sin, so to speak.
Negative Play #5: Mariota’s Second INT in OT
Okay, in all fairness to Mariota, let’s put one thing out there: it was nice to see him attempt to stretch the field against a very game Panthers secondary. Unfortunately, his accuracy is what hurt him more often than not, but in this case, it starts up front. On this play, Mariota is hit as he releases the throw, which results in the pass not exactly having the desired angle and trajectory, which allows CJ Henderson to intercept the pass and return it 54 yards inside Falcons territory.
Under normal circumstances, many of us were ready to throw Mariota into the fire and chastise him forever if the game ended there. However, inexplicably, Eddy Pineiro managed to miss a 33-yard field goal that gave the Falcons new life, life which ended in happiness for the home team and a nightmare before Halloween for the Panthers.