A Year of Missed Chances: Reexamining the Atlanta Falcons 2022 Season

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons
Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Ever since the Atlanta Falcons blew the 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl six years ago, the team has been known for their inability to close games. They’ve blown leads, failed to convert on big plays, and struggled with consistency throughout the regular season.

During the 2022 NFL season, the Falcons lost ten games, and eight of them were one-possession games. Within a division where it only took eight games to make the playoffs, Atlanta clearly missed a chance to add another division title and potentially make some noise on the road to the Super Bowl.

The Atlanta Falcons have been stumbling for years now

Unfortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, their problems with consistency arose in week one against the New Orleans Saints. Going into the fourth quarter, the Falcons had taken a 23-10 lead and seemed destined to start their season with a win against a hated division rival.

The Falcons allowed the Saints to score 17 points in the fourth quarter, could only muster a field goal, and ended up blowing another unlikely lead. The second half included a lost fumble, a failure to convert a touchdown on 1st and goal in the third quarter, a Saints scoring drive that only took two minutes, and a 40-yard conversion for the Saints that ended up leading to the game-winning field goal for New Orleans.

Also Read: What to expect from Tyler Allgeier this season.

Week two against the Los Angeles Rams was the complete opposite story. Going into halftime against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Falcons faced a 21-3 deficit that they seemed unlikely to overcome. They had a missed field goal, an interception, a turnover on downs, and their defense looked helpless.

The second half of the game was an NFL Redzone fever dream as Cooper Kupp caught a touchdown, there were multiple turnovers, the Rams recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown, and the game came down to the last minute. Somehow the Falcons had come back and had a chance to take the lead before Marcus Mariota threw an interception to Jalen Ramsey in the end zone. The Rams held on to win and sent the Falcons to 0-2.

The Atlanta Falcons won their next two games to even up their record before heading to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers. With both teams at 2-2 to start the season, the matchup played a huge part in eventually determining the division crown. For Falcons fans though, the game will likely be remembered for one play.

Both teams struggled in the first quarter before the Bucs eventually scored 21 straight to take a big lead going into the fourth quarter. The Falcons came alive in the fourth quarter and scored a touchdown, forced a punt, scored another touchdown, and had Tampa Bay facing a 3rd and 5 at midfield.

Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett seemingly sacked Tom Brady to force a pivotal fourth down, but then the flags came out. Jarrett was called for roughing the passer, the Bucs were awarded a new set of downs, and Brady was eventually able to kneel out the clock. The penalty received a ton of pushback from NFL players and analysts, and it led to even more complaints that the league was protecting Brady rather than letting players play the game.

The roller coaster season for Atlanta continued as the Falcons eventually evened their record again at 4-4 as they prepared to take on the Los Angeles Chargers. The game was close the entire time and once again came down to a huge play in the fourth quarter.

As Falcons defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham recovered a fumble by Austin Ekeler, Falcons fans everywhere rejoiced. As Lee Corso always says though, not so fast my friend. Graham ended up fumbling his own fumble recovery, the Chargers got the ball back and kicked a game-winning field goal to give Atlanta another heartbreaking loss.

At the halfway point of the season, the Atlanta Falcons had to survive an erroneous penalty call, allowed the Chargers to recover their own fumble for a last-second loss, blew a huge lead against a division rival, and lost on a last-second interception in the endzone. This would typically be enough drama for a whole season (or two), but Atlanta was just getting started.

The second-half Atlanta Falcons continued their stumble

The Falcons (and I) headed into FedEx Field hoping the season would finally be turning around in their game against the Washington Commanders. As I watched Marcus Mariota overthrow passes and Brian Robinson run all over the defense, it seemed likely that Atlanta was facing yet another loss.

Similar to most Atlanta Falcons games though, hope eventually popped up, before it came crashing down in memorable fashion. Mariota drove the Falcons down the field, had the offense at the two-yard line, and then threw an interception to ruin their chances of taking the lead. Atlanta eventually forced a Commanders' fourth down before getting dinged with a penalty for running into the kicker that sealed a Washington win.  

As the Falcons headed home to play Pittsburgh, questions were finally being raised about Marcus Mariota’s ability to lead the offense. After a decent start to the season, he was missing on passes and couldn’t seem to manage to finish out close games. Unfortunately for Atlanta, that trend continued and eventually lead to another loss.

Atlanta only scored six points in the first half, had two punts, and faced another large deficit going into the second half. Although Mariota eventually helped guide the offense to ten points in the second half, he also threw the game-ending interception that left the Falcons facing more questions about their ability to win close games.

After back-to-back close losses, coach Arthur Smith finally made the decision to bench Mariota and insert rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder into the starting lineup. The change was well received by Atlanta Falcons fans but led to a familiar struggle in Ridder’s first start against the New Orleans Saints.

Ridder only threw for 97 yards, the Falcons fell behind early, and like the rest of their season, they couldn’t finish out a close game. Facing a fourth and five at midfield, Ridder dropped back and connected with Drake London for a 12-yard completion. Then London fumbled and the outlook for Atlanta changed in an instant.

The Saints ended up recovering the ball before quarterback Taysom Hill also fumbled and somehow gave the Falcons another shot. The team drove 24 yards before eventually running out of time and suffering another loss to their division rivals.

The last one-possession loss for the Atlanta Falcons was a bit less dramatic than the rest of the games mentioned above. Facing extremely cold temperatures, Atlanta only mustered three field goals against the Baltimore Ravens and never seemed to get in an offensive groove.

The first half alone featured two punts, a fumble, and a turnover on downs. The second half didn’t get much better as the Atlanta offense struggled and never made the game seem as close as it was. The loss sent the Falcons to 5-10 and likely reminded folks that there was still a ton of work to do for this team.

After closing out the 2022 season with two straight wins and signing several free agents last month, the outlook for the Atlanta Falcons seems to be positive for the first time in a long time. Although a lot can change with the draft later this month, the Falcons are hopefully able to break their seemingly ongoing curse of late-game gaffes and finally turn themselves into winners.

There is always more work to be done in the NFL, but with young players including Ridder, London, and cornerbacks A.J. Terrell, Atlanta should be in a position to move past last year’s season full of embarrassments and give Falcons fans a better reason to tune into games this year.  

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