ATLANTA (AP) — Marcus Mariota and the Atlanta Falcons hope they are a good match.
The Falcons needed a quarterback after cutting ties with the longtime face of the franchise, Matt Ryan.
Enter Mariota, who needed a place to jump-start a career that hasn't come close to meeting expectations since he was picked No. 2 overall in the 2015 draft.
He last started a game in 2019 but remains confident in his ability to lead a team to success.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to prove, not only to myself but to those who have believed in me,” Mariota said. “I’m excited. The last couple of years was a great reset.”
While the Falcons have a bunch of issues, Mariota is looking forward to working with one of the league’s top tight ends in Kyle Pitts, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and running back/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
"We are going to be really versatile and be able to do a lot of different things and that’s going to play to our advantage," Mariota said. "I think this offense can hunt.”
If Mariota's hunting comes up empty, the Falcons could turn to rookie Desmond Ridder, a third-round pick who led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff last season.
Whoever handles the quarterback job might be a short-timer.
If the Falcons land one of the top picks in next year's draft, they surely will be tempted by a QB class expected to include Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young from Alabama and Ohio State star C.J. Stroud.
This season is expected to be a washout for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2017.
By trading Julio Jones last summer and dealing Ryan in March to Indianapolis, the Falcons accepted a short-term mauling under the salary cap — they have a staggering $63 million in “dead money” — so they'll have more room to rebuild down the road.
No wonder the Falcons are rated a 250-1 long shot to reach the Super Bowl by FanDuel Sportsbook — the worst odds for any team except the Houston Texans.
Coach Arthur Smith said he’s not concerned about the naysayers.
“There’s always going to be peripheral opponents out there,” he said. “You can’t pay attention to that. Good or bad, you see it ruin teams.”
The Falcons have one of the league's most versatile players in Patterson, who led team in rushing (618 yards, six TDs), ranked third in receptions (52 for 548 yards and five TDs) and returned kickoffs.
He certainly enjoys being the center of attention, pulling up at training camp in a three-wheeler, interacting with fans and speaking bluntly through social media.
“He probably goes and searches his name on social media and feels all warm inside,” Smith joked.
Patterson signed a two-year, $10.5 million deal to stay with the Falcons and says he'd like to retire in Atlanta.
EYES ON PEES
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who turns 73 a week before the opener, predicts big improvement out of his unit in Year 2 at the helm.
It can't get much worse.
Only two teams allowed more points than the Falcons. No team had fewer sacks than Atlanta's total of 18. The team leader, Dante Fowler with 4 1/2, was let go after the season.
“I’m sick of that crap,” Pees said, vowing this year will be different. "It’s not going to be in the bottom half of the league like it’s been 15 out of the last 20 years.”
WHO TO THROW TO?
First-round draft pick Drake London sustained a minor knee injury in his first preseason game, but he should be ready to go when it counts.
The rookie will have to take a lead role right away, because the rest of Atlanta's receiving corps is a bunch of no-names.
The Falcons don't have any wideouts who produced more than 34 catches or three touchdowns in 2021.
The Falcons have got to find a way to create more of a home-field edge.
Atlanta is 15-24 since moving into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017 — and downright awful the last two seasons, with just three wins in 15 games at home.
Crowds have dwindled along with the team's fortunes, creating an atmosphere that's not the least bit intimidating to opponents.
“We’ve got to take pride in being here," Smith said before a preseason practice at the stadium. “We’ve got to make this a tough place to come and play."
The Falcons could use a good start to build confidence, but that might be out of reach with a schedule that includes both of last year's Super Bowl teams and Tom Brady over the first seven weeks.
After hosting NFC South rival New Orleans in the opener on Sept, 11, the Falcons travel to Los Angeles to take on the reigning champion Rams in Week 2.
There also are early road tests against Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 9 and defending AFC champion Cincinnati on Oct. 23.
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