Print

Imperfect Falcons have opportunity to take control in woeful NFC South

By Charles Odum AP Sports Writer
Posted 7:34PM on Monday 27th November 2023 ( 4 months ago )

ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons' imperfections remain obvious, topped by inconsistent play at quarterback.

Even so, the Falcons used a combination of grit, big plays by their red-zone defense and a relentless running attack to end a three-game losing streak and move back into first place in the weak NFC South.

There's reason to suggest that Atlanta has a real chance to end its five-year playoff drought. Of the team's six remaining games, only one opponent — the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) — has a winning record. Atlanta plays at the New York Jets (4-7) this week.

The Falcons' woeful division and soft schedule can combine to keep an imperfect team relevant.

The Falcons' path to the playoffs became clear in their important 24-15 win over New Orleans on Sunday. Atlanta put the game away late by calling nine consecutive running plays before Younghoe Koo's 39-yard field goal provided a two-score lead with less than two minutes remaining.

The Falcons' depth at running back paid off, with Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson sharing carries. More importantly, Atlanta iced the win by relying on its offensive line, which continues to be at its best when coach Arthur Smith calls a run-first attack.

Robinson ran behind right tackle Kaleb McGary on a 10-yard touchdown for a 14-6 lead in the second quarter. Saints coach Dennis Allen acknowledged that the Falcons “winning the line of scrimmage” was a difference in the game.

The Falcons have the advantage over the Saints in the first-place tie between 5-6 teams in the NFC South. Now comes the challenge of posting back-to-back wins for the first time since a 2-0 start.

A physical Wednesday practice following a bye week had Atlanta's players motivated for a rivalry game against the Saints before a sellout crowd. It's not easy to maintain that level of inspired play through a 17-game schedule.

WHAT'S WORKING

Led by Robinson, the Falcons rushed for a season-high 228 yards. It was their sixth consecutive game with at least 100 yards, trailing only Baltimore's 12 games as the second-longest streak in the league. Allgeier, Patterson and quarterback Desmond Ridder contributed to the running total, but Robinson was the leader with 16 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He also had three catches for 32 yards and another touchdown for his second consecutive game with more than 100 yards from scrimmage.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Ridder threw two interceptions in his return as a starter. Turnovers were a major reason the second-year quarterback lost his starting job. After playing behind Taylor Heinicke the past two games, Ridder enjoyed some highlights as he completed 13 of 21 passes for 168 yards with one touchdown. He impressed Smith by not allowing the interceptions to affect his confidence on the field.

Smith said Ridder “doesn't flinch,” but Ridder now has seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions this season. That's not a healthy ratio for a team trying to earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

STOCK UP

Wide receiver Drake London set a season high with his average of 18.2 yards per catch. He had five receptions for 91 yards. London, a 2022 first-round draft pick, continues to emerge as Atlanta's most consistent receiver. He has six games with at least five receptions and two with more than 90 yards.

STOCK DOWN

Tight end Kyle Pitts had only two receptions for 22 yards. He has only one touchdown catch this season and only one game with more than five receptions. He has no more than three catches in seven of 11 games.

INJURIES

Defensive end Calais Campbell returned after leaving with an ankle injury, so his status will be monitored carefully this week. Wide receiver Mack Hollins (ankle) did not play.

KEY NUMBER

943 — Robinson became only the second rookie in franchise history to gain more than 900 yards from scrimmage in the first 11 games. Robinson has 943 yards, 703 rushing and 240 receiving. William Andrews gained 950 total yards in his first 11 games in 1979. Robinson passed Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (935) for the most yards from scrimmage among rookies.

NEXT STEPS

Campbell issued a postgame challenge to his teammates to match the intensity they showed against the Saints in next Sunday's game at the Jets.

“First place today doesn’t matter,” Campbell said. “We need to keep going forward, keep building on it and stack wins. ... After the game, I told a bunch of the guys: ‘You felt the difference at practice. Let’s do that again this week.'”

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London (5) signals a first down against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Atlanta.

http://accesswdun.com/article/2023/11/1216264/imperfect-falcons-have-opportunity-to-take-control-in-woeful-nfc-south

© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.