Falcons: Do Marcus Mariota’s highs make up for his lows?

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Somehow, the Falcons came out of Week 8 in sole possession of first place in the NFC South. On his birthday, Marcus Mariota did enough to give the team an opportunity to win, but the Panthers throwing the game away twice cannot be overlooked. It was arguably Mariota’s best performance of the season, but do his impressive plays excuse the horrid inconsistencies?

The former No. 2 overall pick has had an up-and-down year this season, which is just a microcosm of his entire career. Against the Panthers in Week 8, we saw some terrible throws and decisions combined with some unbelievable plays. Mariota completed 20-of-28 passes for a season-high 253 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions in a 37-34 overtime win.

On the second play of the game, Mariota got picked off by Donte Jackson on a shot play intended for Damiere Byrd. Atlanta went scoreless in the first quarter while its signal caller completed just three of his first six passes for 21 yards with an interception. However, on the offense’s fourth drive of the game, Mariota completed five passes for 56 yards en route to a 10-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts.

The veteran would go on to complete his subsequent seven passes, including a 25-yard touchdown to Tyler Allgeier. In the waning minutes of regulation, the Falcons were down 28-24 with a chance to win the game. Mariota stepped up, leading the offense 75 yards on four plays, including a 47-yard touchdown pass to Byrd.

Unfortunately, the defense didn’t show up all game, which has quickly become one of the worst units in football, and the Panthers ended up scoring on a Hail Mary in the final seconds of regulation. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty forced a difficult extra point try that Eddie Piñeiro missed — enter overtime.

Mariota began overtime just like he did the game, with an interception. It looked like a dagger. And if it weren’t for yet another missed field goal by Piñeiro, we’d be sitting here having a much different conversation. However, the Panthers once again failed to capitalize on the Falcons’ mistakes. Mariota and the offense got the ball back. He’d go on to complete two passes for 18 yards, then add another 30 yards on the ground to set up the Younghoe Koo game-winning field goal.

The two interceptions were horrible. He took a couple of sacks that he didn’t have to, and Mariota’s biggest play came with his legs. He leaves a lot to be desired, but you can’t argue with the results. The Falcons sit at .500 with sole possession of the division and a real shot of hosting a playoff game. It’s almost unbelievable. And Marcus Mariota’s inconsistent play has been a top storyline this season.

In the opener against the Saints, Mariota and the Falcons blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead. They had every opportunity to win that game; one of the backbreakers came when Mariota lost a fumble at the Saints’ 5-yard-line in the third quarter. He also botched a snap on the third and one in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a punt and a Saints drive ending in a game-winning field goal.

In Week 2, Mariota had a pair of interceptions at critical junctures, including a prayer to Bryan Edwards in the endzone that Jalen Ramsey picked off. Against the Browns, he had a 36.8 completion percentage but came out victorious. Against the Bengals, the Falcons only threw the ball 13 times despite being down by two scores for much of the game.

But then, there are performances like we saw against the 49ers, in which he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. Mariota completed 13-of-14 (93%) of his passes, and his only incompletion came late in the fourth quarter. The veteran signal caller passed for 129 yards and two touchdowns while adding another 50 yards and a score on the ground, finishing with a passer rating of 144.6 — his best as a starter since the 2018 season.

Marcus Mariota has managed the offense well and flashed at times. His mobility allows him to extend plays when pressure arrives and gives Arthur Smith the ability to be creative with his play design. Mariota could be seen as the exact opposite of Matt Ryan. His highs are probably higher because of his dynamic ability to extend plays with his legs, but his lows are much lower. There is no consistency with Mariota, and it feels like there’s a lot more bad than good. Still, you can’t argue with the results. Winning football games will always keep rookie Desmond Ridder on the bench.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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