Falcons exposed by Bengals air attack

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There was palpable excitement in Atlanta about the Falcons for the first time in a long time following their demolishing of the 49ers a week ago, but they were handed a fresh dose of reality by the defending AFC champions yesterday.

From the opening whistle, the Falcons secondary, which came into the game banged up, had no answer for Joe Burrow and the Bengals tremendous trio of wide receivers. And things only got worse when A.J. Terrell re-injured the same hamstring in the first quarter that caused him to leave the game a week ago against the 49ers. That’s the last thing this team needs after they were forced to place Casey Hayward on the IR, and the Bengals were able to take full advantage.

Cincinnati’s first four drives ended in touchdowns. There was next to no resistance from Atlanta’s defense, and before the halftime whistle even blew, Joe Burrow had eclipsed 300 yards passing. The Falcons didn’t stop fighting, though.

Just before the half, Marcus Mariota hit Damiere Byrd on the first play of the drive for a 75-yard touchdown, which cut the lead to 14. The Falcons were then able to get their first stop of the afternoon, setting up an opportunity for Avery Williams, who returned the punt 56 yards and gave Younghoe Koo the opportunity to cut the lead even further before heading into the locker room.

It was an imperfect first half, particularly defensively, but it was also a reminder of why this Falcons team has become endeared by so many fans. They are a feisty bunch that never seems to know when to quit.

Unfortunately, the second half of the game wasn’t nearly as eventful. The Falcons inability to move the ball through the air never gave them a chance to chase down the Bengals. Cincinnati scored the first and only touchdown of the half in the third quarter, as Burrow used his legs to drive himself over the goal line. Down three scores, you would think it might be time for the Falcons to air it out, right? Wrong.

Arthur Smith has made two things clear this season. He’s never going to stop running the ball. It doesn’t matter how much the Falcons are trailing by. And he doesn’t trust Marcus Mariota.

The calls for the rookie Desmond Ridder are only going to get louder after every performance like this, but I don’t believe Smith will oblige anytime soon. Mariota gives the Falcons the best chance of winning. He’s never going to make Atlanta’s offense explosive, but he knows how to manage games, and as of now, the Falcons are still in a tie for first place. As long as they have a chance at a playoff spot, I highly doubt Arthur Smith turns to the rookie.

It was a disappointing yet unsurprising Sunday for Falcons fans. It was always going to be difficult to follow up a huge win over the 49ers with another one on the road against the defending AFC Champions. This game was a reminder that the Falcons are still rebuilding, even if they are exceeding expectations while building their roster.

Photo: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

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