During the first half of the 49ers game, the Falcons seemed to have a hold on the flow of the game even if they did blunder red zone opportunities. The second half, however, was a completely different story. Atlanta was outplayed, outcoached, and outhustled over the course of 60 minutes, resulting in a 31-13 defeat.
The only touchdown of the day came right on the edge of the red zone, and if it weren’t for that, the Falcons would’ve gone 0-for-4 in the red area on Sunday. In total, the Falcons scored one touchdown on five red zone trips, while three of those drives resulted in zero points despite getting the ball inside the 10-yard line.
A silver lining in the disappointing outing is the emergence of Russell Gage, who, before Week 13, only totaled 27 receptions for 270 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. Then, against Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago, the former sixth-round pick broke out by hauling in 11 receptions on 12 targets for 130 yards.
Most recently, Gage had a phenomenal day against the 49ers’ defense. He finished the afternoon with eight catches for 91 yards and the team’s lone touchdown. But it wasn’t just some regular score; Gage leaped over San Francisco rookie Ambry Thomas in a highlight that will undoubtedly make an appearance on ESPN’s ‘You got Mossed’ segment.
That wasn’t the only eye-popping play that Gage had either; later in the game, he went up to get what should’ve been a 50/50 jump ball but ended up being all Gage again over Thomas.
Last season, Julio Jones missed seven games, and Gage made the most of his opportunities. The former LSU Tiger set career highs in targets (109), receptions (72), yards (786), and touchdowns (4). Coming into the 2021 season, I pegged Gage as a potential breakout player as he assumed a full-time role. That emergence took a little longer than expected as Gage dealt with injuries at the beginning of the season, but it is great to see him experience this success.
With the loss to San Fran, the Falcons have essentially been eliminated from postseason contention, even if the models suggest they have a 2% chance at clinching a playoff spot. Gage’s production may be too little too late; however, it will give the staff and front office a great impression to go off of when they assemble the 2022 roster. He might not be back in Atlanta next season, but he’s surely made a case for being a valuable supporting act to an alpha-type receiver the Falcons desperately need to bring in this offseason. I wouldn’t be upset at the possibility of Terry Fontenot bringing Gage back while also bolstering the position through the draft.
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