In a messy game down in Tampa Bay, the Falcons came out victorious by a score of 16-13, courtesy of a game-winning field goal as time expired from Younghoe Koo. It should have never been that close, but the Falcons will take a win on the road, the first since Desmond Ridder was named the starting quarterback, putting them in sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
What Went Right
Falcons defense is elite
This is something I haven’t said in my lifetime, but the Falcons defense is elite. After a few seasons where they were one of the worst units in the league, many hoped the offseason additions would lead to improvements. But nobody could have predicted this. The Falcons defense isn’t just average; they aren’t just top 10. This group deserves to be mentioned alongside the best defenses in the league.
Outside of one misplay from A.J. Terrell, which led to a long Mike Evans touchdown, the Falcons surrendered six points to the Baker Mayfield-led Bucs. They came up time and time again while the offense floundered, and Richie Grant even delivered a pivotal interception on the second to last drive as the Buccaneers were in field goal range.
Ryan Nielsen’s unit is stout against the run, holds teams to field goals in the red zone, pressures quarterbacks relentlessly, gets off the field on third downs, and forces turnovers. For Falcons fans, it must feel like a fever dream every Sunday. Just imagine if Atlanta had this defense at any point from 2008-2016.
If you’re a Kyle Pitts fantasy owner, look away, because I’m going to give the Falcons tight end some love for his performance on Sunday. On the surface, three catches for 47 yards is nothing to write home about, especially for a talent like Pitts. But I am getting more and more encouraged with the way he looks — health-wise — each week. On the final drive, he took a pass from Desmond Ridder 39 yards to set up Atlanta’s game-winning field goal, and his run after the catch looked much more like the Kyle Pitts we saw as a rookie. He also had this ridiculous one-handed grab in the first quarter.
Because of Bijan Robinson‘s absence (more on him later), Cordarrelle Patterson was a massive part of the Falcons offense against the Bucs for the first time all season. He missed the first three games with a thigh injury, and the Falcons have taken things slowly with him since, but they needed him on Sunday, and he delivered. Patterson carried the ball 10 times for 56 yards against a stout Bucs front seven and was a vital piece to the victory.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and Ridder will also appear in the “what went wrong” section. However, let’s focus on the good for a second. This is a quarterback who went from barely being able to throw it 200 yards to throwing it 300 yards two games in a row and followed it up with 250 yards passing against the Bucs with another 38 yards added on the ground. He also delivered on the final drive with under a minute left, setting up Koo’s field goal as time expired.
Ridder had many forgettable moments, which I will talk about in a second, but he overcame those when he was needed most and delivered his third game-winning drive of the season in just seven games. He deserves some credit for what he did right, and Falcons fans should be pleased with his overall improvement as a passer. Ridder just might have what it takes to be a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL.
What Went Wrong
Alright, let’s get into it. Because while I was impressed with a lot of things Ridder did, he also turned the ball over three times in the red zone, which is unacceptable.
The first came just before the half as he was pressured on third down. The offensive line was blown up, but Ridder has to take his medicine in that situation and settle for the field goal. The second was a botched snap at the one-yard line. Perhaps Drew Dalman could have snapped it better, but it doesn’t matter. The quarterback can’t let that happen in that situation.
However, the third and final turnover was the most egregious. Ridder was trotting lackadaisically into the endzone on what should have been an easy touchdown. Unfortunately, he had the ball in his wrong hand and didn’t seem to have any sense of urgency to ensure the ball crossed the goal line, leading to a fumble that went out of the endzone for a touchback. For a young quarterback that has turned the ball over five times in the last two weeks, that is inexcusable.
Ridder loses another fumble pic.twitter.com/r4hWW4SAgI
— Bussin' With The Boys (@BussinWTB) October 22, 2023
Ridder has to do a better job of taking care of the football. The Falcons are in the driver’s seat in the NFC South. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t win the division with this roster. The only thing that can prevent that from happening is if Ridder keeps making these boneheaded mistakes.
Robinson never appeared on the injury report, but he didn’t receive a touch in the first half and was only on the field for a few snaps. Something was obviously up, and it was later revealed that he wasn’t feeling well. That’s all fine and dandy, as Arthur Smith didn’t want to take any chances with arguably the best player on offense. However, Smith then randomly gave Robinson his first touch of the game on the final drive as the Falcons were burning clock before their game-winning field goal. The entire thing was odd, but hopefully, Robinson is good to go next week against the Titans.
Photographer: John Adams/Icon Sportswire