Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota looked great for the most part in his debut in Atlanta. It seemed he was well on his way to winning his first start on Sunday, but a 16-point lead disappeared in the fourth quarter as the Falcons collapsed in epic fashion once again to lose 27-26 to the Saints.
Mariota and the Falcons had every opportunity to win this football game, blowing a two-touchdown lead. Despite all of the miscues, the talk of the town has been Arthur Smith’s response to yet another embarrassing loss, essentially taking his frustrations out on members of the media.
“You guys wrote our obituary back in May, and continue to write our obituary. Who cares? We got 16 games,” Smith said. “Write whatever y’all want. Same guys that ranked us 45th, buried us in May, bury us again. We don’t care. We’ll get back to work.”
Smith rightfully deserves the blame. His comments were completely unnecessary. The team was scolded last year for being extremely conservative in games, and nothing has changed. Do you know when the best time to rub pre-season expectations in peoples’ faces is? After winning a football game, not after a Week 1 loss to your rival where you blew a 16-point lead.
Moreover, despite being a notable offensive mind in this league, the Falcons’ first-time head coach decided against going for it on fourth and one. This is where Smith’s supposed expertise lies, on the offensive side of the ball. To play it conservative and make Jameis Winston drive the field revealed quite a bit to the players, who respond to confidence with confidence. Instead, players likely question why they weren’t aggressive in seizing the win as it was right in front of them.
Even with all of that, Mariota still deserves to shoulder some of the blame. And he knows exactly that.
“I would say the biggest difference was just finishing in the red zone,” Mariota said. “We had opportunities — multiple opportunities to go in there and score touchdowns and kind of put the game away. We allowed them, as an offense, to stick around, and that’s something we have to get back and look at and correct.”
One of the backbreakers came when Mariota lost a fumble at the Saints’ 5-yard-line in the third quarter. The veteran said he wishes he “would have just gone down and protected the ball” instead of trying for more yards. 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.
The Falcons had a near-perfect half from top to bottom but quickly crumbled, and there is plenty of blame to go around, including Marcus Mariota.