Rookies shine in Falcons final win of the season

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Week 18 didn’t mean anything to the Falcons or Bucs as far as the playoffs are concerned. Atlanta was already eliminated, and Tampa Bay was locked into the #4 seed. Nothing was going to change, but Arthur Smith had his bunch ready to end the season on a high note, hoping to carry some momentum into the 2023 campaign.

The rookies stole the spotlight for the Falcons on Sunday, which has most fans ready for next season to begin. Desmond Ridder — after a sluggish first half — turned in his best performance of the season, tossing for 224 yards and throwing his first two touchdown passes of the season. The third-round pick has steadily improved with performance since the Falcons handed him the reins four weeks ago against the Saints. Ridder was lost in New Orleans, but yesterday, he looked like a guy ready to become a franchise quarterback.

If the Falcons do turn to Ridder as their Week 1 starter next season, Drake London‘s stock will continue to rise. The wide receiver out of USC had a productive first season, finishing with a rookie franchise record 72 receptions for 866 yards — 333 of which have come over the last four games with Ridder as the signal caller. Yesterday, London eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time all season, going for 120 yards on six catches. Once the Falcons get Kyle Pitts back, that duo could be a problem with a quarterback that can actually sling it.

The passing game stole the show against the Bucs, simply because we haven’t seen it all season with Mariota at quarterback, but Tyler Allgeier‘s record-breaking performance can’t be overlooked. The BYU product ran 24 times for 135 yards on Sunday, breaking the franchise’s all-time rookie rushing record with 1,035 yards.

Another interesting tidbit is he’s racked up all of those rushing yards without fumbling once this season.

What Allgeier has done isn’t going to be talked about much outside of Atlanta. He’s not the flashiest running back in the league, but he damn well may be the toughest to bring down. Allgeier is a freight train with the ball in his hands, and he’s blossomed into the team’s lead back over the second half of the season. He should be receiving Rookie of the Year love, but the Falcons will settle with knowing they’ve found their franchise running back for years to come.

When it comes to the Falcons, I’ve learned it’s always best to temper expectations. This franchise was put on this earth for miserable people who have a craving for disappointment. However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by the outlook of this team. They have a gritty identity with some young pieces — particularly on offense — that could become stars next season. They also have the second-most cap space of any team and a top 10 draft pick. In a weak NFC South, there’s no reason the Falcons can’t win the division and make some noise in 2023.

Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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