Falcons fans are waking up with what might be one of the worst football hangovers since the Super Bowl meltdown some odd years ago. Atlanta looked excellent for three quarters in the season opener against the Saints at home in Mercedes-Benz Stadium but quickly faltered down the stretch to blow a 16-point lead to New Orleans. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I could write a thousand words about what went wrong, but I figured to shed light on the silver linings against a playoff contender.
Cordarrelle Patterson picked up right where he left off last season. After not seeing much of the veteran this offseason and preseason, Patterson looked fresh in his 2022 debut, carrying the ball a career-high 22 times for 120 yards and one touchdown. He also hauled in three passes for 16 yards and was a significant reason the Falcons almost started the year 1-0.
Grady Jarrett also looked outstanding and, at times, unstoppable against the Saints. The veteran defensive lineman finished the afternoon with 1.5 sacks, including the defense’s first sack of the season. However, it wasn’t just Jarrett. Dean Pees’ defense looked distinctly different in the opener compared to last season. The Falcons’ defense posted four team sacks and pressured Jameis Winston most of the game. The Falcons stifled Saints’ drives with pressure and sacks, exceeding their best in-game sack total in two seasons.
Sticking in the trenches, the Falcons’ offensive line looked much better with Drew Dalman and Elijah Wilkinson inserted in the starting lineup over Matt Hennessy and Jalen Mayfield. Atlanta’s offense as a whole looked fantastic with Marcus Mariota under center. It was a much different look for a fan base that has become accustomed to a statue of a quarterback in Matt Ryan standing in the pocket.
Arthur Smith should even get some credit. The offense looked like it had a plan and executed it for the most part. Several times, Smith planted seeds early in the game for other plays to be successful later. The defense was pressuring Winston, and Mariota looked very good for the most part — two things the Falcons can undoubtedly build on going forward.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t praise Younghoe Koo, who finished the game with a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals. Drake London, Arnold Ebiketie, and other young Falcons also looked the part and had several impressive plays.
The team obviously fell apart at the end, but there are plenty of things to be proud of — a newly found pass rush, a new-look offense with a much more mobile quarterback, and the stadium was even packed out.