JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Arthur Smith has never been a catastrophic thinker. For the head coach, he spends a lot of time discussing perspective. A major talking point of his from press conference to press conference is that he - and this team by proxy - will never "live or die by the day-to-day narratives" of a season.
"That's what we'll always try to say: Have some perspective," Smith said. "... We deserve to be where we're at, but it's not catastrophic. I think too many times people think of the instant result. There's a lot of ways to go with it, but I don't believe in that and this team doesn't."
The instant results of the last two weeks have been disheartening for many in the Falcons organization. Being outscored by Dallas and - five days later - New England by a margin of 68-3 was something that could have been difficult to move on from. The Falcons needed a win in Jacksonville to get back on track, and they did so on the back of Cordarrelle Patterson's return from injury and the run game being established early.
The run game has not contributed as much this season as the Falcons needed - or wanted - it to. There have been lingering questions over the last month or so about the Falcons ability to run the ball and run block. But against the Jaguars, the Falcons felt as though the run game finally got back on track. Atlanta finished the day with 149 rushing yards. The running backs averaged just over five yards a carry.
Throughout the week, there was an intentionality set by Smith, with Patterson saying he challenged the offense to be better.
"We all took it to heart," Patterson said of Smith's challenge. "... This whole week we've been talking about the run game… We made it a big target for us to just be able to run the ball."
This likely included a spirited discussion from Smith. But fullback Keith Smith said it included a bit of film review, too, with the head coach showing the unit moments over the first half of the season where they did do what was necessary for a solid run play here or there.
"I think we've left a lot on the bone this season," Keith Smith said. "... And he just kind of showed us a lot of the stuff that we were capable of."
And within that intention to become what this staff and team believes it can be was the need to get Patterson back in the fold following an ankle injury that kept him out of the game last week against the Patriots.
Coming into 2021, there were a great many questions swirling as to how the Falcons were going to use Patterson, who they picked up on a one-year deal this offseason. Little did everyone know at the time, but Patterson was going to come to mean a great deal to this offensive operation.
That notion was reinforced in Jacksonville on Sunday.
"Having (Patterson) back, it adds an element," Arthur Smith said. "… He's a physical presence who can do a lot for us. I think that's clear."
Patterson finished the day setting career highs in rushing yards (108) and rushing touchdowns (two) on 16 carries. He averaged 6.7 yards a carry and was the spark the Falcons needed to jumpstart their run game, particularly early in the first half on Sunday.
"That first half shows you (what we can do). We had over 100 rushing yards in that first half," Patterson said. "It just shows you that when we put our minds to it we can't be stopped."
After the game, Smith was asked how he had the confidence in knowing this run game could turn itself around. He said it's because he's seen teams do it before. He's been a part of teams who did it. He has perspective.
He thought back to the 2018 season when he was with Tennessee.
"There's a lot of revisionist history but there were times in 2018 where it didn't look too pretty," he recounted. "But we got going at the end of the year in the run game."
But sometimes, Smith said, it takes some time.
The head coach commended this offense for sticking with what they know. He noted the Falcons could have seen how the run game was trending and gone out to find plays that wouldn't have necessarily fit their personnel, essentially just to try something new. But Smith said the Falcons just "kept chipping away" and they weren't going to slash and burn what they were trying to implement.
"We've been training to hit these combinations," Smith said, "and it paid off."
For Smith, perspective is everything. And this game was the game the Falcons needed to show that they do have a run game worth defenses accounting for. They now have the tape to show they do against a Jaguars team that came into said game with the No. 3 run defense in the league.
"We know we can do it," Patterson said. "We just have to do it together."
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