Kyle Pitts was lined up in the left slot with the Falcons spreading out four wide on third-and-longish Sunday against Tampa Bay. The rookie tight end's route started slowly, establishing mystery around how he'd use a two-way go, before taking a quick step slanting inside.
A linebacker crashed down with a defensive back trailing, but quarterback Matt Ryan made the throw anyway.
He snuck a pass through traffic but slightly behind Pitts on this do-or-the-drive-dies play. No matter. The No. 4 overall pick reached back while running full speed ahead, able to secure possession and the break free for a big gain.
If you haven't seen the play we're talking about, check it out:
Pitts didn't plan for what you just saw. He just reacted to the situation as presented, in real time.
"It's kind of instinct, just trying to make a play on the ball," Pitts said on Monday. "When it comes my way, I'm just trying to make something of it. It came, stuck in my hands and I was able to turn it up field."
Pitts hit the afterburners and turned a relatively short pitch and catch into a 24-yard gain. He finished with five receptions for a team-high 73 yards, showing marked improvement between Weeks 1-2.
Some of those things are easy to see. Others, however, require a trained eye.
"I think there are a lot of things that Kyle improved against Tampa Bay], and some will never go on the stat sheet,” head coach [Arthur Smith said. "You watch the tape, and he handled a lot of different jobs, which makes us better as an offense when he can do that. He can play multiple roles for us. So, as he continues to grow and develop, I mean, that's why, it's why we drafted him, so that's encouraging to see."
Smith's words should be encouraging to hear. They should be jotted down while chronicling the advancement of an elite talent trying to find his way playing a difficult position, while making an immediate impact.
Don't forget that's hard for tight ends, even some of the best to ever do it. Rookie years are a mixed bag at the position, but Pitts seems in line for a good one if his ascent continues. Watching it carefully could offer a ray of light even during the darker times of this 2021 season.
When you look at the big picture and the long-term view of this Smith-Terry Fontenot partnership, Pitts will play a huge role in how it all plays out. If he realizes vast potential, he'll be viewed as one of the first and most important building blocks acquired by this regime.
Helping Pitts grow and evolve has been a team effort between veterans Lee Smith and Hayden Hurst and several coaches, including position coach Justin Peele, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and Smith, a former tight ends coach in his own right.
Pitts is an easy-going dude, someone who doesn't seem bothered by his draft status or comparisons to others fans feel the Falcons should’ve picked. He also seems interested in stats only if they contribute to a win, at point he has previously expressed.
Those are positives that should keep him focus on development and an expanded role where he lines up across the formation. It also keeps expanding, with Smith handing Pitts and Hayden Hurst more and different things to do.
Smith wouldn't do that if Pitts couldn't handle the workload or the knowledge required to execute all this material. That act is a sign of Pitts' development, that Smith feel comfortable adding to his plate.
"It's a challenge that I love to embrace," Pitts said. "It's something that, each day in practice when he throws something new at us, to be able to get it right the first time and then the second time, so he can trust me to execute it right in a game."
You can tell Pitts is learning and improving as a player based on what he's being taught and what he has experienced. Pitts says he's already better recognizing coverage and trusting his reads, which helps find sync with Ryan while making him a more attractive target. While each game is different, Pitts was regularly available and targeted often against the Bucs.
That should be the case moving forward as Smith takes advantage of this dynamic weapon. He was asked to look back at his NFL debut and what he took from that as he continues to build on what he's done. More than anything else, Pitts says, the experience was a motivator.
"It's a confidence booster for me," Pitts said. "It gets me going, knowing that I can make plays against the best of the best."