EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Falcons and Giants entered Sunday's game winless, desperate for victory.
That hunger was evident from both sidelines, even though execution wasn't always so crisp. Such uneven play, which featured a few standout moments, set up a close game down the stretch.
Fourth-quarter execution would determine the victor and get a team off the schneid.
Ultimately, that earned the Falcons their first win.
Younghoe Koo cemented a 17-14 victory with a 40-yard field goal as time expired.
Here are three gut reactions following Sunday's result at MetLife Stadium:
Falcons come through in the clutch
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan didn't have a great game here at MetLife Stadium. He was just okay, orchestrating an offense that had trouble scoring points.
Through the first three-and-a-half quarters, anyway.
Things cranked up late in the game, with a game-tying touchdown drive that ended with 4 minutes, 13 seconds left, followed by a key defensive stop, followed by Koo's game winner.
The Ridgewood, N.J., native knocked it through from 40 yards out, giving the Falcons their first win of the season. It prompted a celebration at midfield as the Falcons tasted victory for the first time.
Ryan was pretty good down the stretch and Kyle Pitts came through with a 25-yard catch to put the Falcons at the spot from where Koo knocked it through. Cordarelle Patterson also got some chunk yards to help get the Falcons within field-goal range.
Why was Pitts not involved earlier?
Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts is a threat no matter where he lines up, no matter where he ends up in the pattern. That's why it was perplexing to see the fourth quarter start and the No. 4 overall pick was left off the stat sheet.
As in, completely.
No catches, no yards, no targets.
The Pitts omission was addressed on a pivotal 3rd-and-8 in the fourth quarter, when they simply had to convert. Matt Ryan found the tight end for 10 key yards. Pitts was targeted again in the end zone on that drive, but Ryan skied it. Then Ryan desperately tried for Pitts again on third-and-goal, and he drew a pass interference play that set up a game-tying touchdown.
That only accentuates the point of getting Pitts more involved, and earlier.
I'm not one to second-guess Ryan's decision making working his progressions, especially from the press box, and it'll take closer examination to determine whether the Giants did a good job removing him from the game plan. This story, after all, gets posted right when the clock hits zero, before we've had a chance to hear from the Falcons in postgame press conferences.
This note isn't meant to be a second-guesser. It's also not a stretch to say the Falcons are better with Pitts heavily involved, as we saw last week against the Buccaneers. Going most of the game without a target is not ideal.
He needs to be more involved, even if it's with plays designed to do exactly that. Smith will certainly address this in a postgame press conference or in his Monday, which should shed some light on an issue that was perplexing watching the game live.
Falcons punter Cameron Nizialek took some justified heat after last week's versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers, during which he shanked a pair of punts including one that was part of the turning point in that loss.
There was enough concern about the University of Georgia product that veteran Dustin Colquitt was signed to the practice squad as a possible replacement. Smith ultimately chose against jerking the wheel – Smith's term, not mine -- as he did with rookie guard Jalen Mayfield the week prior.
It certainly paid off against the Giants, where field position was a significant factor. Nizialek had an excellent first half, where he had three of his first four punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He played punt and catch with Cordarrelle Patterson that pinned the Giants at their own 3. New York went nowhere, punted the ball back to the Falcons with good field position and set up the Falcons' only touchdown of the first half.
Seeing such a response was encouraging not only for Nizialek but for Smith's coaching style, to bring in competition but stick with a young player if he practices well. That will help develop young depth that will contribute steadily over time.
Call for questions
We've got a victory Bair Mail set for Monday afternoon. Submit your questions right here, right now, to be join in a wide-ranging discussion of that dramatic win.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants during Week 3 of 2021.