The Falcons saw their lead slashed to critical levels midway through the fourth quarter, leaving a once-probable win hanging in the balance.
The offense came onto the field confident and ready to close out victory with a long, sustained drive that would increase their degree of separation while playing keep away from an opponent desperately needing the ball back.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Like, you know, a week ago.
Fourth-quarter scenarios faced against Washington and the Jets in consecutive games are not identical, yet similar enough to be fraternal twins.
The outcomes, however, had no familial traits.
The Falcons couldn’t close against Washington. They couldn't secure that save on offense, going three and out between Washington scoring drives that sealed their losing fate.
They struck out the side against the New York Jets, if we can stretch this baseball analogy to the max, to secure a 27-20 victory on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Jets cut a once 17-point lead down to three halfway through the fourth, but there was no here we go again. Instead, we saw a determination to avoid the previous week's heartbreak. That mission was accomplished.
Victory came a bit later, creating stark contrast in how the Falcons were able to finish the last two games.
That comparison is worth more than anything brought up from previous seasons. As I've said before and I'll continue to scream from mountaintops, we must draw a hard and clear line between this year and those that came before it. This is a new coaching staff, a new front office. There are new schemes, executed by several new veteran leaders and impact rookies. None of those guys, from head coach Arthur Smith to Pitts, were here last year. It's unfair to compare what we saw previously to what we're seeing now.
It's another bullet point in this year's resumé, which can and should be judged in totality. Here's what we've got so far: Two lopsided losses and mixed results from three close contests in a row.
The Falcons came back and beat the New York Giants on a last-second field goal. They lost a late lead at home against Washington. Then they held onto one and secured victory with an inspired offensive drive.
It was certainly conducted differently than the previous circumstance, though I took zero issue with how either one was called. Execution was better the second time around, even when Smith chose to be bold.
He set Pitts up for a 39-yard reception to start an ultimately balanced drive that kept the chains and the clock moving.
"We're not going to sit here and play in our fears," Smith said in his postgame press conference. "I was pissed at myself from last week. The worst thing, I'll probably make plenty of mistakes, but I'll try not to make the same mistake twice.
"We're not going to live on our fears. We'll be aggressive when we need to be. Had good blocking up front. Didn't give up any sacks today against a really good front. I want the guys to have initiative. [The Pitts reception] was a big-time play. We needed some momentum. We weren't going to sit back two yards in a cloud of dust."
The Falcons were aggressive, set on avoiding a repeat of the previous week. The best part about these two pieces of evidence: They learned. They progressed. They weren't weighed down or influenced by the (very) recent past.
They went out and did what had to be done.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets during Week 5 of 2021.
"Wasn't perfect on that last drive," Ryan said, "but we made the plays we needed to make."
So, how have the 2021 Falcons done in the clutch? They've missed one golden opportunity, capitalized on two. Which outcome set matters more? It depends on whether you're prone to touch old scars or forget that they're even there.
We have no idea how this year will turn out or how this group will function under pressure. We do know a few things at this stage: These Falcons are flawed and consistently inconsistent, but they are scrappers.
If that ends up their defining characteristic, even if they lose more than they win, it's something to build on as the Smith era moves along.
Call for questions
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