FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Falcons have gotten back in the hunt with a 21-14 win in Jacksonville. But before we move on and turn the conversation to Tampa Bay, we should take one final look back at this game.
I felt as though I wrote down more questions than I normally do in this game's notebook. Perhaps I was in a pensive mood? Who knows. All I know is that my notebook is littered with questions.
Pregame: What impact will Cordarrelle Patterson make today?
In-game: What's the thought process behind having a rotation at center?
Postgame: Is it OK to want to see more from receivers?
Those are just a few questions (though I promise there's even more). But these are the ones that stuck out to me the most upon review. And they're the ones I really wanted to get into in more detail in this week's notebook.
So, let's dive in.
"Did you miss CP? Did ya? DID YA?!"
I don't know how many times I wrote "Did ya?!" in the first quarter but let's just say it was a lot.
Patterson made his presence fully known on Sunday. After missing last Thursday night's game against the Patriots with an ankle injury, the Falcons saw firsthand how important Patterson is to the entire offensive operation… As if it was in question to begin with. (Hint: It wasn't)
Patterson finished the day with 108 rushing yards on 16 carries. That was good for an average of 6.8 yards a carry. He scored two touchdowns and had two catches for 27 yards, too. It was a career day for the Falcons most dynamic offensive weapon. He was the spark the Atlanta offense needed, and he continued to demonstrate just what he means to this unit.
After the game, Patterson was asked about that impact.
"I'm a big part of this offense," he said. "That's a no-brainer, man. From the outside looking in you can see that. Like I've told you all before, I love it here."
In the context of this sentence, "here" equals "Atlanta."
After the game, I reflected upon Patterson's story in 2021. When Patterson was signed this offseason, I remember writing how solid I thought the signing was. But in the same paragraph I wondered how Patterson would be used. He was listed as a running back. I originally thought he was more of a receiver, and - absolutely - a weapon on special teams. Every day of training camp I wondered what Arthur Smith was going to do with Patterson. Little did I - or anyone else for that matter - know just what he would become.
Smith has cracked the Patterson code. And Patterson - for his role in this - is thriving, and playing with an intensity that teammates call "contagious."
"He's a hard guy to tackle," Smith said. "That's stating the obvious here. He brings a different element in that right."
We didn't know in the offseason what Patterson would mean to this Falcons organization in 2021. Now, we know. He's meant everything.
"Henny… Drew… Henny… Drew…"
The rotation that developed throughout the game with Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman sharing snaps at center was very interesting to watch, and I tried to note of the switches as they happened throughout the game.
Hennessy got the start, but as the game went on it became obvious that Smith was running the duo in and out per specific possessions.
After the game, Smith said the original plan was to give each center two drives on and two drives off, and then "take it from there."
Come to find out, that was the plan all week.
"It was a little unconventional but we thought it was best for our football team," Smith said. "I thought it made us better."
Moving forward, Smith said he believes the Falcons will continue to rotate the two at center. For how long? That is likely TBD.
Smith commended Matt Ryan's ability to handle the rotation, as it affects the quarterback the most. For Ryan's part, he said the rotation didn't really call for him to take on more responsibility than he normally does. He also added he was "happy for both those guys" and thought they played "tough."
"In terms of protection, I've always got the trump card," Ryan explained. "So, we can make a call, and I can get us into something different. And in the run game, we have certain plays that come in that are canned or checked or whatever you want to call it. And we kind of dictate that. So, no, I didn't do anything different. I thought Drew and Matt both did a nice job."
By the end of the game, Hennessy accounted for 67 percent of the offensive snaps (40) on Sunday, while Dalman made up the other 33 percent (20). This will be a rotation to monitor throughout the next week as the Falcons likely stick with it if Smith's postgame comment holds true.
"I want to see more from Falcons receivers. I just do."
It wasn't so much that I was disappointed in the numbers per se. Ryan did end up throwing for 190 yards on 19 completions, averaging 6.6 yards a throw.
Russell Gage was more heavily involved, with the ball finding him six times for 62 yards. There were four other targets who all had 20-plus yards each, two being running backs Mike Davis and Patterson, as well as tight end Kyle Pitts.
Speaking of Pitts, he was targeted six times but only had two catches for 26 yards. I know that is not the stat line fantasy owners want from the rookie, but I don't think it's something to worry about. Do you miss the impact we've seen Pitts make? Absolutely. It's a tough pill to swallow to see Pitts' production be what is was Sunday after a 163-yard receiving day against Miami in Week 7. Since then, Pitts has accounted for 190 receiving yards in the last five games.
So, yes, I absolutely understand the frustration (here's looking at you fantasy players), but I think Smith would say there needs to be perspective in Pitts' recent play.
We all know that targets, catches and production usually come in bunches, or "flurries" (as Ryan has once said). But I feel as though there's an elephant in the room that I can't help but wonder about: How much would Calvin Ridley's presence mean for Pitts' production? Or, better yet, it doesn't even have to be Ridley's name there. How much would having a true No. 1 receiver mean for Pitts' production? I don't have the answer, and probably won't for a while. But a game like Sunday's does make me wonder…
But I am going off on a tangent. One that could probably be an entire story in and of itself. Essentially, at the end of the day, I just feel like the last three games haven't been the best showing from Falcons receiving targets by way of just sheer production. I think the Falcons need more, especially with Tampa, Carolina and San Fransisco on the schedule in December. And what constitutes as "more" you may ask? More separation. More consistency. More production... Just... More.