EAST RUTHERFORD — After Kyle Pitts wrapped up his junior season at Florida and declared for the draft, scouts deemed him a can't miss prospect. His large six-foot-six 245-pound frame and 4.4 speed made him a matchup nightmare for defenses.
So when the Falcons took him at No.4 overall, it was expected that Pitts would quickly show those skills on the NFL stage.
But in Sunday's game against the New York Giants, Pitts was not a factor for more than half of the game. When the fourth quarter began, Pitts had zero targets. Even Lee Smith, typically a blocking tight end, had more targets than Pitts. Smith had three catches and a touchdown — he has had four receptions each of the last two seasons.
Arthur Smith said post-game that the plan is always to get their best players the ball but that the Giants defense had a great game plan that hindered the Falcons from getting Pitts touches early. Smith admitted that he could have called a designed screen or other plays that could have forced the ball to Pitts but that did not fit into how they were playing.
"Yeah, we want to get Kyle the ball, but give Patrick Graham and the Giants defense credit," Smith said. "We chipped away, and we chipped away, and he came through at the end."
And came through might be an understatement. Pitts made plays in the fourth quarter that ultimately changed the course of the game. The Falcons likely would not have won the game without him.
On a third and eight with just over eleven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Pitts got his first reception of the afternoon. He took the pass ten yards for a first down. Even though he did not get any targets before the fourth quarter, Pitts did not get concerned and said that's the nature of football.
"It's something we practice all week, just competitive excellence," Pitts said. "Whenever your number is called, being able to make a play. So I just waited until the opportunity came my way and made something of it."
Matt Ryan said the Giants defense did a great job on Pitts and Calvin Ridley, at times sending two defenders at Ridley and having safety help in addition to a cornerback or linebacker on Pitts that made it challenging to get them the ball downfield.
"They had a nice plan to come out and keep things in front of them," Ryan said. "[They were] forcing us to check down and be patient,"
Six minutes after Pitts' first catch, on third and goal at the Giants six-yard line with the Falcons down 14-7, Matt Ryan threw a pass to Pitts as he ran across the end zone. Pitts did not catch the ball, but he drew a flag for pass interference on Giants defensive back Logan Ryan.
The flag gave the Falcons a new set of downs and moved them to the one-yard line. Smith caught a pass from Ryan two plays later, and Younghoe Koo added an extra point that tied the game up at 14.
"That was a crucial third-down conversion for us," Ryan said. "And then, he made a great play on the pass interference call, too. When you have a big-body guy like that, and there's off-schedule plays in the red area, you have confidence giving guys opportunities. That set us up to finish the drive off."
After a Giants punt, the Falcons got the ball with just under two minutes remaining. On second and eight, with a little over a minute remaining and the ball at the 50-yard-line, Pitts lost Giants defensive back Jabrill Peppers on a route to the sideline and caught a pass for a 25-yard gain.
The catch put the Falcons in field goal range, setting up the game-winning kick from Koo.
Still, it was no big deal for Pitts.
"It's just football," Pitts said. "I don't really let the environment or the situation make or break me."
Pitts finished the game with just two catches for 35 yards, but the stats do not reflect nearly the impact he had in his first NFL win.
"It was exciting," Pitts said. "As a player, it's a little harder to win in the NFL, so just every week you can't take anything for granted, so when we came out the win, it was very exciting."
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Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants during Week 3 of 2021.