Skip to main content

Inside the Falcons game-winning drive, and why it built much-needed trust between units 

For the Falcons offense, setting up a game-winning field goal meant a lot to them by way of showing the defense that they, too, have their back. 

ATLANTA -- After the Falcons 23-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London in Week 4 of the 2023 season, head coach Arthur Smith was asked how he evaluates defensive morale to that point. At 2-2, even in wins, a notorious Falcons storyline involved the defense consistently creating opportunities for the offense to put points on the board, only for the offense to not hold up their end of the bargain.

In response to the question, Smith agreed that yes, there is a level of frustration in the loss considering the offense had scored one touchdown in two weeks. However, he didn't think this would cause a splinter between units.

"I think internally, yeah, everybody will be frustrated after a loss," Smith said. "When you have the right guys and the right minds, they're going to understand. ... If you have the wrong guys, it's easy to splinter and ride the rollercoaster. We got the right guys in there and we know we got to get back to work and jump start and get this thing rolling, get back on the winning track."

The defense -- at that point -- was propping up the offense, not only keeping the Falcons alive, but with a chance to win in some cases. Smith said that won't always be the case, though, and at some point things could flip. That flip happened in the final minutes of the Falcons 21-19 win against the Houston Texans Sunday.

Through 95% of the game, the Falcons defense was the support that kept Atlanta alive.

They caused four three-and-outs. The Texans were 4-for-13 on third down. They averaged 2.8 yards per carry. They were 1-for-3 in the red zone, and 0-for-1 with goal to go. For the fifth time this season (and the Falcons have only played five games), the defense held an opposing offense to 24 points or less, and this was a Texans team that had outscored their last two opponents 67-23.

Time and time again, the unit showed up in much of the same way it had in every game in this season. However, there was a sliver of the game when a crack in armor was exploited.

After the Falcons took the 18-12 lead, the Texans got the ball back with just under seven minutes to go in the game. Driving down from their own 25-yard line, C.J. Stroud and Co. showed the offensive prowess of the last couple weeks. As the Texans crossed over into the red area, it looked like the Falcons defense was going to hold firm. However, on third-and-9, Stroud found tight end Dalton Schultz in the endzone for the go-ahead touchdown.

With 1:49 on the clock, the Falcons offense got the ball back, down by one at 19-18. It was a make-or-break drive for the Falcons for a lot of reasons. For starters, it was (obviously) going to win or lose the game. It was also the first true two-minute, come-back drive of Desmond Ridder's career to this point.

But more than that, it was a moment this entire team needed for morale's sake.

Trust, as we know, goes both ways. Through four games this year, the Falcons offense has been in the position of trusting the defense to get off the field and give the ball back to the offense. They have proven they can get the job done, even when things aren't perfect. But can the defense say this about the offense? Not in the last two weeks it couldn't. So, when the ball was back in Falcons' possession with 1:49 on the clock, the drive that followed would either win trust or lose it.


The defense has been the heavy-lifter this season. They needed to know the offense could take the load off them in this intense pressure moment as the Falcons work back over a .500 record. Nine plays later, trust was established as the Falcons offense marched down the field to set up a 37-yard, game-winning field goal by Younghoe Koo.

This drive meant a lot to the offense by way of trust building.

"This is a team game, not just a game of 11, but a game of 53," Ridder said postgame. "... I was telling guys on the sideline, 'Every single guy needs to do their job.'"

And as Ridder hit Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts in that final drive, that's what was happening.

"This game," Ridder said, "felt like more of a true team win."

The offense isn't naive to the fact they have struggled at times this season to hold up their end of the game-day bargain of scoring points. They have lacked in being able to consistently award defensive stands with offensive answers. That's why this lone drive meant so much to the unit as they reflected on it. It went beyond the win.

"I feel like as an offense we've been letting (the defense) down in a sense," London said. "To go out there and have their backs this time was big for us."

Robinson agreed.

"I appreciate the defense so much," the rookie running back said, "because some of those drives, when we get a three-and-out or something happens, they're always there to stop the (opposing) offense. Every time they come to the sideline, I just give them all a hug because I want them to know how much I appreciate them, how much we all do.

"I mean, it takes both. It takes offense and defense to win games."

Special teams, too, Robinson (and Ridder) added. Because even though the offense would have loved to put up six points with a touchdown to cap off the drive, they'll take the three from Koo -- and the win -- any day.

Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo #6 scores the game-winning field goal during the Week 5 Game against the Houston Texans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, October 8, 2023. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Atlanta Falcons)

When Ridder put his helmet on and jogged onto field for the Falcons' game-winning drive, he had two thoughts running through his head: 1) 1:49 is an eternity in this league, and 2) just do what needs to be done.

"I'm thinking, 'Go win the game,'" he said.

In that moment, something else that was needed was trust.

When the game ended, that drive showed this Falcons defense that they can rely on this offense to do what Ridder was thinking: Go win the game.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Houston Texans during Week 5.

Related Content