Skip to main content

Inside Tori's Notebook: Why you should care about "the middle eight" in Falcons loss to Commanders, too

Perhaps we're not talking about a failed 2-point conversion in the aftermath of a 24-16 loss if the Falcons produced more in the final minutes of the first half and the first minutes of the second. 

Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori McElhaney re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened and why it's notable.


PONDERING WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN -- Before the failed 2-point conversion...

Before the fourth-quarter procedural issues...

Before the moments that everyone was talking about in the aftermath of the Falcons 24-16 loss to the Washington Commanders Sunday...

There was a series of plays that I have bracketed in my notebook. It's a series of plays that I felt compelled to go back and look at. The moments came in the final four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of third quarter -- the middle eight, if you will.

If you've been around the game you've heard this phrase before. Heck, if you've listened to some of Desmond Ridder's press conferences this year, you've heard it there, too. The Falcons want to perform well in situational football moments (this is said time and time again by head coach Arthur Smith). So, it goes without saying that the Falcons want to perform well in the middle eight, too (this being something Ridder has said on a few occasions).

So, when the middle eight failed to produce much-needed points, I made note of it.

Look, we can talk about the fourth-quarter issues all day long, and we have. It's all I wrote about postgame. It's nearly all we talked about postgame. It's definitely all anyone wanted to talk about postgame. And I get it. Rest assured that Smith and the rest of the Falcons will absolutely be asked about those fourth-quarter issues Monday, and likely throughout the week, too, as they work to fix this new problem.

However, it's because of these fourth-quarter breakdowns in cleanliness and communication that the middle eight will get lost. For the remainder of the article, I am going to try to convince you why you should care about these eight minutes of play in the middle of the game.

Offensive huddle during the fourth quarter of the Week 6 Game against the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

The Falcons had the ball and were driving as we hit the 4-minute mark in the second quarter. With the Commanders up 17-7, the Falcons needed points on the board to feel good about itself going into halftime. The first two minutes saw Ridder connect on big third-down completions to Kyle Pitts (19 yards) and Bijan Robinson (22 yards). At the 2-minute warning, the Falcons were just outside the red zone. Then, things started to break apart.

Trying to escape pressure, Ridder threw the ball away to save a sack. However, he didn't throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. The flag was thrown for intentional grounding and the mark off was a loss of 16 yards. Second-and-26 from midfield feels quite a bit different than first-and-10 from the Washington 26. On the next two plays, Ridder went to Drake London twice for a 2-yard gain and an 11-yard gain. Following a Washington timeout to stop the clock at 1:36, the Falcons sent out Younghoe Koo for a 47-yard field goal. He made it, so the Falcons were down 17-10.

Not the end of the world, especially if the defense could find a way to give the offense the ball back. And yep, they did. (They did so in historic fashion, too. This was the defensive sequence that saw Calais Campbell notch his 100th career sack).

So, here the offense was again, with another chance. They had just under a minute to go in the half. They had solid field position just inside the Washington territory. At the bare minimum a field goal would do, cutting the Commanders' lead to four points. What transpired was an offensive series off-kilter from the beginning.

Jake Matthews was flagged for a false start, so the Falcons backed up five yards on first down. After a 4-yard completion to Jonnu Smith, Ridder threw back-to-back incompletions. The first one went to London with two defenders closing in on him as he cut towards the sideline. The second was intended for Scotty Miller and was nearly picked off by the defender who positioned himself ahead of Miller on the route. After just 26 seconds, the Falcons lost possession, and two plays later the teams were heading into the locker room with a score of 17-10.

But again, it's not the end of the world, right? The Falcons won the toss. They deferred to the second half so, even down a touchdown, they get the ball first coming out with a chance to tie this thing up. So, no, the last drive of the second quarter wasn't what they wanted, but they have a chance to redeem themselves... Right?

Well, what transpired when the Falcons and Commanders emerged from the locker room wasn't redemption.

Starting their first drive of the second half on their own 25-yard line, Ridder hit London on second down for a 17-yard grab. A nice throw and catch by the duo. Then, things stalled quickly. With very little room to run as the Commanders clogged the rush lanes, Robinson picked up three yards on first down and Cordarrelle Patterson had a run for no gain. With third-and-7 from their own 45-yard line, Ridder tried to hit Van Jefferson for the first down. Instead, the pass was intercepted.

(Without knowing the play call, something you can't tell when watching the play is who's fault it is. Did Ridder miss and throw the ball too far behind Jefferson, not leading Jefferson with the throw? Or was Jefferson supposed to get to the top of his route and turn back to Ridder instead of cutting to the sideline? I guess it's a moot point, but still I wonder).

After a 23-yard return, Washington had their second-best field position of the day to start a drive. At the Atlanta 27-yard line, it took two plays for the Commanders to extend their lead to 24-10.

Have we reached end of the world territory? No, but considering the next Atlanta drive ended in an 11-yard sack of Ridder, no one felt good about the situation.

I point all of that out to say this: These moments are what get you to the fourth quarter woes.

Instead of being down by 14 points, if the Falcons capitalize on any opportunity in the middle eight minutes of the game, you feel differently about this game as a whole. It looks different.

The Falcons score before the half? You're probably tied. If it's another field goal? You're at least down by four. You get the ball coming out of the half and you score again? You probably have the lead.

The Falcons defense has played its best football in the third and fourth quarters this year. If the Falcons are playing with a lead, that's a tough situation for an opposing offense. Outside of that third-quarter touchdown, the Atlanta defense never surrendered any points from the Commanders offense for the rest of the afternoon. Does this happen if the Falcons are playing with a lead versus playing from behind? Who knows, but it's worth it to point out.

At the end of the day, if the Falcons produce anything beyond a field goal, a 26-second drive and an interception in the "middle eight," perhaps we're not talking about a failed 2-point conversion today. Perhaps we're not talking about procedural issues or miscommunications, either. Perhaps we're talking about a win.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders during Week 6.

Related Content