Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori 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. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.
BACK TO ATLANTA -- Anyone else's mood match the dreariness of the weather? After the Falcons 25-15 loss to Carolina on Thursday Night Football maybe it should. Mine kinda does.
From start to finish, this game felt off offensively. This shift in feeling isn't just something I feel the need to point out, it's something players actually felt in the early minutes of the would-be loss, too.
"You could just tell that something wasn't right," Chris Lindstrom said, "something wasn't clicking."
No one could really put their finger on exactly why, either. Sure, Carolina was loading the box more defensively, but Arthur Smith said it wasn't too unlike what every other team has tried to do against Atlanta now that everyone knows the Falcons intent to run the ball.
It also wasn't that the offense was without chances. Of the Panthers 11 total drives, the Falcons defense kept them out of the end zone in all but two of said drives, while four drives resulted in a three-and-out.
Even in saying all of this, there's still so much to unpack from this game. So, let's attempt to do so. And we'll start with the topic every one is talking about.
The Ridder Ruckus is louder than ever
The Ridder Ruckus, which I lovingly tagged at the beginning of the season, is the contingency of the Falcons fanbase that 1) does not see Marcus Mariota as fit be the starting quarterback in Atlanta and 2) thinks Desmond Ridder is.
The Ridder Ruckus flares up every now and again. However, 10 weeks into the season and it has never been as loud as it was during and after the Falcons Thursday Night Football appearance.
And look, I get it. But I also get why Smith never thought to put Ridder in for Mariota. Here's the reasoning, as I see it:
- You're coming off a short week of prep.
- Mariota has seen this defense before and actually had one of his highest completion percentages against them the last time the two teams met.
- The weather. It was gross.
- Your offense isn't clicking, your offensive line isn't protecting and your run game isn't as productive as it normally is.
- Ridder hasn't been working with the first-team offense - at all - during the open practice periods this season.
It's all of these things combined (plus ones I am sure we don't even know about) being the ultimate reasons why when Smith was asked if he ever thought of putting Ridder in on Thursday night, he responded with a quick and resounding: "No."
In the defense of the Ridder Ruckus, though, I do think I want to see Ridder operate this offense at some point this season. I want to see what the Falcons have in the rookie quarterback. However, I did not want to see him in last night's game for the reasons listed above.
When I see Ridder, I want to see him on a full week's prep with the first-team offense. I want to see him after he's led the starting offense through multiple practices, not after he's been running the scout team for 10 weeks.
Do you get a good evaluation of Ridder by throwing him into what Thursday night's game was? I don't think you do.
I say all of this to finish with this: I hear you, and I understand you, Ridder Rucketeers. But the situation Ridder enters into is one to really think through and plan for. It's not one to be thrown about in the pouring rain in Charlotte. Give Ridder the best opportunity to perform at his best. Don't feed him to the lions, or in this case, the Panthers.
And let's be honest, too: If Mariota did lead a comeback (which the Falcons were a touchdown from doing in the fourth quarter), the ruckus slightly lowers in volume. But that didn't happen, so here we are.
That swing hurt the most. Period.
Let me lay it out for you: It's the early minutes of the second quarter, and Carolina is driving.
They have a 3-0 lead and they just ran the ball five straight times to cross midfield. But then the Falcons defense pinned their ears back and Lorenzo Carter dropped D'Onta Foreman for a loss of two, Carolina is called for a false start and then on third down Dee Alford, Arnold Ebiketie and Ta'Quon Graham swallow P.J. Walker on a sack for a loss of seven. The sack puts the Panthers out of field goal range, so they punt.
It was a big win for the Falcons - this 15-play, nine-minute drive that ended with no points being scored by Carolina. It was also demoralizing for the Panthers. It was a chance for the Falcons to stake their claim on the game. Even backed up on their own three yard line, it felt like a long, productive drive that ended with a touchdown would shift this game entirely.
That didn't happen, though.
What did happen was the swing in the game that I felt encapsulated the loss.
After taking control of possession, the Falcons handed the ball off to Tyler Allgeier three times in a row. Despite the runs, Atlanta couldn't convert a first down. So, about two minutes after getting the ball back, Atlanta was punting.
The next four-play swing was one in which I couldn't shake upon review.
On the Atlanta 43-yard line, Carolina took two plays and 52 seconds to get in the end zone. With four minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the half, Carolina extended its lead to 10-0. But it's not all bad! Atlanta gets the ball back with plenty of time. If the Falcons can produce a solid, touchdown-earning, four-minute drive, they'll be fine, right?
Instead, Atlanta had a two-play drive of their own. Only unlike the Panthers, the Falcons' drive ended not with a touchdown but with a turnover, an interception that set Carolina up for a 49-yard field goal to extend their lead further to 13-0.
It was this swing that I couldn't get out of my head even as we returned to Atlanta. It's this swing that stung.
Something about D'Onta
I think it may surprise some people to know that the Falcons defense had a top-10, run-stopping defense heading into Thursday night's game. The problem for the Falcons in recent weeks has not necessarily been stopping the run. Opponents have averaged just over 100 rushing yards a game against the Falcons this year, which was good enough for No. 8 in the league.
However, there's just something about Foreman and the Panthers run game that continued to be a thorn in the Falcons side in 2022.
The last time these two teams faced each other 12 days ago, Foreman ran for 118 yards with a 4.5 yards per carry average. He scored three rushing touchdowns in the Falcons win.
This time around he was just as good, accumulating 130 rushing yards with a 4.2 yards per carry average. Carolina as a team, though, was even better. Between Foreman, Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear the Panthers topped out at 232 total rushing yards on Thursday night.
So, yeah, the Panthers were very effective when running the ball. However, it wasn't the end-all, be-all for the Falcons defense. I said in the lede that the Falcons defense gave the offense chances in the loss and I stand with that.
I wasn't particularly displeased with the Falcons defense, and I say that even seeing that they gave up over 200 rushing yards on Thursday night. I also say that knowing the Falcons had not two but three chances to get their hands on a P.J. Walker pass. (Though, I'd also argue the Panthers had a few chances to bring down a Mariota ball, as well, but I digress).
It wasn't a perfect defensive performance but it was enough to not only keep Atlanta competitive but give the offense a few chances and opportunities to change the game.
Stop the bleeding
Big picture, the Falcons are one made field goal away from their last four games going down as losses. The last four games have felt like a far cry from the team that beat Seattle in Week 3, or out-ran the Browns a week later, or went on to play as well as they did against the 49ers in Week 6.
The last four weeks of the season have felt like a slide for Atlanta. Even beating Carolina at home in overtime 12 days ago was a game in which the Falcons knew they had to be better, as it was a game that took two game-winning field goal misses by the Panthers to ultimately win.
Even with a mini-bye commencing, the Falcons have to get back to work.
Smith talks all the time about being objective in order to evolve. Well, in the last four weeks they've shown a need to evolve in order to win. It's now up to players and coaches to see that evolution through. Either that, or they need to find a way to return to their brand of football (which is something Scott Bair wrote about late on Thursday night and into Friday morning).
Regardless, with the mini-bye commencing, the Falcons have two options: Stay where they are or evolve to get back to where they want to be.
They're 4-6 right now, having lost three of those six in the last four weeks. They need a jolt, but where exactly will that jolt come from? I don't know. Hopefully the next time I sit down to go through my notebook, I'll have found it.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers during Week 10.