My favorite writing exercise of the regular season has returned!
For those who don't know what "Inside Tori's Notebook" is, here's a quick crash course: When I first began covering football full-time in 2017 I started carrying a notebook around with me everywhere. It contained all of my general wanderings, amusements, questions and notes. It's changed colors and sizes over the years, but this is season has brought forth a completely different look as my notebook is a Microsoft Surface.
In the early days of the job, I began going back through my notebook on Monday mornings, somewhat laughing to myself at what I was thinking as I wrote notes down in the margins.
Then, I saw value in what my in-game notes foretold. Writing out my thoughts was my way to process externally what I was seeing. So, a few years ago I started writing those notes out and publishing them for all of you, highlighting my thoughts and the moments of the game I found important. I did so because - honestly - I thought you all could relate.
You've probably read a few different postgame notebooks before from journalists and analysts alike. One thing I'll say about this one is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. What began as a writing exercise turned into one of my favorite ongoing series of the year. And we're bringing it back today, the day after the Falcons 27-26 loss to the Saints to open the 2022 regular season.
I have thoughts. A lot of them. I'm sure you do, too. So, without further ado, let's get into it.
As a journalist, part of the job that no one ever really talks about is that you have to go into every game day being content in the fact that some of your best work will never see the light of day. That's the case with every note I made from the first quarter to the third. I could go through and note them all for you: How pleased I was with the way the offense was operating, how surprised I was when I saw Tyler Allgeier was inactive, how taken aback I was when the Falcons defense sacked Jameis Winston not once... not twice... but four times after having 17 total sacks in all of 2021. This list goes on...
I was going to give you poetry (POETRY I TELL YOU!) after the game if the first three quarters of play held. Truly I was. But you're never going to see that because 1) I highly doubt you want to, the sting it still fresh and 2) What does any of it matter if there was no finish?
That's a thought I pondered in the last 12-14 hours since we saw the Saints mount a fourth quarter, 17-point comeback. Does the first three quarters of what we saw matter if the Falcons lost? At first, I thought no, it doesn't. But the more I thought about it the more I felt like it has to matter.
For the sake of the fan base and the future of the organization at large, it has to matter that we actively saw a different team on Sunday. Yes, the outcome felt way too similar and we can't have the first three quarters without the final one, but the same goes the other way, too. We can't take the final quarter without the first three.
After the game I asked Marcus Mariota how you go into a Monday breaking down this game: Do you separate it in your mind to ease the sting of the fourth quarter? Or do you look at the entirety? He said - without hesitation - that it's the latter.
"I take it as a whole because I do think there was missed opportunities throughout the entire course of the game. And it's part of week one, right? You kind of iron some things out," Mariota said. "This is the full first game that we got to play together. With that being said, I'm not going to look at it specifically, you know, one quarter or another. I really believe if you look at it as a whole, there's ways that we can improve and find ways to score more points and hopefully win the game."
I wrote, "Scratch that," when New Orleans began the fourth quarter with a four-play, touchdown-scoring drive. But I ended up not scratching anything out at all, because a game is four quarters, not one... even if that one is the story.
This offense isn't one-dimensional any longer
I wrote this about halfway through the second quarter, and it is something that I will hold onto for a while after this game. To me, this 2022 offense doesn't operate anywhere close to the way previous Falcons offenses have operated. It's completely different.
Of course, we all knew it would look different coming in. With Mariota under center and not Matt Ryan, the offense was going to operate within a different wrinkle. Smith was going to be able to open up the playbook in a way he couldn't before. And what we saw was an offense that showed a lot of different looks, pre-snap motions and - of course - RPOs.
After the game, Mariota was asked about the offensive performance and if this is what people can expect this offense to look like. It was almost serendipitous that Mariota used the same terminology I did two quarters earlier to describe what he saw.
"We're not one-dimensional," Mariota said. "We can kind of do a lot of things, and we've got a bunch of guys that are very versatile."
For too long, the Falcons offense was one-dimensional. Look back at some of Ryan's press conferences over the years. A key phrase he used time and time again after a loss was that the Falcons offense became too one-dimensional. That answer wasn't an excuse, either, because it was true.
To me, this loss to the Saints showed a Falcons offense that can no longer say it's one-dimensional. It's not. Does that change the outcome of the game? No. But it is something I felt like I learned about this team that I didn't know before.
Drake London's injury worse than I thought?
In full transparency, I actually wrote this question down in the locker room postgame, not during the game itself. It was when we were talking to London for the first time since before the preseason game in Detroit. He was - of course - asked about the knee injury. And I'll be honest, his candid responses surprised me.
London was asked: If the knee injury he sustained in Detroit would have happened in the regular season instead of the preseason could he have played sooner? He said: "To be honest, I don't think so."
Later he was asked what the last three weeks of working back looked like. He said: "Trying to be able to run. That's pretty much it."
I assumed the Falcons were just holding London back because it was the preseason. I assumed his injury wasn't significant, and that the Falcons were just taking a precaution. London's answers made me feel like my assumptions were flat out wrong, and that this injury was way more significant than I thought. It took a lot for London to get back for Week 1.
And even after missing almost three weeks of practice, London still went out there against the Saints and racked up 74 receiving yards with a near-15 yards per catch average. Not too shabby for someone who - up until this week - was not 100 percent.
This is - without question - the best atmosphere I've ever seen at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
I have been covering the Falcons since 2020 and Sunday's game was the best environment I have ever seen while covering a Falcons game. Granted, the 2020 season doesn't technically count considering fans weren't allowed in the stadiums, but still. My comment stands.
Fans were engaged, loud and excited. The players - particularly the defense - fed off the energy. It was - in a word - electric.
After the game, I called my sister, who came to the game with her boyfriend. It was her first NFL game, and the first words out of her mouth to me were: "Tori, it was so loud." That's something I don't know if I can say Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been at a Falcons game in a while because of COVID-19 protocols the last two years, and the losses at home last year. The atmosphere on Sunday was everything the Falcons want - and need - Mercedes-Benz Stadium to be on game days.
After the game, I thought Grady Jarrett agreed, and summed it up perfectly.
"We had the stadium rocking," he said. "It's probably one of the most - if not the most - excited I've seen the team. Just making some big plays on offense and defense and the fans just giving us everything they got."
"It was a beautiful scene today. And you know what, we want to make these fans proud and come out and respond from this loss ... I mean it was just an amazing scene. I just don't want it to go to waste, you know. Because that's what we can be, man. We just have to finish the game."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints in the first game of 2022.