MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- New notebook alert! You didn't think I could make it through an entire season with one notebook did you? Well, the first of many notebooks has officially filled up following the Falcons 30-28 win in Miami.
It's seen quite the start to the 2021 season truth be told. There was the opening loss to the Eagles, and the fourth quarter misstep against Washington. But this notebook has also seen the emergence of Kyle Pitts, and a three-game win streak over the Giants, Jets and now Dolphins. The Falcons are right at .500 heading into a home contest with Carolina in a week's time. Honestly, this is pretty much where the Falcons want to be at this point.
But before we officially retire the first of many notebooks, let's recap the Falcons win in Miami. And let's start with the man who sealed the win... Younghoe Koo.
Oh, Koo's got this
I wrote this as Arthur Smith sent out Koo for the game-winning 31-yard field goal (a field goal that ended up being from 36 yards out because of a false start penalty but I digress). Koo sent the kick through the uprights with relative ease. It's something we've seen him do time and time again in recent years.
There's a certain ease and confidence players, coaches and fans have with Koo. And as a place kicker in this league, if you can run out there with the game on the line and majority of those watching feel at ease with you doing so? That's the reputation you want.
After the game, Smith was asked about that moment, and I thought his account of it was absolutely telling of the confidence he has in his kicker.
"My heart rate felt pretty normal like it did if I was calling a play in the second quarter," Smith said, "because he's been clutch."
Matt Ryan also noted that same confidence in Koo, saying he's been lucky throughout his career to play with kickers that he relies on to do their job. He said there's a trust there, that if the quarterback can get the ball down the field, he knows he has a kicker who can finish the game out for him.
"I think that helps knowing that you have a guy that's reliable to go out there and put it through the pipes," Ryan said, and he noted Koo is very much on that list of guys he trusts to do so.
Here's the thing: The longer I've covered the Falcons the more I've felt like the people who don't want Ryan in Atlanta are a vocal minority. If you know football at all, you know how much of an asset Ryan is under center. And I think the majority of Falcons fans feel that way. They perhaps don't always say so, because after all, if you're leaving a restaurant review you're more likely to take the time to leave a negative one than a positive one. Same goes for those who appreciate the quarterback Ryan is vs. those who don't. But I'm going off on a tangent...
Yes, there was that fumble in the fourth quarter that we all could have done without (obviously no one would want that moment back more than Ryan himself), but it's what happened before and after the fumble that is the marker of who Ryan is. After a lackluster opening drive, Ryan strung productive possessions together through the first half and into the second.
Then, there was the fumble and Miami's emergence back into the game. But something that may have been overlooked is Ryan's ability to overlook the fumble and to go out in the final two minutes and lead the charge down the field. He hit Pitts for two big gains in back-to-back plays. He got the offense moving, and set up Koo in the exact spot he needed to be in to win the game. Ryan finished the day with over 300 passing yards and two touchdowns, and while that's what a stat line you want from Ryan, it's his command of the offense that means the most in the Falcons win.
"He's a special player," Smith said. "I personally think he's criminally underrated if you look at his career here in the National Football League."
I had a feeling coming into the game that Dante Folwer's presence would be missed. I just didn't know how much.
Even though he doesn't have the stat line other outside linebackers in the league do, he still meant a lot to the Falcons pass rush. But now that he's on IR with a knee injury the Falcons will be without him for at the very least two more games as the rule is players have to miss three games after being placed on IR.
The Falcons lack of pass rush against a Dolphins offensive line that left something to be desired (especially when they're working through key injuries) was disappointing. Grady Jarrett did some good things for the Falcons, as he normally does, but that was pretty much it.
At times, it felt like Tua Tagovailoa had way too much time in the pocket. He finished the day completing 32 passes out of 40 attempts, and though he did throw two interceptions, he kept the Miami offense moving and in the game.
Affecting the passer has been a storyline of this defense through two seasons. With Fowler out, the Falcons have to find a way to generate more pressure. And it can't solely be on Jarrett's shoulders to do so. He's going to get doubled. Teams are going to be aware of what he can do (ask any offensive coordinator preparing to face the Falcons defense, they know where No. 97 is at all times). This responsibility falls to Steven Means, Brandon Copeland, Ade Ogundeji and now that he's healthy again, Marlon Davidson. For the Falcons to consistently affect a quarterback, these are the names we need to see show up on game day.
I'm going to need to AJ Terrell to be OK
Here's the thing about Terrell. He is quietly having one heck of a season. He doesn't show up very often in the post game stats but make no mistake about it: Terrell is a menace for opposing quarterbacks. So much so they simply refuse to throw his way. That's why you don't hear his name called very often. That's why he doesn't show up in post game notes very often. But Terrell is a cornerstone of this defense arguably as much as Jarrett is.
Without Terrell, the Falcons secondary takes a major hit. Though they held their own well against the Giants when Terrell had to miss the game because of a concussion, it was still obvious he wasn't on the field. The same could be said when he had to leave Sunday's game with a neck injury. He did not return, and the Falcons missed his presence.
There's little known about the extent of Terrell's injury. It's something we'll have to monitor throughout the week. You hope it's just a tweak and he's back practicing after a couple days of rest, but neck injuries are tricky. And after already suffering a concussion earlier this year, the Falcons may have to keep a closer eye on Terrell during his recovery.
This Atlanta secondary is thinning out. With Avery Williams already out with a hamstring injury, and then Erik Harris going down with a shoulder injury on Sunday, the Falcons had to rely heavily on their depth pieces to keep them in the game. The continued evaluation of these individual's health statuses will be vital to keep in mind this week as the Falcons look ahead to Carolina.
And if you're a Falcons fan, you hope you see Terrell back out on the field on Sunday.
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
Break down the hottest topics surrounding the Atlanta Falcons and how they can impact the team's success with Atlanta Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Kris Rhim. Like and subscribe to join us for the lively debate on Falcons Final Whistle.
Welcome to Falcons Final Whistle – an Atlanta Falcons football postgame podcast during the season that shifts gears in the offseason to answer a pressing question about the team's future each week through free agency, the NFL Draft and the offseason program.