ATLANTA – The Falcons had struggled to put together a consistent and effective rushing attack all season.
Through the first 12 weeks, Atlanta ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging just 85. Yet, In last week's win over the Jaguars, the Falcons rushing attack was the best it has been all season. The Falcons ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came from Cordarrelle Patterson, who had 108 yards rushing.
The game was a sign of what could be for the falcons running backs, who said head coach Arthur Smith had challenged them to play better.
Now the challenge for the running backs was to replicate that performance.
Sunday's Week 13 matchup was against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL's best-run defense, which came into the game allowing just 81 yards per game to opposing teams.
Still, in the Falcons 30-17 loss, the run game was a bright spot for an offense that has scored just one touchdown in three of the last four weeks. Patterson led the way with 78 yards, including a 39-yard run for the Falcons' longest this season. Mike Davis added 32 yards and a touchdown, his first since week five against the Jets.
But unlike last week, there was not much smiling about the running backs performance postgame, but disappointment after the Falcons playoff chances took another significant hit.
"We deserve to be where we at," Patterson admitted, "because we did it to ourselves honestly."
And Patterson might be right. Mistakes hurt the Falcons in this loss.
While Marlon Davidson secured a big interception before the end of the first half to bring the Falcons within three points going into halftime, there were other opportunities to make plays on defense that the Falcons did not take advantage of. Like Duron Harmon's dropped interception, that coach Arthur Smith pointed to postgame, or Russell Gage’s fumble after converting a critical third down in the third quarter.
But Patterson was mainly talking about himself.
Late in the game, he fumbled the ball on a toss play to the right side of the field. He recovered it, but the brief second it took to recover the fumble caused the running lane to shrink.
Patterson pointed to that play and admitted that there were others where the offensive line cleared a lane for him, but he cut too wide or did not hit the hole quick enough, resulting in fewer yards than he could have gained.
And he thinks his mistakes, along with the rest of the team's, may have come from the Falcons being too comfortable.
"You know, we just thought [we] was good," Patterson said. "We're playing the number one team in the NFL. You got to be ready for everything they're gonna do."
Still, Patterson knows that the Falcons can correct those mistakes, and they will have to if they want to continue to have a shot at the playoffs. So in the locker room, he says he is making it clear to teammates that they are still right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
"This s_ is still right in front of us, honestly," Patterson said on his message to the locker room. "We still got five games to go… We're gonna put up or shut up, and we got five games to prove that."
And while the loss was tough, Patterson, Davis, and other Falcons running backs feel encouraged by how they are running the football.
"We just keep running the ball like we've been doing, and we'll be alright," Paterson said.
"Games like today we was able to run the ball, last week we was able to run the ball," Davis added. "It just builds his confidence."
Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast
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