DETROIT -- It was the moment everyone was talking about: Desmond Ridder took a direct snap on fourth and nine in the final two minutes of the Falcons 27-23 preseason win in Detroit. From the 21 yard line, Ridder stepped back into the pocket, scrambled a bit towards the Falcons sideline and then tossed the ball up to Jared Bernhardt in the endzone. In one-on-one coverage, Bernhardt tracked the ball, went back to it and came down with the catch for a touchdown. It's the play that sealed the win for the Falcons in their first preseason game of the 2022 season.
However, while everyone was talking about Ridder and Bernhardt on that play (as they should), go back and watch it again. Chances are that the first time around you may have missed something important that - I believe - embodies this 2022 Falcons roster.
Upon the snap, Detroit sent their middle linebacker on a blitz. Without hesitation, Tyler Allgeier stepped up to take the charging linebacker head on. He created enough time and space for Ridder to get the ball out.
"I was so hyped when I saw that we scored," Allgeier said afterwards. "I didn't score there, but I wanted to do my part."
In that moment, he did do his part, and one could argue it changed the outcome of the game itself.
Looking back, there was a level of physicality in that moment that I couldn't overlook. And as I thought of the physicality of that moment, I then began thinking about a few other moments that stuck out to me, too. As the plays and my thoughts swirled together in my consciousness, I decided every moment I thought of had the same underlying theme in physicality.
I thought about Marcus Mariota's first offensive drive as a Falcon. It was a drive that saw him lay his body on the line a couple times, even diving towards the endzone for the Falcons first touchdown of the night.
I thought of Ridder's runs: His six keepers that accumulated nearly 60 yards. Sprinkle in a few defensive plays, too: Like Dee Alford interception and Timothy Horne's heads up fumble recovery that he pushed through the line of scrimmage to get to.
There was a physical tone set from the beginning that - when the game was over - I felt compelled to write about.
You see, there's a lot still yet to learn about this 2022 Falcons team, to be sure. However, I feel confident in saying that I learned quite a bit about who this team wants to be during the first preseason game. Is it too much to say that this group will be physical at every turn of the 2022 season? After Friday's win, perhaps not.
It may not always be pretty. Heck, it may not even be what separates a win from a loss in the regular season, but it's something that feels like a marker, and a maker, of this team.
"I think that's kind of a part of who we are," Mariota said after the game. "I really believe that's the mindset."
When asked about the physicality he saw this team play with, Ridder answered by noting this was something Smith - himself - called this team to be before the game even began.
"Detroit is a tough, gritty city, and we know that's what Coach (Dan) Campbell prides the Lions on is being tough and being physical," Ridder explained. "The pre-game speech at the hotel, (Smith) told us that. He told us we're going to have to come out here and out-physical them, because that is what they pride themselves on."
Truth be told, that's exactly what they did... and they did so in a preseason game, a time in which many would shy away from physicality.
Smith joked after the game that no one is handing out hats and t-shirts for winning a preseason game, but you do like to see the competitiveness that the game itself requires, which in and of itself is physical competitiveness. For the last two weeks of training camp, we haven't seen this physicality. No one is tackling in practice. No one is even really going full speed. On Friday, we saw what the Falcons look like when they are.
What was surprising - if not humorous even - was Smith using the example of Mariota's physical running style after the game to home in on this point. It's not all together common for a starting quarterback to welcome contact when he scrambles in a preseason game. Every time Mariota tucked the ball and ran, he never shied away from the contact.
"He can't help himself," Smith said. "We have a lot of guys like that."
Those are the type of players you crave as a coach.
"You want to have guys that you've got to pull back," Smith said, "not the guys you have to push to make go."
Even through one preseason game, it feels like that's the team Smith has: A collection of guys he may have to rein in from time to time.
And if that's who they are? So be it. It's better than the alternative.
"We have plenty of things we've got to clean up, but these guys kept fighting no matter what group was in there," Smith said, "and that's what you wanted to see."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions in the first preseason game of 2022.
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