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.
This 2022 Falcons team is a lot of things, but I feel confident in saying at their core they're a team that doesn't quit. There are issues, yes, but even in said issues of the last two games, they've been - arguably - a play away from winning. Heck, five points separate the Falcons from being 2-0 right now.
As Arthur Smith has said time and time again, the Falcons aren't a team that is going to roll over.
I think you saw that mentality a lot in the final moments of Sunday's loss to the Rams, but none more prominently in my mind than when Darren Hall forced a Cooper Kupp fumble in the fourth quarter. It was third down, and the Rams converted. That should have been the nail in the proverbial coffin for the Falcons in the final quarter, but it wasn't. Hall could have let that play be the end of it, but he didn't. He punched the ball out and gave the Falcons offense a chance to take the lead. It was a quintessential moment that - I think - best describes this team in 2022. It's not perfect, but they don't quit.
I'll say this, too, even in these two losses, the Falcons are playing competitively. They could have - maybe should have - beat both the Saints and the Rams. Is that something anyone would have said two weeks ago? Probably not.
But as we all already know, they didn't beat either team and there are no moral victories in this league. They're 0-2 heading into a week-long trip to Seattle, but before we turn the page, let's take one final look at the 31-27 loss to the Rams.
This team is still in this game?
I'm going to be honest, I was ready to pull the rip cord when the score got to 31-10. I was ready to pull starters. I was ready to see Desmond Ridder come in for Marcus Mariota. "Why not?" I thought at the time. The score's out of hand at this point. The Falcons couldn't get into the endzone until the final minutes of the third quarter. This one's over.
Then, the Falcons made me eat my words. They quickly started chipping away at the Rams lead, and by the time the final minutes of the fourth quarter came, they were in the game once again. And there I was, questioning how they got there so quickly and what would have happened had this rejuvenation happened sooner.
It was a complete 180 from what we saw of the Falcons the week before: Playing three solid quarters against the Saints only to fall short in the fourth. That was flipped on its head with the Falcons playing not-so-well in the first three quarters only to come roaring back in the fourth.
What happens if the Falcons play four complete quarters? I'd argue we're having a very different conversation on this fine Monday afternoon.
I'm not worried about Kyle Pitts or A.J. Terrell, yet.
I get it. Trust me, I get it why people are so worried about the first two games performance and production (or lack there of) by Pitts and Terrell. Yes, Pitts' lack of targets against the Rams was a shock to the system. And yes, the touchdowns scored with Terrell in coverage are surprising. However, I am not ready to write them off. Not in the slightest.
I'll preface this section by saying I have not watched the all-22 film yet. When I do, I hope I can answer these sets of questions, using Pitts as an example:
1) How much are opposing defenses shading coverage to him?
2) How much is Mariota's decision-making affecting Pitts' targets?
I'm not in the camp that believes Smith is play-calling in a way that is completely taking Pitts away offensively. I don't believe that for a second, because I don't think there's a play-caller out there that wouldn't want to utilize the talents of arguably their most dynamic player on the roster. You don't think Smith wants to get the ball into his hands? C'mon.
So, yes, I tend to believe Smith when he says that Pitts is doing things on the field that frees up other people like Khadarel Hodge or Drake London (who we'll talk about next). And yes, I tend to believe that Mariota dictates this, too. According to TruMedia, eight of Pitts' 10 targets this year have come with a separation of one to three yards. He only has one target in the category that dictates less than one yard of separation, which you would consider your 50/50 balls. Personally, I tend to think Pitts is at his best when battling it out in tight windows. Moving forward, I would like to see his targets in those tight window scenarios increase in the coming weeks.
So, no. I'm not ready to freak out over Pitts lack of targets... yet.
Drake London is as advertised
I wrote this when London hurdled a Rams defender in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, because in that moment I saw why the Falcons valued London so much in the draft. He's exactly what they thought he was, and needed him to be.
For me, I feel like I've learned something new about London after watching him and talking to him after his first two games in the league. When you chat with London off the field, he's the definition of Cali-chill. He's pretty mellow, sure of himself and - sometimes - soft-spoken with a camera around him.
On the field? He's fierce. There are so many moments from the loss the Rams that stick out in my mind, but one I liked above all. It was an end-of-game, five-yard catch and London got up and slapped the ball in frustration. He had broken one tackle but was aggravated he didn't break a second. This comes after he had hurdled that defender in the series before. He wanted that first down, and felt like he could have gotten it. He was mad at himself that he didn't.
I like seeing that passion, especially from someone who's mentality off the field seems so... chill (for lack of a better word). London is fun to watch. Through two games I feel confident in saying so.
That's the play that changed everything
I wrote this after Troy Andersen busted through the Rams punt formation and blocked the punt that set up the two-point conversion that made it a one-score game. When Lorenzo Carter picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown, this was the moment I felt the atmosphere shift.
Smith was asked about this play after the game, and his answer made it seem like he felt that shift, too.
"Troy's an explosive athlete and he got there in a hurry and we did a good job picking the ball up and scoring," Smith said. "And we went for two, which puts more pressure on (the Rams), right? You kind of feel like, hey, you're down 14, went for two. Marcus did a hell of a job keeping that play alive. Now the pressure's all in the play-caller coming back. Now you're only up six. They know a touchdown wins it. They convert the third down, but you're never out of the fight, and Darren (Hall) popped it up."
To me, this sequence of events showed me precisely what I spoke about in the intro: A lot can be said about this team, but no one can say they rolled over.
That's the play that hurts the most
I wrote postgame about the issues the Falcons had in the redzone, so it should come as no surprise to you that I'm going to harp on Mariota's interception in the final two minutes of Sunday's loss.
The Falcons had their opportunity, and a good one at that. Hall's fumble recovery gave the ball back to the offense with just under three minutes to go in the game, down by one score and in Rams territory. It was as good an opportunity as the Falcons had all game. It was an opportunity that - if executed - could have given the Falcons the win.
But we know how it actually went: Mariota is sacked for a loss of four on second down in the redzone. Then, Los Angeles calls a timeout with one minute and 18 seconds left. Though the Falcons are looking at a third and long situation, it's not dire. Time is on their side and they have two chances to convert a first down. The worst thing that could have happened is what actually did happen, which was Jalen Ramsey intercepting Mariota at the goal line. Like the fumble inside the 10 yard line last week that helped set up the Saints come back, this turnover in the redzone is one I can't get out of my head, either.
It's one I thought hurt the most.
We take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams on September 18, 2022.