On Sept. 3, WR Taylor Gabriel's young career hit its lowest point yet.
The Browns, who drafted four receivers in April, decided to part ways with the third-year pro during their final round of cuts. This left the undrafted Abilene Christian product unemployed a week before the regular season was slated to begin.
Indeed, it was an unfortunate turn of events for a player who notched 36 receptions for 621 yards and a touchdown in 2014, his rookie campaign. But his luck would soon turn around.
Gabriel's first offensive coordinator in the NFL happened to be Kyle Shanahan, who knows all about Gabriel's speed, his competitive nature, his value in the deep passing game. When Atlanta's coaches turned on the tape, they saw all of those traits come to life. So the Falcons decided to work quickly: Less than 24 hours after news broke that Cleveland waived Gabriel, Atlanta put in a claim and added him to its 53-man roster.
And so far, that move has benefited everyone involved.
Gabriel has emerged as a valuable part of the Falcons' offense, gaining 251 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in seven games. Both of his scores have been important to his new club's success: Against Green Bay in Week 8, he caught a 47-yard TD that helped Atlanta win a one-point contest. And on Thursday night, during primetime, he ran a sweep nine yards into the end zone to put the Falcons ahead late in the second quarter.
"I'm just happy to be here," Gabriel said. "We're on the road right now. Winning right now, and just the preparation and just being here with my brothers. It doesn't start with me. It starts with my O-line. It starts with the running backs and the practice squad. I just feel like I'm blessed to be here and have this opportunity to improve and show my talents."
Per Gabriel, Shanahan designed run calls specifically for the 5-foot-8, 167-pounder. They proved to be effective in Tampa and, in the future, will force opponents to consider that wrinkle in their game planning.
"(Shanahan) depended on me to come through again," Gabriel said. "He called it. I didn't think he was going to call it and he called it and it eventually ended up working."
Quarterback Matt Ryan, who had one of his best games of the year at Raymond James Stadium, has been pleased with the way Gabriel has worked his way into the offense.
"Well, I think he's fitting in pretty good. He's done a great job for us," Ryan said. "Obviously he's made some really big catches but also he is a versatile guy, we could use him on the sweep today which was nice. He's just another piece of the puzzle, which is a good thing. I think for us to be at our best we have to get a lot of guys touches and we've done that pretty well so far."
Joining an NFL team after training camp can be an arduous task — especially for those who join a position group as deep as Atlanta's receiving corps. But Gabriel embraced the Falcons' standard, according to head coach Dan Quinn, and with experience in Shanahan's scheme, quickly learned the playbook, too.
"He's been a terrific addition for us," Quinn said. "He really has."
While Julio Jones continues to shine, the onus isn't on him alone to move the ball through the air. Atlanta has a wealth of pass-catchers who can get the offense rolling, and Gabriel, just two months after being jettisoned from Northeast Ohio, has solidified himself as one of those options.
"I'm just blessed to be here and have this opportunity," he said.