Falcons keep Chiefs from scoring 20 points for first time in 2020

Credit: AJC

Falcons Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett discusses the play of the defense in the 17-14 loss to the Chiefs.

Credit: AJC

Last week, Raheem Morris scoffed at the notion that the Falcons could possibly be in for a shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Never mind the fact that the Chiefs hadn’t scored fewer than 22 points in 14 games while leading the NFL in total yards. Morris’ point was that each game is independent of one another. Even though the Chiefs have been explosive and the Falcons have given up their share of big plays, any number of scenarios can play out in any game.

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Morris’ assessment proved correct on Sunday.

What had the pre-game makings of a high-scoring affair turned into a defensive slugfest. And while the Falcons’ offense put the team in position to extend this game to overtime, place-kicker Younghoe Koo’s missed 39-yard field goal attempt allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to survive by a score of 17-14.

This marked the first time all season that the Chiefs had been held to less than 20 points. The Falcons were able to record three interceptions — two from quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the goal line and another from receiver Sammy Watkins on a trick play — with the secondary also recording four pass deflections.

Morris was asked afterward about the Falcons’ defensive blueprint and how this team was able to have so much success on that side of the ball.

“None of your business,” Morris said with a laugh.

When asked if he didn’t want to give away his team’s plan for Kansas City to other teams, Morris playfully suggested for the rest of the league go watch the game tape.

Although the Falcons weren’t able to sack Mahomes, the defense forced him out of the pocket without many angles to scramble for big gains. Most of the completions Mahomes had came on underneath or intermediate routes.

A primary focus on defense appeared to be to keep the Chiefs from taking the top off of the Falcons’ defense.

“We did the necessary game-plan we did to try to affect them in the pass game, run game. We executed well to our best abilities,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “They had a couple of plays where they got out but to hold them to under 20 points is a task for anybody. We just came out to do what we do.”

To move Mahomes from the pocket and force him to make throws from uncomfortable positions, the Falcons rushed four men primarily but disguised which player was coming throughout the course of the game.

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman is tackled by Atlanta Falcons Mykal Walker, left, and Sharrod Neasman during the second half Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman is tackled by Atlanta Falcons Mykal Walker, left, and Sharrod Neasman during the second half Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

“We did a nice job of having some of our simulated pressure, having some of our guys coming from the back end, some of our guys coming from the linebacker position,” Morris said. “But our D-line really stepped up (Sunday) with getting him out of the pocket, getting a really great quarterback on the move in order to make him a little bit confused to hold him from making the plays he normally makes.”

Since Mahomes became the starting quarterback in Kansas City, there has been only one other time where the Chiefs scored fewer points in a game. That occurred in a 19-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in 2019, with the Chiefs missing some key players due to injury — including star receiver Tyreek Hill.

Against the Falcons the Chiefs were at full strength in the passing game, with Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and receiver Sammy Watkins all available. Although running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) was unable to play, the Chiefs still had Le’Veon Bell and Darrel Williams to complement each other in the backfield.

In doing so, perhaps the Falcons’ tape will be something for Kansas City’s upcoming playoff opponents to study at length.

After the game, Morris said a game like Sunday’s proves the Falcons can play with any of the best teams in the NFL. The problem all year has been an inability to finish these close games with victories. Jarrett concurred with this sentiment, stating how tough it was to lose to the Chiefs after holding them to only 17 points.

“We can play with anyone,” Jarrett said. “That’s almost the most frustrating part, having lost the games we lost at the margin of defeat we have. It can go either way. We have a strong team, a good team. We just didn’t finish out in multiple games how we want to. That can definitely take a toll on you but you gotta just keep working. You have to find what’s that thing that’s holding us back to having that success in coming out on top. It’s just unfortunate to come out with another close loss like this again.”

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