Falcons’ Kyle Pitts’ return could boost the offense

FLOWERY BRANCH — Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts missed his first NFL game Sunday, and that was torture.

He suffered a hamstring injury at some point before Sunday and didn’t play in the 21-15 loss to the Buccaneers. He returned to practice Wednesday and said he expects to play when the Falcons (2-3) host the San Francisco 49ers (3-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It was very tough, sitting at home,” Pitts said. “It was my first game sitting at home. It didn’t feel right.”

Quarterback Marcus Mariota was elated to welcome Pitts back to practice.

“It was great,” Mariota said. “Anytime you get a playmaker of his ability back, it’s very, very important for us as an offense.”

Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone said, “Anytime that you get certain players back, if he’s able to come back, great. If not, we’ll have plans accordingly. We’ll see how it goes during the week.”

Pitts worked with the trainers while out.

“Just day by day, doing my part,” he said. “Making sure I got the right treatment and took care of my body.”

Pitts said he is not concerned about the injury lingering.

“I don’t really think of the negative things that may trigger,” he said. “Just going out there and playing ball.”

It was no fun for Pitts watching the game on television.

“I was sitting there,” he said. “I could see it from a different standpoint, but for the most part it (was bad). It was fun. I definitely missed the guys. I’m happy to be back.”

After starting 19 of the first 21 games of his NFL career, it took Pitts a while to get used to watching.

“I screamed a couple of times,” he said. “That’s probably everybody who’s a fan, they scream. I felt like a fan. It was pretty different to see it from that perspective.”

He was asked if he threw something at the TV when he saw the flag after Grady Jarrett’s sack of Bucs quarterback Tom Brady.

“No, no,” Pitts said. “That was one of my screams. I didn’t throw anything. That TV (cost too much).”

With Pitts sidelined, the Falcons turned to Parker Hesse, Anthony Firkser and Feleipe Franks against the Bucs. Also, tight end MyCole Pruitt was promoted from the practice squad. They combined to catch two passes for 20 yards.

“There were some things that we tried to challenge them on and certainly weren’t perfect,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Ultimately, we kept with the plan, and because if it’s out of reach, it can get really ugly. But going into the fourth (quarter), as we were driving, like we could stay into our normal plan, which gave us a better chance.”

Pitts, who was taken with the fourth pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has caught 10 of 22 targets for 150 yards and no touchdowns this season. Smith has lauded his blocking and noted that he has pulled coverage away from other receivers.

Pitts played 34 of 55 offensive snaps for a season-low 62% against the Browns in Game 4. He caught one of four targets for 15 yards.

Pitts played 84% of the offensive snaps against New Orleans in the season opener, 93% against the Rams and 67% against the Seahawks.

Through four games last season, Pitts had caught 15 of 26 targets for 189 yards and no touchdowns. While his numbers are slightly down from last season, he feels like he’s developing a good relationship with new quarterback Mariota.

“We are doing pretty well,” Pitts said. “It’s a long season. (We’re at) game 5 or 6. It’s a long season to go, a lot more reps – and our relationship will keep growing.”

Pitts believes Mariota is doing well after not starting for the past two seasons.

“I can’t pinpoint one specific thing, but leadership is one thing that stands out,” Pitts said. “He just rallies the guys up and always makes sure that everybody is on the up-and-up and that we’re not getting down on ourselves.”

Pitts spent time with San Francisco tight end George Kittle at a camp held over the offseason.

“George is what he is, one of the greats,” Pitts said. “One of the best tight ends in the game. I love watching his film. He plays hard, fast, physical and aggressive. He does everything, blocks, catches. … He’s very valuable.”

Pitts knows the Falcons are about to face the No. 1-ranked defense in yards allowed (249.2) and No. 3-ranked defense in passing yards (177.8) allowed.

“It’s a physical team on all three (levels),” Pitts said. “Defense plays physical. They are pretty big. So, it’s going to be a physical game. It’s up to us to show who is the more physical team.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD