Five takeaways from Falcons’ loss to Commanders

FLOWERY BRANCH — Despite losing in the final minutes to the Washington Commanders Sunday, the Falcons still have a shot to win the NFC South title and a berth in the playoffs.

ExploreBurns: Falcons lose to Commanders, but not ground in NFC South

The 19-13 loss dropped the Falcons to 5-7, but they’re only a half-game out of first in the weak four-team division. The Falcons could win their next five games - beginning Sunday at home against Pittsburgh - and earn a playoff spot by winning the division.

Before then, however, here’s a look back at the six-point loss to the Commanders:

1. Power football: Going up against Washington’s big defensive line, Falcons coach Arthur Smith chose death by finesse football.

Trailing by six, the Falcons - with three timeouts - faced first and goal from the Commanders’ 2 with 1:10 remaining in the game. Instead of playing power football and maybe even going with a jumbo package, the Falcons ran a RPO on first down and lost two yards.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota faked the dive to Cordarrelle Patterson. He thought Washington’s Montez Sweat would crash down on Patterson and he’d skip on into the end zone.

Sweat was not fooled by Mariota’s slight of hand magic.

“It was my decision,” Mariota said.

On the next play, the Falcons tried to surprise the Commanders with a pass to Patterson. The Falcons liked the defense Washington was in, but couldn’t account for defensive tackle Daron Payne flicking up his left arm to tip the pass up in the air.

Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller came down with the interception.

After having some time to reflect, Smith discussed the sequence and was aware of the risks of passing.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Smith said on Monday. “You’ve been in those situations. Certainly, your thoughts are different if a field goal wins it. If you’re down two or even if you’re down three. Being risk-adverse. I say that, meaning, you call a run, you score, then you have the same issue. You’re happy that you scored a touchdown and then you’re going have to turn around and still have to defend.”

If the Falcons had scored, the Commanders would have only needed a field goal for the victory.

“You’d love to have it, score with one second left or no time, kick it and go home,” Smith said. “So when you’re down six, you are going through the thought process. You call a run play the first play. You lose 2 yards. Now, you’re second and 4.

“Runs you like. There are also passes. Do you pass it on….you’re probably going to have to end up passing if you don’t get it in at some point whether if it’s third or fourth down. Went with….those are the decision that you make. So, you go with the decision right there. You’re pretty confident in what you’re going to get. We got it, but unfortunately they made a play. So, you live with that decision.”

ExploreSmith: 'They made a play at the end ....'

2. Re-configured defensive line: Defensively, the Falcons opened in a 3-4 with Abdullah Anderson at nose tackle and Timmy Horne at defensive end with Ta’Quon Graham (knee) going on injured reserve.

Horne played 29 defensive snaps (47%). Also, Jaleel Johnson (18 snaps, 29%) and Matt Dickerson (15 snaps, 24 %) were a part of the rotation.

Johnson was claimed off waivers on Nov. 21 after being released by the Texans. Dickerson has now played in four games this season.

Horne had three tackles, Johnson had two tackles and Anderson had a tackle.

3. Tight end by committee: With Kyle Pitts on injured reserve, MyCole Pruitt made the start at tight end. Pruitt played 32 of the 57 offensive snaps (56%). He caught two passes for 9 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass.

“It’s tough,” Mariota said of playing without Pitts. “It’s tough without Kyle, right. He’s just an unbelievable player. I thought multiple guys kind of stepped up into that role, and you have to when you’re replacing a guy like Kyle.”

Parker Hesse played 35 offensive snaps (61%) and Anthony Firkser played 22 snaps (39%). Tight end Feleipe Franks (calf injury) was declared inactive. Hesse caught a 9-yard pass to jump start the final drive. Firkser caught a pass for 16 yards.

“You just evolve and it’s where the game plan is at,” Smith said. “We can play in a lot of different personnel groups. If you ask guys to do different roles (you want) to play to their strengths. That’s kind of how it went.”

4. The wide receivers: Wide receiver Drake London caught 2 of 4 targets for 29 yards. Olamide Zaccheaus led all receivers five catches for 91 yards. He had eight targets. Patterson tied his season-high with five targets.

ExploreClose but not enough: Falcons come up short vs. Commanders

5. Malone’s action: Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said that rookie DeAngelo Malone was ready for more action.

Malone played 18 defensive snaps (29%) against the Commanders and 12 special teams snaps.

He finished with two tackles on defense and one on special teams.

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 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 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17

Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT

Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17

Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15

Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24

Nov. 27 Commanders 19, Falcons 13

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

BYE WEEK

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