FLOWERY BRANCH -- After Cardinals kicker Matt Prater made a 57-yard field goal to wrestle back the lead, Falcons rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder and the offense were put in a crucial situation.
The Falcons had the ball with 4:57 to go and needed to drive the field for a chance to win the game.
Ridder directed 11 plays that covered 72 yards and left just two seconds on the clock. Younghoe Koo made a 21-yard field goal at the buzzer for the 20-19 victory to complete the 12-play drive.
“To be honest with you, it was just fun being out there with the guys,” left guard Matt Hennessy told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Seeing how everybody kind of took ownership and took initiative. Desmond, the offensive line, receivers and running backs, there was kind of no hesitation in their game. Just went down and did what we needed to do. It felt good.”
Here are five things we learned from the victory:
1. The last drive
The drive opened with a short pass to Cordarrelle Patterson for seven yards out to the right. The Falcons went no huddle and picked up 22 yards over right tackle to quickly get the ball to the Cardinals’ 46.
Arizona’s J.J. Watt then helped things out by lining up in the neutral zone and the Falcons were in business at Arizona’s 41.
All they needed was six yards to get into range for a 52-yard field goal.
The Falcons stayed in no huddle. Running back Tyler Allgeier gained a yard. Ridder then found wide receiver Drake London for a 10-yard gain to move to the 30. Patterson rushed for three yards over right tackle to get to the 27. Arizona used their first timeout. Allgeier was stopped for no gain as the clock hit the two-minute warning.
On third down-and-7, Ridder connected with tight end Mycole Pruitt for a 14-yard gain and a big conversion.
“It was just a basic zone coverage,” Pruitt said. “I sat down in the hole. Des was able to hit me pretty quick. Got the ball right through. Made a drop step and got the first.”
Arizona called their second timeout with 1:53 left.
Allgeier rushed for four yards to move the ball down to the 13 and Arizona used their final timeout with 1:49 to play.
The Falcons then ran two plays and a kneel down, used their timeouts to whittle the clock down to two seconds before summoning Koo for the kick.
The drive had just about everything you needed.
Patterson jump-started the drive with the weaving 22-yard run and the third-down pass to Pruitt was crucial.
“These opportunities to grow and to execute in those moments, it was cool to see,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Desmond, the third-down pass to Pruitt, the situation there, big-time play by him. That was a tight-window throw.”
2. The opening drive
The Falcons started and finished the game on a high note offensively.
In Ridder’s previous two starts, the offense got off slow and fell behind 14-0 to the Saints and the Ravens.
The Falcons went down 3-0 as the Cardinals drove to the 10, but stalled in the red zone.
Ridder directed the Falcons on a methodical 16-play, 75-yard drive that stretched in to the second quarter. The determined drive took 9 minutes, 46 seconds.
The Falcons operated mostly out of the shotgun early in the drive. They converted on two third downs in order to move to Arizona’s 40-yard line.
They had to overcome some adversity to keep the drive moving.
Pro Bowl right guard Chris Lindstrom was called for holding. The Falcons had a first down-and-18 at Arizona’s 48. Patterson was dropped for a 5-yard loss to make it second down-and-23.
Ridder pass to Patterson for a 16-yard gain and on third down-and-7, Allgeier broke free for a 9-yard gain around right end.
“Unfortunately, when you get off track you have to be able to overcome it,” Smith said. “That allows you to essentially get points.”
Five plays later Allgeier scored on a 5-yard touchdown run.
“It was nice to be able to do that,” Smith said. “To be able to chip away at it, overcome it, go down there and score a touchdown.”
Allgeier had seven carries for 39 yards on the drive.
“That was good,” Allgeier said. “We were just stepping on the pedal. We want to step on the gas right then and there. I think we did a pretty good job.”
In the second half, the first three drives ended in punts and the last two in field goals.
3. The return of Hennessy
Starting left guard Elijah Wilkinson, who suffered a calf injury in practice last week, was questionable going into the game and was declared inactive.
Matt Hennessy, who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday, made the start.
“It was a fun day,” Hennessy said. “It was fun to get back in rhythm, get back out there and play with the guys again.”
The Falcons ran the ball 34 times for 132 yards (3.9 per carry). They gave up just one sack and three quarterback hits.
“We got some things going,” Hennessy said. “We hit some lulls that I’m sure we’ll see on film and we’ll fix those things. Overall, it was a productive day.”
Hennessy lost the battle for starting center to Drew Dalman. He kept working and got a start against the Chargers at left guard on Nov. 6.
He suffered a knee injury and went on injured reserve.
“It was tough,” Hennessy said. “It’s tough being out of it, being on IR. Just kind of not knowing what the future would be.”
The Falcons started Hennessy’s 21-activation period the week before the Ravens game.
“Then coming back, practicing as hard as a I could and getting another opportunity is awesome and I appreciated them giving me that opportunity to come back,” Hennessy said.
4. Koo remains clutch
Koo was 2 of 2 on his field goals, including the game-winner.
It was his fifth game-winning kick of Koo’s career.
Since joining the Falcons in 2019, Koo has made 11 of 13 kicks (84.6%) in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
“I mean it’s a great team win,” Koo said. “You know the guys do a great job on defense and offense to kick a close (field goal) like that, the last thing I want to do is mess it up for the whole team, so just trying to do my job.”
Koo tries to keep the same mindset when kicking in pressure situations.
“(I have) kind of ... refined my craft and my process when it comes to kicking those, or just field goals in general,” Koo said. “I would say my process overall has been refined.”
5. Winning over the locker room
Ridder is starting to win over the Falcons’ locker room.
“Got to love him,” Falcons outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “Got to love his competitive edge. He’s a guy who’s going to go out there and compete no matter what. That’s all you can ask for, especially with a young guy like that, he’s going to make mistakes, but as long as he keeps swinging, I’ll take it.”
Ridder’s game-winning drive also earned him some more locker room creditability.
“Just being in control,” Carter said. “Just having more control. He’s always been a leader, always had that vocal leadership. Now he can put it in effect and go out there and put drives together and win the game.”
Smith noted about Ridder that there are “a lot of encouraging signs so far.”
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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 Steelers 19, Falcons 16
Dec. 18 Saints 21, Falcons 18
Dec. 24 Ravens 17, Falcons 9
Jan. 1 Falcons 20, Cardinals 19
Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD