Marcus Mariota’s red zone fumble, bobbled snap prove costly for Falcons

Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota had not started a game since October 2019.

He turned in a crafty performance Sunday but had a fumble and key bobbled snap as the Falcons collapsed in a 27-26 loss to the Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons were driving and a touchdown would have made it 30-10, but Mariota fumbled on the 5-yard line.

ExploreFalcons rise up on Saints before collapsing again

“Yeah, honestly, I just lost track of where I was,” Mariota said. “I thought I needed a few more for first down. So, I put my head down. I realized I already had it. Looking back in that situation I wish I would have just gone down and protected the ball, and we would have had another chance to score points.”

On third-and-1 with under a minute to play, Mariota bobbled the center exchange. He got back to the line of scrimmage. On fourth-and-1, the Falcons punted.

If they’d picked up the first down, the game would have been over.

“Yeah, that was 100% on me,” Mariota said. “We had a great look for the play that we called. I tried to cheat it and get back a little quicker so I would have an opportunity to read it a little bit better. It’s something that you take for granted. Unfortunately, it kind of got away from us, and that’s completely on me.”

Mariota completed 20 of 33 passes for 215 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 79.7.

He also rushed 12 times for 72 yards and a touchdown.

ExploreSaints storm back to defeat Falcons, 27-26

Rookie Drake London led the Falcons in receiving with five catches for 74 yards.

“There are a lot of things to learn for me personally,” London said. “For us as a unit. For us as a team. So, just going back and watch the film. Try to perfect my craft and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Mariota felt London, who missed three weeks of practice with a knee injury, played well.

“I thought he had a great day,” Mariota said. “For us, it’s no surprise. We’ve seen that throughout camp. We’ve seen that in OTAs. So, I think it’s a great steppingstone, but that’s the expectation.

“That’s the standard that we’re going to hold him to. But I love playing with these guys. They continue to find ways to get open, and you just have to find ways to get it to them.”

Tight end Kyle Pitts was targeted seven times. He had two catches for 19 yards.

Mariota completed passes to eight different receivers.

The Falcons want to improve off this performance.

“I would say the biggest difference was just finishing in the red zone,” Mariota said, where the Falcons were 2 of 4 against the Saints. “We had opportunities – multiple opportunities to go in there and score touchdowns and kind of put the game away. We allowed them, as an offense, to stick around.”

Mariota, who was the No. 2 overall player selected in the 2015 NFL draft, was 29-32 as a starter with the Titans. He was benched during the 2019 season.

Mariota played the past two seasons as a backup with the Raiders.

He signed a two-year deal in March after the Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts for a third-round pick.

The Falcons rushed for 201 yards on 38 carries but still managed to lose.

“I think if you ever run the football as well as we did, make plays in the passing game, obviously we just have to find ways to score more points,” Mariota said. “I think we did a great job of moving the ball.”

The Falcons’ revamped offensive line paved the way for the running game. That added even more intrigue to the decision to punt the ball on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line.

“Guys up front did an unbelievable job all game of controlling the line of scrimmage, and when it comes down to it in this league, if you’re not scoring points in the red zone, you leave the door open, and you have to give credit to the Saints,” Mariota said. “They found a way at the end to win the game.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18 at Los Angeles Rams, 4:05 p.m.

Sept. 25 at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

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.

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