The Chargers promptly got into field-goal range, and kicker Cameron Dicker made a 37-yard field goal to lift the Chargers to a bizarre 20-17 victory over the Falcons on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“It’s amazing that we got that ball back,” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said. “Like, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
On the next play, a first-and-10 from the Falcons’ 43, wide receiver Joshua Palmer ran away from cornerback Cornell Armstrong for a 22-yard gain.
“(Quarterback) Justin (Herbert) delivered a strike,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. Two plays later, Dicker booted the game-winner.
The Chargers improved to 5-3. The Falcons dropped to 4-5.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith contended the Chargers made just one more play.
But the Falcons actually blew several plays.
They missed on deep passes to tight end Kyle Pitts, the Graham fumble, a touchdown was nullified by penalty, wide receiver Drake London had the ball taken from him at the 5-yard line and the normally automatic Younghoe Koo missed a 50-yard field goal.
Graham, a second-year player who’s played strong this season, plans to move forward after his fumble.
“Just keep my head up because they know what kind of guy I am,” Graham said. “I definitely take accountability, and it definitely (feels bad). I definitely contributed to that loss by dropping the ball, but I’ve just got to move on and look forward to Thursday’s game.”
Ekeler was saved by Graham’s fumble.
“I had this weird, sick feeling,” Ekeler said. “I’m so happy we won, but I’m also like we could have easily lost that game if we didn’t get that fumble back right there.”
The Chargers, by dominating on third down, held a 14-10 lead at halftime.
The Falcons came out strong but then fizzled. They couldn’t stop the Chargers on six consecutive third downs and finished the first half with three consecutive three-and-outs.
The Falcons, helped by a 44-yard run from running back Tyler Allgeier, scored on their opening possession.
Running back Cordarrelle Patterson, after missing four games because of left knee surgery, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play, 75-yard drive to make it 7-0.
The Falcons’ defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense went back on the move.
The promising drive stalled at the Chargers’ 9-yard line. Koo made a 29-yard field goal to put the Falcons up 10-0.
“The first drive, there was that one run into an eight-man front where our linebackers didn’t play it properly,” Staley said. “Outside of that run, we were doing just fine. I think our guys just settled in. We got into the right personnel groupings that we felt would match up with those guys.”
The Chargers did a good job slowing the Falcons’ passing attack.
“We kept the ball in front of us,” Staley said. “Then put a roof over the coverage. We didn’t let them get any plays in the deep part of the field. So we had taken away the passing game, and then we could really put our attention to the run game.”
The Falcons rushed 35 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
“They are a really good running team,” Staley said. “We tried to do our best after that first series. We tried to flush that one run and come back and play good ball.”
The Chargers then strung together three stops on the Falcons on third down, with two of them coming on blitzes that the Falcons didn’t pick up.
Los Angeles converted on six consecutive third downs.
The Chargers converted on third-and-15, 6, 9 and 2 yards during a 15-play drive that covered 83 yards and took 8:35 off the clock. Ekeler scored on a 2-yard run to make it 10-7.
After safety Derwin James sacked Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota on third-and-3, the Chargers got the ball back with 2:38 left in the second quarter.
The Chargers converted on third-and-1 and 5 on their way to the end zone. Herbert tossed a 1-yard pass to Ekeler to put the Chargers up 14-10 at halftime.
Atlanta’s defense opened with a stop in the third quarter.
With the Falcons threatening to take the lead, London caught a pass at the 5-yard line and had the ball taken away by Chargers linebacker Khalil Mack.
Before the Mack takeaway, Patterson had a 38-yard touchdown called back. Right tackle Kaleb McGary was called for tripping. Center Drew Dalman was called for holding on the play, but that penalty was declined.
London was bailed out when the Falcons got the ball back when Richie Grant made an interception.
Patterson ran over Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill on a 3-yard TD run to put the Falcons up 17-10 with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Patterson’s second touchdown run capped a 10-play, 53-yard drive.
After a stop by the defense, the Falcons got into position for a 50-yard field-goal attempt by Koo that was wide right with 12:12 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers’ Ekeler was tackled by Isaiah Oliver on third-and-3. He rolled over Oliver and appeared to score. Darren Hall could have finished him off.
It was determined that Ekeler’s elbow touched the ground, though.
The Chargers went for it on fourth-and-5 and converted. Seven plays later, Dicker made a 31-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 with 5:27 to play.
Next time, Graham will probably just fall down.
“My teammates tell me it’s OK, but I’m probably the hardest on myself, so I should’ve held on to the ball,” Graham said. “Probably should’ve fell on it. Probably should’ve gotten out of bounds. All of the above, so now I have to move on from here.”
The Falcons are set to play the Panthers at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
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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 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