Rejoice! Falcons involve Kyle Pitts, overcome late drama to win

SEATTLE — Nothing could reach the heights of these high-flyin’ Falcons on Sunday, not even an unidentified flying object at Lumen Field.

After two Jekyll-and-Hyde affairs, the Falcons took a break from being the NFL’s punchline and joined the realm of competence. There wasn’t a sluggish start that put them in a 25-point hole. There wasn’t a vanished 16-point advantage. This time, there was a timely Grady Jarrett sack, Richie Grant interception and some decisive running from Cordarrelle Patterson to close it out.

ExploreFalcons hold on to pull out victory over Seahawks

The Falcons won in Seattle, 27-23. They won even after a drone delay late in the fourth, a moment that seemed ripe to lead this piece after the Falcons squandered another lead. They won even after quarterback Marcus Mariota’s fumble with 5:16 left in the fourth; even after the Seahawks marched into the red zone, threatening to take a lead following the two-minute warning.

This was by no means a banner day for the defense, which made Geno Smith look like Kurt Warner circa 1999, but it did enough when it mattered most. Let’s focus on the positives for once. The Falcons deserve some props after a gutsy cross-country win.

Patterson, the locker room’s wordsmith, summed it up: “We’ve been away for eight days (on the West Coast), I told (the team) ain’t no (expletive) way I’m coming home with an ‘L.’”

The Falcons enjoyed a happy five-hour flight home thanks to their offense. It’s no coincidence tight end Kyle Pitts was in the middle of it. Pitts has been bizarrely hidden in plain sight, receiving only 11 targets (10 official) over the first two games. The Falcons targeted him nine times (eight official) on Sunday.

ExplorePhotos: Falcons soar to first win of season

Pitts’ fingerprints were all over the first half. The Falcons targeted him four times on their opening drive, with Pitts snagging two catches for 35 yards and drawing a penalty in the end zone (that isn’t recorded as an official target). In the next two drives, Pitts had a nice contested catch and a third-down conversion on another three targets. Mariota missed him on consecutive deep throws during the Falcons’ final drive of the first half, but at least there was an effort.

Pitts had eight targets (seven official) at the break. The Falcons had 17 points, scoring on their first three drives. The Seahawks, a far cry from their “Legion of Boom” days, didn’t have anyone capable of matching Pitts. If Mariota hit even one of his three overthrows, those irksome fantasy owners would’ve been elated. Pitts still accounted for 38% of Mariota’s passing yards.

A touchdown would’ve been dandy, but this is a sizable step in the right direction. That Porsche for which the Falcons paid a premium was no longer parked in the garage. What changed?

“I don’t know,” Pitts said. “The ball found me.” He answered every question regarding his usage with professionalism and a series of clichés. So, let’s turn to Patterson for more colorful insight.

“He’s (expletive) great, man,” Patterson said when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked about Pitts. “I know he’s been down these last few games, not getting the targets he deserves. But for him to come in, not stress over anything, he’s that guy. He doesn’t let (stuff) get to him. To see him go down and kill it early, it’s great, man. I appreciate that guy. He’s a better blocker this year than last year. He’s just hungry. I appreciate that man.”

Pitts’ involvement feels almost as important as the victory. Through two games, he averaged five targets a game. For perspective, Travis Kelce was targeted over eight times a game for the Chiefs last season. Rob Gronkowski, despite Tampa Bay’s plethora of weapons and his injury issues, was targeted 7.4 times per contest. Perhaps the NFL’s best tight end, George Kittle was targeted almost seven times a game.

Those are fair comparisons because Pitts’ talent level warrants it. For this week, coach Arthur Smith won’t feel the wrath of fantasy football fanatics. That crowd is relentless, obnoxious to the point of your most loathed public figure or a Swiftie (a reference for younger folks).

Beyond Pitts, Sunday encouraged because the Falcons also overcame suboptimal late circumstances. The oddest of which was when gameplay paused at the 6:42 mark of the fourth quarter due to a drone sighting. It was the second time in as many nights a drone appeared during an event in this area – one interrupted Washington’s win over Stanford on Saturday – and this summoning was ill-timed for the Falcons, who were driving down the field trying to extend their four-point lead.

NFL security stopped gameplay for seven minutes with the Falcons facing second-and-8 from the Seahawks’ 46. A few plays after the contest resumed, Mariota fumbled, and the Seahawks had new life. The mysterious flying object, unseen by those in the action, seemed a likely scapegoat for another Falcons’ letdown.

“I’ve probably read too many CIA fiction thrillers, too many Brad Thor books, so I’m looking up and they’re telling me to go to the sideline, so some interesting thoughts are going through your head when they told us to go to the bench,” Smith said. The only comparable situation he said he’s experienced was a pregame on-field fire at Nissan Stadium in 2019 when Smith was the Titans’ offensive coordinator.

As for the interesting thoughts in Patterson’s head: “We all said they were just trying to slow us down. We were rolling; they slowed us down. I did not see a drone. If I didn’t see it, I don’t believe it. They just said it was a drone, but I don’t believe it.”

The drone was rendered a footnote when the Falcons’ defense stopped Seattle’s comeback bid. The Falcons overcame their fourth-quarter phobia. The Western getaway worked. There were a lot of smiles in the locker room, so many that this former baseball beat writer felt like he was back in the Braves’ oft-celebratory clubhouse.

A year ago, the Falcons’ specialty was defeating bad teams – like these Seahawks, who emptied the tank for a Week 1 victory over their ex, Russell Wilson, and are now just playing out their schedule with hopes of a better tomorrow. So we won’t get carried away. After all, the Falcons are likewise prioritizing tomorrow. By season’s end, we might even look at this victory as the reason they’re drafting behind the Seahawks.

But we can still stop playing the long game for a moment and applaud this team for Sunday. Drones, fumbles and time zones be darned, the Falcons won a game. Credit where it’s due.