With offense ailing, Falcons’ defense showed up, out

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Former undrafted and practice squad player Jacob Tuioti-Mariner turned in a master performance against the Raiders.

Down two main stars on offense, the Falcons defense, which has been much maligned this season, turned in a spectacular showing in the 43-6 win over the Raiders on Sunday.

“They played a hell of a football game; we did not,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “The turnovers, the penalties, inexcusable.”

Five was the number of the day.

The Falcons had five sacks, five turnovers, five quarterback hits to go along with five made field goals by kicker Younghoe Koo.

The Falcons started the season 0-5 and coach Dan Quinn was fired.

“We went into the game and knew we had to establish some of our own dominance on third downs,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said. “We really thought the guys took it to heart. The (Las Vegas) Raiders have been such a team that has been able to keep drives going, maintain possession of the ball. That definitely had to be a major factor for us.”

Morris pointed to the Raiders’ first possession which ended up with a stop on fourth-and-1 at Las Vegas’ 45.

“Deion (Jones) make a great play for us,” Morris said. “That was definitely something that we knew we wanted to focus on.”

The defense entered the game ranked 29th overall in the 32-team league and had one sack or fewer in five of their previous 10 games.

Nothing foreshadowed the five-sack eruption that occurred against the Raiders. The Falcons also forced four fumbles and had an interception in the victory.

“The Falcons are fighting for their lives,” Gruden said. “We said that coming in here. This is one of the best 3-7 teams I have seen. They did this to Minnesota who was a playoff team last year, and I challenge anybody that’s getting ready for Atlanta, this team is very good football team and well-coached.”

The Falcons were elated by the performance of defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who had sack, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

“He’s really developed into a fine player for us,” Morris said. “We’re fired up about (Tuioti-Mariner) and some of the things that he’s done and how he’s developed.”

The Raiders were averaging 386.4 total yards per game, but were held to 243 yards by the Falcons. One key for Atlanta - a constant pass rush which disrupted Las Vegas’ offensive efficiency.

“A couple of times (the Falcons) got to me just in the nick of time because on one, we had Henry (Ruggs III) on the post for a touchdown and we had Nelson (Agholor) on a double move for a touchdown late,” Raiders QB Derek Carr said. “Again, those things happen all the time where there is chaos in the pocket and they hit your elbow, hit your arm as your throwing it. Then there is also other times where you get the ball off just before they touch you…. You have to give them credit for making those plays.”

But the pass rush has been an issue all season. Free agent signee Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley were slated to lead the rush this season. Fowler has battled through high ankle sprain and hamstring injuries and has spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

He returned against the Raiders and played 25% of the snaps and had a pass breakup. McKinley suffered a hamstring injury and then was released after being insubordinate to the franchise on social media.

The Falcons previous high was three sacks in three different games this season.

“In the pocket, that stuff happens all the time,” Carr added. “Guys are right there, they hit your arm or something like that and you get the ball off and sometimes they get there a half-second early. I don’t think there was anything different that they did or anything like that. I thought they played very well, they made their plays.”

Morris wasn’t exactly sure where this type of performance came from.

“Then a lot of other things just went well for us,” Morris said. “We found a pass rush and was able to get after the passer. Created some sacks, the ball came alive, we were able to force a couple of fumbles. We were able to get back all of the fumbles that were forced. We were able to get an interception.

“With the fourth-down stop, you are really talking about six takeaways, so a lot of things came to life for the defense.”

Morris also noted that the Falcons held the Raiders to 0 for 2 in the red zone.

“I’m really fired up with how they played and some of things they did really well,” Morris said.

Falcons’ next four games

Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6

Falcons at Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13

Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20

Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Dec. 27

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