“Being able to take advantage of some of their situations, it might sound boring, but (that) is how you find a way to win in December,” Smith said. “Things were getting ugly, guys were coming in and out.”
Credit the Falcons for overcoming injuries to three starters and managing to avoid turnovers in the pouring rain. That was enough for their second consecutive victory. The Falcons (6-6) have a one-game lead in the NFC South after the Saints (5-7) lost at home to the Lions. A win is a win, again.
Still, the Falcons gained just 194 yards on 64 plays (3.0 average), punted nine times and gave up a safety for the first time since 2014. The Falcons were lucky that the Jets didn’t recover any of their three fumbles.
“Obviously, you want to score 100 points,” Smith said. “You want to score every drive. That’s a good defense. They threw everything they had at us. There were a lot of things going on. At the end of the day, the positive side, when we needed to make some plays, we did.”
Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder had some good moments. After the Jets opened the scoring with a safety, Ridder’s 20-yard touchdown pass to MyCole Pruitt put the Falcons up for good. Ridder also made some nice completions during a field-goal drive near the end of the first half that extended the lead to 10-5. But Ridder had an interception negated by a penalty against the Jets and missed a few throws to open targets.
The last time the Falcons were this bad offensively, they lost 20-6 at Detroit in Week 3. The paltry offense was enough to beat the Jets, who had three turnovers and committed 11 penalties for 71 yards. Eventually, it became evident that three points in the second half could be enough for the Falcons to win.
Younghoe Koo’s 42-yard field goal gave them a 13-8 lead with 3:38 left in the third quarter. The Jets would get seven more chances to score a go-ahead touchdown. New York never made it farther than Atlanta’s 48-yard line. The Jets punted four times, gave the ball away twice and turned it over on downs to end their last-gasp drive.
While the Jets were wheezing to move the ball Smith, who calls the offensive plays, seemed content to accept some three-and-outs and run the clock.
Said Smith: “We were trying to find balance of backing them off, but not being reckless because of the way the defense was playing. Sometimes, maybe people think you get too conservative. But all you care about is winning that game.”
The Jets (4-8) have fielded a zombie offense since Aaron Rodgers, their celebrated free-agent signee, went on the injured list after four plays. But they’d managed to earn quality victories over the Bills and Eagles with big efforts from their defense. The defense was great against the Falcons, but the league-worst offense gave the Jets little chance to win.
The Falcons held firm when the Jets did manage to make some plays. The Jets advanced to Atlanta’s nine-yard line on 12 plays before kicking a field goal in the first quarter. The Falcons held them to three points again on nine-play drive that got New York’s deficit down to 10-8 early in the second half. That’s the last time the Jets would even come close to scoring.
The Falcons didn’t allow a touchdown for the second straight week. That’s after the group wobbled into the bye week with shaky efforts in three consecutive games.
“Honestly, at this point and time, it’s (that) we really want to go to the playoffs,” Falcons defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. “We want to win the division. We are fighting with everything we have. There is a mentality that comes with that. It’s like, ‘Hey, it’s now or never.’”
The Falcons had two takeaways over the final 16-plus minutes. The Jets started their penultimate drive near midfield after a good punt return. Boyle’s second-down pass looked like a bad idea soon after he let it go. His target, Garrett Wilson, was drifting toward the right sideline with Falcons safety Jessie Bates III in pursuit.
Bates beat Wilson to the ball and snagged his fifth interception of the season. That’s when Jets coach Robert Saleh decided he’d seen enough of Boyle. Siemian last started a game for the Bears last season. His team last won a game he started in 2017, a stretch of six consecutive losses for Siemian.
The Falcons kept giving Siemian chances to end that streak. The Jets weren’t really trying to convert a third-and-15 when a late hit penalty by Kaden Ellis gave them a first down near midfield. The Jets ended that possession with a punt, but a three-and-out by the Falcons followed by a poor punt gave New York the ball close to the 50-yard line again.
The Jets couldn’t gain a first down before punting. Their next drive ended with a fumble. The final drive fizzled with a turnover on downs. Mercifully, the Jets had no timeouts left. The Falcons were able to run out the clock for an unsightly victory against a bad opponent on a nasty day in New Jersey.