‘We need to do better as a team’
Even so, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith refused to place the blame for the loss on Mariota’s shoulders or discuss a potential move on the rookie quarterback. Desmond Ryder.
“I know it’s a popular narrative, it’s an easy question to ask,” Smith said when asked if he would consider changing quarterbacks before Atlanta. 11 week games against the Chicago Bears. “But as a whole team, we have to do a better job, starting with ourselves. So, we look every week to make sure we’ve got the right guys in the right place.”
Smith said he never considered going to the Raiders Thursday night, which started poorly for the Falcons offense and was coming off a loss that dropped Atlanta to 4-6.
Boasting the fourth-ranked rushing offense and just the 30th-ranked passing attack coming into the evening, the Falcons found themselves in trouble early. On their first four drives, the Falcons punted three times and Mariota threw a terrific interception Jesse Horn It started a 13-0 run for the Panthers in the fourth. Thus, Mariota found himself struggling and stressing, stressing and struggling.
“I was just trying to create a spark, and I think looking at my whole career, that’s when I hurt myself the most, you know, ill-advised throws, getting things down the field,” Mariota said. “So maybe scramble, gain a few yards and keep the chains moving.”
Mariota’s throws and decision-making were off for much of the evening.
He ended his team’s second straight loss by going 19-30 passing for 186 yards, two touchdowns. Drake London, one interception and an 89.0 rating. The numbers didn’t do justice to the struggles that truly colored the night.
Atlanta was just 3 of 11 on third down, with 291 yards of total offense coming on 97 late scoring drives and was held scoreless through the first half. Yongho Koo Field goal with no time left.
As Smith pointed out, it can’t be shouldered entirely by Mariota. The offensive line struggled, as evidenced by the five sacks allowed. Still, Mariota wasn’t free of blame in that department considering a horrific first-half sack near the sideline where he had plenty of time to toss it.
In what was a frustrating theme of the season, the QB didn’t try to be a tight end Kyle Pitts Engaged but connected just twice for 28 yards on eight targets.
On a slippery night it was a surprise that the Panthers didn’t have multiple interceptions that dropped passes or that sometimes Atlanta targets seemed to be out of zone code. Mariota also had an interception after a check on the North Carolina night when he was rolling on the ground.
Blessed with a gift for the scramble, Mariota looks to be the perfect fit for the Falcons at times when the ground game is rolling and the team is playing with a lead. That wasn’t the case Thursday, and it wasn’t the case in the Week 9 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
A clamor to get Ridder, a third-round pick from Cincinnati, is emerging. For now, though, Smith isn’t ready to talk about making that move.
“You can make it about the quarterback, how about the team?” Smith said. “We had an opportunity at the end of the fourth quarter the last two weeks, and in a lot of different ways, and a lot of different steps where we had an opportunity to get better. And we had an opportunity to do that. Seven games left.”