Falcons reach .500, hope to move on to winning record
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons find themselves in an unusual place — .500.
For the first time since Week 2 of the 2019 season, the Falcons have won as many games as they’ve lost.
A last-second, 30-28 victory over the Miami Dolphins was Atlanta’s second straight win and pushed the team’s record to 3-3.
“It’s big,” said rookie coach Arthur Smith, who then sounded very much like the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith. “You’ve got to ... use that business analogy. We felt our foundation was strong. We knew there was things we have to clean up. You can’t lose perspective. We haven’t turned the profit yet.”
The Falcons can reach some really rarified territory — turn a profit, if you will — when they host the struggling Carolina Panthers (3-4) next Sunday.
Atlanta hasn’t had a winning record since the end of a 10-6 season in 2017, which also was the most recent time the Falcons made the playoffs.
That’s the next step, Smith said, again sounding very much like his father.
“Right now, go on our earnings report,” the coach said. “We need to turn the profit — hopefully next week. That’s the name of the game.”
Matt Ryan and the passing game have posted consecutive 300-yard games for the first time since Weeks 6 and 7 of the 2020 season. Ryan carved up the Dolphins by completing 25 of 40 for 336 yards and two touchdowns. While his performance was marred a bit by a couple of turnovers, Ryan has clearly gotten on a roll after a sluggish start to the season. Younghoe Koo booted three more field goals, including the game-winner from 36 yards. He’s become about as automatic as a kicker can be, going 10 for 10 on field goals and 13 of 13 on extra points this season. Since arriving in Atlanta midway through the 2019 season, Koo has made 70 of 75 field goals — an astonishing 93.3%.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Falcons defense struggled to contain a Miami team that was averaging just 290 yards per game. The Dolphins put up 413 yards on Atlanta, including a season-high 27 first downs and a 63.6% (7 of 11) success rate on third downs. Miami was able to move the ball effectively through the air (Tua Tagovailoa was 32 of 40 for 291 yards and a career-best four TDs) and on the ground (29 carries for 132 yards, a 4.6-yard average). The Falcons were able to limit the damage with two big interceptions, one in the end zone near the end of the first half, the other on the very next play after Ryan was picked off in Atlanta territory.
TE Kyle Pitts. This is exactly what the Falcons had in mind when they drafted Pitts at No. 4. The rookie has become Ryan’s most inviting playmaker, a big, speedy receiver who creates all sorts of matchup problems for opposing defenses. Over the past two games, Pitts has 16 catches for 282 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins had no answer for him, allowing seven catches for 163 yards — a staggering 23.3 yards per reception. Most notably, Pitts hauled in consecutive catches of 23 and 24 yards on the final drive to push the Falcons into range for the game-winning field goal.
RB Mike Davis. He was signed in free agency to be the team’s top back, but Cordarrelle Patterson has seized the lead role. Davis had only four carries for 10 yards — and no catches at all — against the Dolphins. He seems to have become a back the Falcons use mainly in short-yardage situations. Patterson, on the other hand, got the start and ran 14 times for 60 yards.
Injuries are starting to pile up in the secondary. CB A.J. Terrell was checked for a concussion and later left with a neck injury. CB Fabian Moreau left with a neck injury, as well. S Erik Harris also did not finish the game after sustaining a shoulder injury while attempting to tackle Tagovailoa. Adding to the depth issues at cornerback, Avery Williams missed his second consecutive game with an ailing hamstring.
4-16 — The cumulative record of the three teams the Falcons have defeated, a dose of reality to any giddiness over Atlanta’s improved mark.
The Falcons must seize on the momentum they’ve built in the past two games, especially playing at home against a team that seems to have as many problems as the Panthers. The schedule takes a much tougher turn after this week’s game, with road games at New Orleans and first-place Dallas before a Thursday night contest at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against New England.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL