ATLANTA (AP)The Atlanta Falcons are about to see how good their ground game is without Cordarrelle Patterson.
A day after outrushing Cleveland in a 23-20 home victory, the Falcons (2-2) placed Patterson, their leading rusher, on injured reserve following minor knee surgery. He will miss at least the next four games.
The good news is the offensive line has played cohesively, helping Atlanta average 5.8 yards per carry against the Browns. Rookie Tyler Allgeier, a fifth-round draft pick out of BYU, led the way with 84 yards on 10 carries, including a 42-yard burst.
The Falcons won back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 8 and 9 of 2020, when they won at Carolina and beat Denver at home.
The score was tied 10-10 at halftime despite the Browns outgaining the Falcons 245 yards to 120. After the offense produced two three-and-outs and an interception in the third quarter, coach Arthur Smith decided to rely almost exclusively on the running game.
”If they’re covering some of our play-action passes, some of our immediate game, we had opportunities to run the football,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. ”We leaned on our guys up front. Our backfield was unbelievable. Young guys stepping up and making big plays.”
Cleveland was missing three starters on the defensive front, including All-Pro end Myles Garrett, but credit goes to the offensive line for stepping up regardless.
”We were going to make a statement, and that’s what we did,” Smith said. ”When the line is running like that, that’s what you call being in the flow. Proud of those guys. We knew it was going to be a big-boy fight. Seeing all the run attempts, and I always thought the team that ran the ball better today was going to win. That held true, thankfully.”
Beginning this Sunday at Tampa Bay, the Falcons will get to see if they can repeat their success, this time without Patterson, who tried to play on his injured knee but couldn’t tolerate the pain. Patterson was the NFC offensive player of the week following a 141-yard effort against Seattle.
Even though Patterson left the game early, Atlanta still finished with 202 yards rushing, 172 in the second half. With Mariota’s passing production limited, the Falcons will need for the run game to keep producing.
”I don’t care who’s out there because I believe in everybody we put up on game day,” Smith said. ”I’m really proud of these guys. That was a really good team win. That’s what we pride ourselves on. We’re a team. We got contributions from all over the place.”
Opportunistic defense has helped the last two weeks. At Seattle, Richie Grant had a game-saving pick at the Atlanta 8-yard line in the closing minutes. Against Cleveland, Grady Jarrett had an 8-yard sack, and on the next play, Dee Alford jumped a seam route to intercept Jacoby Brissett at the Atlanta 26 and ice the victory.
Other key developments for the defense early in the game were stopping the Browns on fourth-and-goal and Jaylinn Hawkins forcing a fumble at the Cleveland 25 to set up Patterson’s 13-yard TD.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
No team stands much of a chance at making the postseason without a competent passing attack, and the Falcons are a mess. Mariota was 7 of 19 passing for 139 yards, an interception and a 41.3 rating. His 76.9 rating for the season ranks 28th.
Allgeier, Caleb Huntley and Co. were so effective that Smith called 14 straight run plays in the third and fourth quarters, mostly thanks to the push of the offensive line. Huntley began the game with one carry in his career. He was on the practice squad before being elevated on Saturday but he responded with 54 yards on eight attempts. His 5-yard touchdown gave the Falcons a 17-13 lead early in the fourth.
Star tight end Kyle Pitts and rookie receiver Drake London, the eighth overall draft pick, combined to catch three passes for 42 yards. Pitts was targeted four times, London seven. It will be essential for the Falcons to get more production out of their top two targets.
3 for 3 – Younghoe Koo’s field goal accuracy against the Browns. A Pro Bowl selection last year, Koo is 10 for 12 this season, one of his misses coming from 60-plus yards.
Make corrections in the passing game and get ready to face the Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday.
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