Charles Odum
I cover Atlanta pro sports and college sports in Georgia.
CharlesOdumcodum@ap.org

Mariota, Falcons still looking for elusive breakthrough win

September 19, 2022 GMT
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota wipes his face during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota wipes his face during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota wipes his face during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota wipes his face during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
1 of 5
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota wipes his face during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

ATLANTA (AP) — Marcus Mariota and the Atlanta Falcons have not found a way to win in two games filled with near-equal portions of encouragement and frustration.

The Falcons showed resiliency in trying to rally from a 28-3 deficit on Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Mariota played a role in the comeback attempt, but with Atlanta driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, his pass for Bryan Edwards in the end zone was picked off by Jalen Ramsey.

Following the 31-27 loss, the Falcons have been outscored by a combined five points in their 0-2 start.

Coach Arthur Smith says the Falcons “need to break through” but added “they fight, they’re resilient.”

One week after Atlanta blew a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 27-26 loss to New Orleans, Smith’s team couldn’t quite pull off the comeback against the Rams. The close losses show last year’s team may have overachieved in finishing 7-10 despite being outscored 459-313.

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There are no trophies for reducing net deficits. “We’re certainly not celebrating moral victories,” Smith said.

Added Mariota: “At the end of the day, if we can just stack these days and put four quarters together, I think we will be a good team.”

Mariota’s red zone fumble was a crucial mistake in the loss to the Saints, and his late interception against the Rams was similarly devastating after throwing second-half touchdown passes to Drake London and Olamide Zaccheaus. The veteran quarterback couldn’t be blamed for another interception that bounced off the hands of intended target Cordarrelle Patterson.

Mariota has delivered about as expected of a former high draft pick trying to revive his career. He has shown good touch at times as a passer. He also has demonstrated an ability to create yards as a runner that the team lacked during Matt Ryan’s 14 seasons as a starter.

Until he can avoid crucial mistakes and push the Falcons to their elusive breakthrough, Mariota won’t be viewed as more than a short-term starter.

Even so, there’s no sign the Falcons are close to replacing Mariota with rookie Desmond Ridder, who was impressive at times in the preseason.

“There’s things we’ll look at and clean up, but he’s operating pretty well for us right now,” said Smith of Mariota.

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WHAT’S WORKING

London, the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft, had eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. London continues to play like Mariota’s go-to receiver. He already has 13 catches for 160 yards.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

For the second consecutive week, the Falcons scored touchdowns on only two of four possessions in the red zone. The Rams scored touchdowns on four of five red zone possessions, one week after the Saints were three for three against Atlanta. The Falcons converted only three of 10 third down plays.

STOCK UP

Rookie running back Tyler Algeier made his debut after being inactive in Week 1. Most notable was Algeier matching Patterson’s 10 carries as the starter. Patterson outrushed Algeier 41-30 and neither had a catch. With Damien Williams on injured reserve with a rib injury, Algeier will need to improve his 3 yards per carry average as he likely will continue to play a prominent role in the backfield.

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STOCK DOWN

One year after breaking the Falcons’ record for receiving yards as a tight end, Kyle Pitts has only 38 yards on four catches through two games. That includes two catches for 19 yards against the Rams. As a rookie, Pitts had 68 catches for 1,046 yards. Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez had the team record for tight ends with 930 yards in 2012.

KEY NUMBER

129 — Left tackle Jake Mathews made his 129th consecutive start, the longest active streak in the NFL. He passed Keith Brooking, who made 128 straight starts from 2000-2008, for the third-longest streak in team history.

NEXT STEPS

The Falcons will remain on the West Coast this week. The team will practice in Seattle all week before playing the Seahawks on Sunday. Seattle leads the series 12-8.

“I think it’s good for us to stay out here, be on the West Coast, being all together,” Mariota said. “It’s what it’s about. We’ll find ways to all improve. We’ll all continue to get better. But to be out here together, I think is great for us.”

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