The 49ers were dealing with injuries, but were still a good football team. It would take a really good Atlanta effort to win this one, and they got it, plus a few crucial San Francisco mistakes that made this one even more manageable.
The Falcons had a couple of lackluster drives on offense, but otherwise chewed up the clock, imposed their will on the ground, and got a season-best performance from Marcus Mariota, who was wreathed in righteous fire. The defense was bailed out by a couple of bad drops on blown coverages, but also brought pressure, took advantage of opportunities to get turnovers, and staunched the bleeding after San Francisco tied it up at 14-14. It wasn’t always pretty, but it worked more than well enough to get past a depleted yet still terrific 49ers squad, and in the second half the Falcons were firmly in control of the game.
The balance on both sides of the ball and the strong defensive effort made this the best Falcons game of the season so far, especially considering the opponent, and now they’re at 3-3 and truly look like the team nobody wants to play. Atlanta’s future is brighter than the present, but even in the here and now, the Falcons are an improving and dangerous team. It’s a delight to see.
Here’s a drive-by-drive recap of the game you just watched, should you want to re-live it.
The Falcons started with the ball from their own 25. After a swing pass to Avery Williams went nowhere, Tyler Allgeier picked it up about five yards and then Marcus Mariota found Olamide Zaccheaus wide open over the middle for a big catch and run. A three-yard run, Kyle Pitts catch, and Mariota scramble later, the Falcons had another first down. Caleb Huntley picked up four, then another five, then another couple for another first down, showcasing his physicality along the way. MyCole Pruitt capped things off with a jumping touchdown grab on a well-placed Mariota ball and the Falcons were up 7-0.
The 49ers ran twice with Jeff Wilson to start things off, and both times Grady Jarrett prevented long runs with nice tackles. Jimmy Garoppolo’s heave over the middle didn’t work out and the 49ers were forced to punt after a quick three and out. A nice Avery Williams return gave them solid field position.
Tyler Allgeier turned a sure loss into a yard, and a player later Mariota found Drake London over the middle for 15 yards. Caleb Huntley didn’t get much of anywhere on first down and then a Kyle Pitts false start backed Atlanta up. On the next play, Mariota got rid of the ball under duress for a nice gain to Williams, but a Drew Dalman block in the back got it called back. A couple of decent plays later, the Falcons punted.
A short pass and a good Wilson run brought the 49ers to third and short, where the ball was fumbled on a big hit from Troy Andersen. AJ Terrell picked it up and returned it almost to the end zone, where hey fumbled it and it was scooped up by Jaylinn Hawkins for a touchdown. 14-0 Falcons.
The 49ers got rolling to end the quarter, with George Kittle and Deebo Samuel combining to pick up about 20 on two plays.
Brandon Aiyuk had a nice gain, coughed it up, and San Francisco recovered it, then Jeff Wilson got them low midfield. A shovel pass to George Kittle and a good Wilson run had the 49ers just outside the 10 yard line, A screen pass and excellent blocking to Aiyuk led to a touchdown to close the gap for San Francisco. 14-7 Falcons.
Atlanta needed to answer to keep a robust lead. Huntley made a nice cut but was still tackled for only a yard gain, On third down, Mariota didn’t have a lot of time to find an open man, escaped one sack, and took off running, but only made it a short distance . The punt was returned almost to the Atlanta 30 after KhaDarel Hodge couldn’t get Ray-Ray McCloud down and Troy Andersen’s pursuit and tackle saved a touchdown.
The 49ers kept it moving with screens and short passes Atlanta seemed incapable of stopping, with Richie Grant taking a huge hit from Kittle to save one first down. Inside the 20 on second and nine, Garoppolo found Aiyuk again for a short pass that he took to the house. 14-14 ties.
The Falcons got an easy first down thanks to a call on Fred Warner, one that erased an ugly Mariota throw that was nearly picked off by…Fred Warner. Mariota took the next play eight yards after faking a handoff, and then Tyler Allgeier picked up one. Keith Smith bulled his way to the first down to keep the drive alive. Mariota had no shot on the next play and was dropped for an eight yard loss, but got five of that back on a quick pass to Kyle Pitts. Mariota did the job himself on third down, escaping a collapsing pocket and picking up 17 yards on a gallop across the middle. He then found Drake London (who turned around to make a nice catch) for a first down to bring the team inside the San Francisco 20. Caleb Huntley bulldozed his way inside the five yard line and Mariota capped things off with a rollout run for a touchdown. 21-14 Falcons.
The 49ers wanted to get some points, and after a couple of solid gains and a holding call on Lorenzo Carter, they were in range of doing so. Garoppolo’s sideline heave to about the 10 yard line was picked off by a leaping Isaiah Oliver—welcome back!—and that ended the half.
The 49ers started from the 30 after the Falcons were backed up on the kickoff by a penalty I never quite heard at the end of the first half. Jimmy Garoppolo and company couldn’t get it going, with Garoppolo just missing McCloud downfield on second down and a third down pass falling well short of a first down. Punt, and another nice return by Williams put the Falcons on their own 35.
Zaccheaus reeled in the first down grab and took it for a first down to get the Falcons moving, and then Allgeier picked up about five on the next carry. It was Allgeier’s show, as he picked up four on the next carry and much more on the next, keeping the drive alive and slamming into the teeth of the 49ers defense. Mariota picked up a ton on the next play, getting the Falcons near the 10 on a play where he picked up another couple of yards through contact. After a couple of short runs, Mariota capped it off with a touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts, just the second of his career and his first on American soil. 28-14 Falcons.
The 49ers drive died on the vine after Samuel had a nice first down pickup following a first down, all because Garoppolo couldn’t get yet another deep ball over the middle that was not caught. San Francisco’s game looks very different if those are reeled in, but thankfully they weren’t. After Richie Grant delivered pressure on third down that forced a bad throw, it was yet another punt.
Three straight Caleb Huntley carries to start the next drive resulted in a first down, and then a short pass from Mariota to Keith Smith nearly got another. Unfortunately, Tyler Allgeier got eaten up after a yard and Marcus Mariota’s run didn’t go anywhere on third down and two to go. Punt.
The 49ers kept it up with the short passes, but the most impactful play as the quarter wound down was a series of hard counts that got Grady Jarrett, leading to an encroachment call and giving San Francisco a first down.
Garoppolo took another deep shot to Aiyuk, but Darren Hall batted it away. On the next play, Hall tipped it (and picked up a flag) and Jaylinn Hawkins made a play on it, picking it off and getting the ball back for Atlanta.
A quick Caleb Huntley run and a Drake London grab got the Falcons to third and one, and Mariota hit Zaccheaus for a first down on the next play. Back-to-back runs to Williams and Huntley picked up a total of five yards, and on third down Mariota just missed London with a throw in the dirt. The punt, however, was stopped by KhaDarel Hodge at the one yard line to set San Francisco up with awful field position.
The 49ers were able to move, but they lost Aiyuk to injury along the way and were using too much clock doing so. A deep shot to Aiyuk, who returned, would have set them up nicely if not for a penalty on San Francisco, but after a short run, Jimmy G did find Samuel for a big gain. A missed throw and a tackle for a loss by Quinton Bell set the Falcons up to get San Francisco off the field and seal the victory on 3rd and 12, but they did convert. A penalty backed them up five yards, and then a play to nowhere only got a few yards. Unfortunately, Casey Hayward and Isaiah Oliver both got hurt on back-to-back plays, leaving the Falcons with three reserve cornerbacks in the game. The 49ers were able to get inside the 20 quickly after that but did miss on a red zone shot to George Kittle. On the next play, Mike Ford and Dee Alford got the stop, and on the play after that, Atlanta forced an incompletion. Turnover on downs.
Tyler Allgeier got yards and forced a timeout on the first play, and then picked up a first down on the second play. Atlanta was able to run out the clock on the ground, punt and get a stop, and seal a 28-14 win.