With rain pouring down and errant passes falling to the wayside, Marcus Mariota’s struggles were at the forefront of the Atlanta Falcons’ 25-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.
Nevertheless, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith refused to stack blame for the defeat on Mariota’s shoulders or discuss potentially moving on to rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder.
“I know that’s a popular narrative, those are the easy questions to ask,” Smith said when asked if a quarterback change was something he’d consider ahead of Atlanta’s Week 11 game against the Chicago Bears. “But as a whole team, we’ve got to do a better job, starting with myself. So, we look every week to make sure we’ve got the right guys in the right spots.”
Boasting the fourth-ranked rushing offense coming into Thursday and just the 30th-ranked passing attack, the Falcons found themselves in troubling waters early. Over their first four drives, the Falcons punted three times and Mariota threw a horrible interception to Jaycee Horn on the fourth. It led to a 13-0 start for the Panthers. Thus, Mariota found himself struggling and pressing, pressing and struggling.
“I was just trying to create a spark, and I think looking throughout my career, that’s when I give myself the most trouble, you know, ill-advised throws, forcing things down the field,” Mariota said. “So just maybe scrambling, gain a few yards, and keep the chains moving.”
Mariota’s throws and decision-making were off for the majority of the evening.
He finished his team’s second straight loss having gone 19-of-30 passing for 186 yards, two touchdowns to Drake London, one interception and an 89.0 rating. The numbers did not do justice to the struggles that truly colored the night, though.
Atlanta was just 3 of 11 on third down, totaled 291 yards of offense with 97 coming on a late scoring drive and was held scoreless for the first half until a Younghoe Koo field goal with no time left.
As Smith mentioned, it cannot all be shouldered completely by Mariota. The offensive line struggled, as evidenced by five sacks allowed. Still, Mariota wasn’t free from blame in that department when considering a dreadful first-half sack near the sideline in which he had ample time to toss it away.
In what’s been a disappointing theme of the season, the QB tried to no avail to get tight end Kyle Pitts involved but connected just twice for 28 yards on eight targets.
On a slippery night it was a wonder he didn’t have more than one interception as passes skipped off Panthers or at times seemed out of the area code of any Atlanta targets. Mariota also had what appeared to be an interception instead ruled a sack after he chucked an attempt into the North Carolina night as he was rolling to the ground.
Blessed with a gift for the scramble, Mariota has looked to be the right fit at times for the Falcons when the ground game is rolling and the team is playing with a lead. That wasn’t the case on Thursday and it wasn’t the case in a Week 9 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
A clamor to get Ridder, a third-round pick out of Cincinnati, is rising. For now, though, Smith isn’t ready to talk about making that move.
“You can make it about the quarterback, how ’bout about the team?” Smith said. “We had an opportunity at the end of the fourth quarter the last two weeks, and a lot of different ways, and a lot of different phases where we’ve got to get better. And we’ve got an opportunity to do that with seven games left.”
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