Dec 10, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) runs for a touchdown after a catch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons exercise fifth-year option for TE Kyle Pitts

The Atlanta Falcons picked up tight end Kyle Pitts’ fifth-year option on Monday.

The fourth overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft will stay with Atlanta through at least 2025. The option carries a guaranteed $10.878 million salary for 2025.

Pitts was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2021, when he caught 68 passes for 1,026 yards and one touchdown, but his production had tailed off in the two seasons since, in part due to a torn MCL midway through his sophomore campaign.

Pitts, 23, has totaled 149 receptions for 2,049 yards and six touchdowns over 44 career games (40 starts) while catching passes from Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke in the past two years.

The Falcons signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract in free agency before adding QB Michael Penix Jr. with the eighth pick in the draft last week.

Atlanta is also expected to have a new game plan under Raheem Morris, who was hired to replace Arthur Smith as head coach. Speaking at the owners’ meetings last month, Morris indicated he was high on Pitts.

“He’s the mayor of Atlanta,” Morris said. “I think he wants to come back and have a highly productive year. I think he’s excited about his partnership with some of the guys that we brought in.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith calls a time out in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith: Falcons will miss Kyle Pitts’ ‘enormous’ impact after IR move

After Sunday’s thrilling 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons are surprisingly just a half-game out of first place in the NFC South and in position to make a run at winning the division.

But any optimism surrounding the Falcons (5-6) in Arthur Smith’s second season as coach was overshadowed Monday by knee injuries to tight end Kyle Pitts and defensive end Ta’Quon Graham, who were placed on injured reserve.

Pitts, who plays a valuable role in Atlanta’s offense with his unique skill set as a receiver and blocker, injured his right knee Sunday. Though the Falcons have not confirmed the severity of the injury, NFL Network reported that the team believes he suffered a torn MCL.

“I did not go to medical school so I listen to the experts,” Smith said Monday, before Pitts’ move to IR. “Obviously it’s important with a player of Kyle’s caliber, and I understand why it’s newsworthy and people want to know, but I, not trying to be evasive, let the guys who are medical experts handle it.”

Graham, the team’s starting left end, also suffered a knee injury Sunday and had to be carted off the field. Both Pitts and Graham will have to miss at least four games before returning from IR.

The injury to Pitts put the Falcons behind the eight-ball against the Bears with fellow tight ends Feleipe Franks and Anthony Firkser inactive. MyCole Pruitt and Parker Hesse saw increased action as a result of Pitts being out. But the loss of Pitts for any period of time is a major blow to Atlanta’s offense.

Pitts has 28 receptions for 356 yards and two touchdowns over 10 games. He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2021, with 68 receptions for 1,026 yards and one touchdown.

“I know the stats aren’t as gaudy as his rookie season but his impact on winning has been enormous for us,” Smith said. “I know at times we haven’t been in sync with the way we’ve had to play, and you are going to sacrifice some passing numbers. But the guy’s a great teammate. He doesn’t pout like a lot of guys with that kind of hype. But he’s a real person and that’s why we love him. And the future is really bright for him.”

Graham, a stout run defender, has 34 tackles and a fumble recovery this season.

This week, Atlanta travels to take on the red-hot Washington Commanders in a critical game that could help determine a playoff spot. Washington (6-5) has won two in a row and five of its last six games.

Taylor Heinicke replaced Carson Wentz at quarterback and improved to 4-1 as the team’s starter this year following the Commanders’ 23-10 win over Houston. He also led Washington to a 32-21 upset of previously undefeated Philadelphia on Nov. 14.

The play of Heinicke, along with a resurgent rushing attack led by Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson, has been critical to Washington’s recent success.

Another key has been the play of the Commanders’ defensive line. Despite playing without star defensive end Chase Young due to a torn ACL he suffered last season, Washington has 29 sacks through 11 games, tied for 10th in the league.

Young was activated to Washington’s 53-man roster Monday and could make his season debut against Atlanta. The Falcons’ offensive line is playing well, but it will face a major challenge against a rugged Commanders front which features Daron Payne (6.5 sacks), Jonathan Allen (6.5 sacks) and Montez Sweat (6.0 sacks).

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith calls a time out in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons’ Arthur Smith: ‘Not a disconnect’ between Mariota, Pitts

Behind every good offense, there is a good offensive line. And the Atlanta Falcons have been fortunate to have one of the league’s best units so far in the 2022 campaign.

But that unit took another hit Sunday when left guard Matt Hennessy injured his knee in the Falcons’ 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Coach Arthur Smith said Hennessy “won’t be available this week” when the Falcons (4-5) hit the road to take on the Carolina Panthers (2-7) in an NFC South showdown Thursday night.

It was unfortunate luck for Hennessy after he made his first start of the season in place of starting left guard Elijah Wilkinson, who was put on injured reserve before the Los Angeles game.

Veteran Colby Gossett will be the likely starter at left guard against Carolina.

Despite the revolving door at left guard, Atlanta quarterback Marcus Mariota and tight end Kyle Pitts need to connect more in the passing game, especially on the deep ball.

Mariota and Pitts narrowly missed a 34-yard touchdown pass after a slight overthrow from Mariota. Smith thinks the duo will hit those deep tries in the coming weeks.

“There’s not a disconnect,” Smith said. “We’ve been pretty efficient in the red zone. We’ve hit some explosives down the field. Obviously, we’ve got to continue to work that with him and Kyle, which we will.”

Two weeks ago, Carolina started P.J. Walker at quarterback against the Falcons. But he was pulled in the Panthers’ 42-21 loss to Cincinnati in favor of Baker Mayfield.

Regardless of who starts under center for the Panthers, the Falcons will prepare accordingly in an important divisional game.

“If it’s Baker, we’ll see what he did yesterday,” Smith said. “We’ll see how they used him offensively. Or if it’s P.J., it’s what you’ve got to prepare for. They’ll have them ready to go. It’s a divisional game. We got to be ready to roll. It’s a huge opportunity for us Thursday night.”

–Tailback Tyler Allgeier had 10 carries for a career-high 99 yards against the Chargers. Smith said Allgeier has really progressed on third down, in pass protection and as a receiver, which can be a real challenge for rookies.

“He’s really, really intelligent,” Smith said. “All the different looks you get in the NFL, with the speed that you get, a lot of times for rookies it takes a minute to adapt. I think Tyler has certainly made a lot of improvements there … In the passing game, his awareness, understanding where to settle down in zones. He’s got what I call good spatial awareness.”

–Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 44 yards and two touchdowns in his return from an IR stay. He also caught one pass for nine yards. Due to the production of Allgeier and fellow rookie runner Caleb Huntley, Atlanta has the luxury of keeping its veteran running back fresh and play him in a variety of roles.

— Smith also addressed injuries to tight end and special teams contributor Feleipe Franks (calf), starting cornerback A.J. Terrell (hamstring) and safety Erik Harris (foot).

“I think it’ll be tough for Feleipe to make it for Thursday,” Smith said. “When you’re on these short weeks it’s not like you’re able to really crank up full speed tonight or tomorrow, right. … We’ll do the same thing with A.J., kind of assess him, see where he’s at, (as well as) Erik Harris.”

Smith said the Falcons did not plan to activate any players off injured reserve this week, “but that may change next week.”

–Field Level Media

September 18, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) rushes against Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Charles Cross (67) during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers DE Nick Bosa out, Falcons TE Kyle Pitts active

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa will miss Sunday’s game at Atlanta due to a groin injury.

Bosa joins two other defensive line starters, tackles Javon Kinlaw (knee) and Arik Armstead (foot, ankle), as being out for the Week 6 contest between the 49ers (3-2) and Falcons (2-3).

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said earlier in the week he was “really hoping” Bosa would be available. Bosa missed practice Wednesday and Thursday before returning in a limited capacity on Friday.

Bosa shares the NFL lead with six sacks through five games, to go along with 15 tackles and 16 quarterback hits.

Also inactive Sunday for San Francisco are defensive back Jimmie Ward (hand), left tackle Trent Williams (ankle) and tight end Tyler Kroft (knee).

Rookie running back Tyrion Davis-Price is active for the first time since sustaining a high ankle sprain in Week 2. Defensive back Tarvarius Moore is also active after dealing with a hamstring injury.

For Atlanta, tight end Kyle Pitts returns from a hamstring injury, but linebacker and defensive signal-caller Mykal Walker is inactive with a groin injury.

Pitts has 10 catches for 150 yards and no touchdowns in four games this season.

Walker has a team-high 44 tackles with one sack and one interception.

Tight end Anthony Firkser, wide receiver Jared Bernhardt, tackle Chuma Edoga, safety Erik Harris and linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji are also inactive for the Falcons.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Julio Jones (6) runs the ball against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (3) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Bucs WR Julio Jones inactive vs. Falcons

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Julio Jones was ruled inactive for Sunday’s game against the visiting Atlanta Falcons.

Jones, who is nursing a knee injury, is the Falcons’ franchise leader in in catches (848) and receiving yards (12,896). He also ranks second in club history with 60 receiving touchdowns.

While Jones and fellow wideout Breshad Perriman (knee, hamstring) are out for Sunday’s game, Russell Gage is active against his former team despite being limited in practice all week with a back injury. Gage is set to join Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in Tom Brady’s passing attack for the Buccaneers (2-2), who have lost two in a row.

Tampa Bay also listed wide receiver Deven Thompkins and quarterback Kyle Trask as inactive on Sunday.

Tight end Cameron Brate (concussion), safety Logan Ryan (foot) and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (foot) had been ruled out for the game on Friday.

Also on Friday, the Falcons announced tight end Kyle Pitts would miss the first game of his NFL career on Sunday.

Pitts, a former first-round pick, did not participate in practice all week while dealing with a hamstring injury.

On Sunday, the Falcons listed linebackers DeAngelo Malone and Nick Kwiatkoski, offensive lineman Chuma Edoga and wide receiver Jared Bernhardt as inactive.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) reacts with New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) (not shown) on the field after the game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons enter another offseason of uncertainty

Arthur Smith went 7-10 in his first season as an NFL head coach but the Atlanta Falcons are aiming much higher.

“You’d be a fool not to want to play for Art, especially this year, the foundation he’s been building with guys in this locker room,” said Cordarrelle Patterson in his season-ending press conference Monday.

The Falcons enter another offseason facing major questions. Quarterback Matt Ryan, 36, has a cap hit of over $48 million in 2022. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley went from being cast as a No. 1 receiver in the aftermath of the Julio Jones trade to missing in action to address mental health. There are signals he could be traded.

Smith said Sunday night Ryan “knows how we feel about him, but you’re not going to get like a hot take from me today to ever back ourselves into a corner. Everything is evaluated every year and that’s the way it goes in the NFL. To make a grand statement right after a game, we’re on the same page. Do I have have to declare that Kyle Pitts will be a tight end for us next year? Do you want me to declare that?”

Smith said the ESPN report linking Ryan to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a potential landing spot was a reminder “you can find whatever you want on the internet.”

Among the building blocks are the Falcons’ 2021 top pick Pitts, who said Monday he felt like he had a good start to his career. He said the biggest challenge being a rookie was staying on schedule and maintaining his health. He said reading defenses is an area he needs to improve in, but first he’s stepping away from football for a breather.

“I’ll go on vacation, take some time away, spend time with the family and get back to it,” Pitts said.

Patterson is an unrestricted free agent after scoring 11 touchdowns as the Falcons’ leading rusher and third-leading receiver. Patterson had 618 rushing yards on 153 carries and caught 52 passes for 548 yards.

“I’m just going to go back to doing what I normally do,” Patterson said. “Training and getting ready for the season no matter what team I’m on — I’m going to give it my all.”

Patterson turns 31 in March. He said his mother, who lives three hours from Atlanta, told him three days ago she wants him to stay with the Falcons so that she can attend home games.

Patterson said teams looked at him as a special teams player, but Smith “trusted and believed in me, putting me in position to make plays” and recognizes he likely raised his value on the open market.

–Field Level Media

Nov 14, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts makes a reception in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons glad to swiftly change focus to Patriots

No time to reflect. Preparation for Week 11 on fast forward. It’s the blessing and the curse of the short week.

The Falcons are in active recovery mode following a drubbing in Dallas, a 40-point loss to the Cowboys in which the Falcons scored three points and converted one third down for a first down.

“You want to move on as quick as possible,” a stone-faced Smith said in his brief media huddle on Monday afternoon at Flowery Branch. “We were outcoached. We were outplayed.”

It’s typical for coaches to return home from a Sunday game and plot through the night with a goal of gameplan completion for the quick turnaround with just three days between kickoffs. Atlanta didn’t hold a full or normal on-field practice and will go lighter than usual all week.

There was little joy in Smith’s office judging by his outward demeanor on Monday.

Atlanta’s loss was painful in multiple ways. Perhaps the most pressing matter emanating in Smith’s closed-door planning meetings before facing the New England Patriots on Thursday is the status of utility weapon Cordarrelle Patterson.

He’s undergoing tests for a sprained ankle and not likely to be on the field for the Falcons, who are still without top wide receiver Calvin Ridley (personal).

Patterson, 30, was injured early in the Falcons’ blowout loss and collected just 39 yards from scrimmage before exiting. Patterson has 303 rushing yards, 473 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns this season.

Smith said he again directly addressed one other matter coming out of Sunday’s loss: the defensive line shoving Cowboys’ interior offensive linemen in the victory formation after kneel-downs under the two-minute mark.

“Look, they kicked our butt. Take it fair and square,” Smith said.

Matt Ryan had a disastrous statistical line against former Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn on Sunday: 21.4 quarterback rating, nine completions.

New England improved to 6-4 on Sunday with a dominant win over the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots and renowned defensive mastermind Bill Belichick were again a step ahead of an opposing quarterback.

During his weekly radio show on Monday morning, Belichick said he had already taken notice of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. He called the versatile weapon “a problem” for the Patriots.

“Very hard to match up against,” Belichick said. “I was reading through some of the Atlanta comments and you hear them comparing him to a cross between Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones, and I’d say that’s about right. That’s what it looks like. He’s one of the superstars of the NFL already.

“I’m sure he’ll break all the rookie tight end receiving records. I think he’s on pace to, but he’ll be right there. This guy’s got a tremendous career in front of him. He can play every position. He plays end of the line of scrimmage, he can play in the slot, he can play outside. He’s got a great skillset. He’s competitive, he’ll block. He’s good after the catch. He’s a matchup nightmare.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 5, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) during the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Pitts intrigue growing as NFL draft approaches

The future NFL home of Kyle Pitts continues to be one of more debated topics leading up to Thursday’s start to the 2021 NFL Draft.

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound former Florida Gators tight end who sports a 4.5-second 40-yard dash is viewed as a generational talent, drawing lofty comparisons to San Francisco 49ers All-Pro George Kittle.

Quarterbacks are widely expected to go with the first three overall picks Thursday. After that, the draft intrigue ratchets up with the Atlanta Falcons at No. 4.

Do the Falcons draft Matt Ryan’s heir apparent? Do they provide Ryan with a weapon like Pitts for the back side of his career? Or do they deal the pick to a team eager for Pitts or one of the remaining top quarterbacks?

The various scenarios have led to a slew of action on the prop market.

The Falcons have been backed by 47.5 percent of the money and 86.3 percent of the bets at BetMGM to select Pitts. The next highest figures belong to the Dallas Cowboys at 27.9 and 6.0 percent, respectively.

Currently with the 10th overall pick, Dallas would almost certainly have to move up in order to land Pitts.

The Miami Dolphins, owners of the sixth pick, have received 8.2 percent of the money and 4.3 percent of the bets to select Pitts. No other team has received more than 3.3 percent of the action in either market.

Pitts’ stock has continued to gain momentum as the draft has approached.

He is now being offered at +110 to be selected in the top 5 at DraftKings, a prop that is being backed by 43 percent of the money and 26 percent of the total bets.

Meanwhile, PointsBet reported a $500 wager on Pitts at +5000 to be selected third overall that would pay out $25,000. It’s a long shot wager, with Pitts owning the fifth-shortest odds at the book to go No. 3 overall behind quarterbacks Mac Jones (-400), Trey Lance (+220), Justin Fields (+700) and Zach Wilson (+4000).

Where Pitts will wind up on Thursday night is just one of the hundreds of draft-related prop bets being offered by sportsbooks.

“BetMGM has taken significant action on the NFL draft,” said BetMGM sports trader Darren Darby. “So far, action has been equivalent to a NBA game but expectations are that by Thursday there will be more handle than an average NFL game.”

–Field Level Media