There’s no sugarcoating what happened last week.
The Atlanta Falcons let one get away that they could have won, and it might come back to haunt them big-time come season’s end.
Down 19-13 in the last minute at Washington, Atlanta worked its way inside the 5-yard line with a chance to pull out a win that would have put it in first place in the NFC South. But Marcus Mariota tossed a tipped-ball interception that sealed a gutting loss.
And now the Falcons have to pick up the pieces, starting Sunday at home against a Pittsburgh Steelers team perfectly willing to play the spoiler’s role.
At 5-7, Atlanta is a half-game behind Tampa Bay in the division. But the Falcons have missed a spate of chances to establish control of a weak division. Five of their seven defeats have come by a total of 20 points.
Put two or three of those in the win column and they are looking at a home game in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, Atlanta is looking to make up ground in the division while playing the season’s remainder short-handed.
The team disclosed on Wednesday that tight end Kyle Pitts, who despite a disappointing sophomore year remains one of its top players, will undergo season-ending knee surgery. Pitts caught just 28 passes this year and received barely half as many targets as he had in a 68-reception 2021.
“Nothing that concerns us going into 2023,” second-year Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We were a much different team and in a much different place where you saw a lot of growth in a lot of other jobs that we’ve asked him to do.”
Also, Atlanta held out running back Cordarrelle Patterson from Wednesday’s practice, although the team said it was only for rest purposes. It’s likely Patterson and Tyler Allgeier, who have combined for 1,058 yards, will be the focus of its game plan.
As for Pittsburgh (4-7), its playoff hopes are remote at best in the stacked AFC. But the Steelers signaled in Monday night’s 24-17 win at Indianapolis that they don’t plan to roll over for the rest of the season.
Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was solid in his third straight game without an interception, hitting on 20 of 28 attempts for 174 yards. A variety of running backs helped pound out 172 yards on the ground, enabling Pittsburgh to own possession for more than 34 minutes.
And a decent chunk of that came with starter Najee Harris on the shelf after suffering an abdominal injury that forced him to miss the second half. Harris missed practice on Wednesday and his status for this week’s game might be a game-time decision.
Benny Snell helped pick up slack for Harris with 62 yards on his first 12 carries of the year, including the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown run with 9:55 left in the game.
“He has an edge, he runs angry,” Pickett said of Snell. “I love the juice he brings. He’s a detailed guy who does his job very well.”
–Field Level Media