The Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns with the league’s fifth-best rushing attack and needed every yard to leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a 23-20 victory.
For the second time in as many home games this season, Atlanta rushed for over 200 yards, but unlike in Week 1’s 27-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints, it got contributions from a variety of sources and came out on top.
NFC Offensive Player of the Month Cordarrelle Patterson got off to a strong start with a touchdown in the first quarter, but the knee swelling that had hampered him all week and made him questionable when he entered the game limited his availability. He finished with just nine carries for a season-low 38 yards and a score.
However, fifth-round rookie Tyler Allgeier and second-year undrafted pro Caleb Huntley stepped up big. Allgeier was Atlanta’s leading rusher, finishing with 10 carries for 84 yards, including a 42-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up the Falcons’ game-tying field goal.
Meanwhile, Huntley, who was activated from the practice squad on Saturday, sparked a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that sparked the Falcons’ late-game offense. Huntley had eight carries for 54 yards and a score, finishing with 10 rushes for 56 yards on the day.
At one point from the third quarter to midway through the fourth, the Falcons ran the ball 14 straight times — in part because the Browns simply couldn’t stop them and in part out of necessity because quarterback Marcus Mariota was completely out of rhythm.
In the end, Mariota was seven of 19 for 139 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He added just three yards on five rushing attempts. After a solid first quarter in which the Falcons took a 10-0 lead, Mariota completed just two passes over the final 45 minutes of the game.
And yet, it didn’t matter.
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The Falcons’ offensive line – particularly right guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Caleb McGary – took over the game and outplayed the always physical Browns.
Amidst three consecutive three-and-outs and an interception by Mariota, the Falcons got away from running the ball. But when they absolutely needed yards — and points — they reverted to old reliable — the pack up front that led to the league’s fifth-most rushing yards.
And while the old reliables rose to the challenge, so did a pair of running backs who had a combined three games of experience on the day.
Just a year after finishing 31st in rushing yards per game, the Falcons beat Cleveland on the back of their ground game, a trademark of coach Arthur Smith and a clear statement that progress has been made.
The Falcons will look to continue that progress and grab first place in the NFC South on Sunday when they travel to Raymond James Stadium for a matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft
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