ATLANTA — When the oculus roof opens and sunlight floods into Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the building has a different feel. Fresh air, autumn breezes and bright sunshine bathe the pitch and stands in a warm glow. It’s like a part of college football in the hip, professional version of the NFL.
Maybe that’s why Desmond Ridder, who excelled in college and led a five-man school to the College Football Playoff, had his best day as a pro on Sunday. Reed orchestrated a game-winning offense — more on that later — but more importantly, he stayed upright, avoided sacks, used his legs for the team’s benefit, and every pass he completed The ball is all about his teammates.
“Very good,” Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said of Reid’s performance, before elaborating. “Being a quarterback in this league is a tough job. That’s what they signed up for. A lot of these guys get paid well. It takes a special mentality. He has the right mentality.”
That mentality was never in doubt; Reid exuded confidence every week. The question for Falcons fans is skill. Reed entered Sunday’s game with as many interceptions (3) as touchdowns. His decision-making and accuracy, especially in pressure situations, have caught people’s attention. When Reid drained a three-and-out with less than 75 seconds to play in the Falcons’ first game against the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon, he drew waves of hope-weary Falcons fans. Bo booed.
Through the first four weeks of the season, the consensus on the Falcons was that Atlanta was a “everything but quarterback” team. The defense showed what it can do on Sunday as they surrounded C.J. Stroud and did well enough against Houston to force four field goals. Drake London is a threat at receiver, Kyle Pitts is pretty good throwing the ball anywhere near him, and Tyler Allgaier Tyler Allgeier is already a sledgehammer at bat.
Bijan Robinson, in particular, is already a star. His hesitant dribble touchdown looked so much like Allen Iverson rushing into the end zone that it’s surprising the officials didn’t call him on the play.
Other teams have taken notice of the Falcons’ unbalanced offense. “If they use wide receivers, they’re going to get wide receivers,” Texans safety Jimmy Ward said before Sunday. “I don’t think they were trying to pass the ball. They were trying to get past physical teams and run the ball.”
He was not wrong. After five games, Reed ranks 17th in the NFL in attempts, 19th in yards per completion and 20th in completion percentage. Meanwhile, Robinson and Allgaier had nearly even carries — 67 and 62, respectively — and combined, they combined to surpass league-leading Christian McCaffrey’s 99 carries. It pales in comparison.
But Reid made some changes on Sunday that could turn Atlanta from a “have it all” team to a “have it all” team. On the first series after three outs, he led the Falcons 75 yards in seven plays and rushed for the final 7 yards for a touchdown himself.
After three quarters, with 1:54 left in the game, Reed led by 1 point and had the first decisive moment of his career. Go win the gamehe told himself. Don’t try to force anything. You have plenty of time.
In the crowd, he told the Falcons to avoid penalties and win. He then took advantage of Texas’ extremely soft defense, hitting first Robinson, then London twice, and then Pitts, mixed in with a scramble, to advance the ball a chunk at a time. Ridder then looked deep and found London for a 23-yard field goal for the game-winning field goal.
Final score: Falcons 21, Texans 19. Reed’s final stats on the final drive: 5-for-5 for 44 yards, one rush for 5 yards, and two bloody knees to set up Younghoe Koo’s game-winning drive.
“This was really my first real two-minute drive,” Reed said. “Just being cool, calm, collected, not rushing, not trying to force anything, just going with the flow.”
“Hopefully this does build confidence because now he has evidence,” Smith said. “A great return for Season 4.”
The Falcons face the Commanders next week before a crucial road game against division rival Tampa Bay. Both of these games are winnable for Atlanta, especially if fourth-quarter versions of the Falcons and Reid come out. Atlanta is still a long way from contending for the division title, but the NFC South would be a start.
“We know there’s still a lot of work to do,” Smith said. “If we think we have all the answers today and we don’t continue to improve and grow, you’re going to be humbled very quickly. We’re not going to take any more victory laps.”
A few more wins would suit Reid and Falcons fans, though.