ATLANTA (AP) — The loss of star tight end Kyle Pitts for any extended period is going to be hard on the Atlanta Falcons.
Pitts, who went down with a knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears, isn’t just a threat in the passing game. Pitts also plays a key role in blocking for the team’s run-first offense.
The Falcons (5-6) will turn to MyCole Pruitt to fill the role this weekend at Washington (6-5), but he’s no match for the athleticism of Pitts, the No. 4 overall draft pick last year and Pro Bowl selection as a rookie. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, though, believes the team has plenty of confidence in Pruitt.
“He doesn’t get a lot of credit, and he deserves a whole lot,” Mariota said. “Like, not only does he block at the point of attack and do a lot of different things for us. Unfortunately, with Kyle going down, he had to step into a bigger role and had a huge play for us on one of those keepers.”
Pitts was placed on injured reserve Monday and will get a second opinion on his knee before deciding if he needs to undergo surgery. His productivity is down this year as coach Arthur Smith has sought to control time of possession with a stout rushing attack. The former Florida standout ranks second on the team with 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns but he constantly draws double team coverage that opens opportunities for others.
At least Atlanta knows Cordarrelle Patterson is healthy. The 10th-year veteran returned a kickoff 103 yards for his ninth career touchdown that broke the NFL career record in the second quarter. He also converted a fourth-down run that kept the winning drive moving in the fourth.
Patterson missed four games on injured reserve after undergoing minor knee surgery, but has bounced back in a big way.
Another key element to the victory was Atlanta’s ability to keep Justin Fields from breaking off big runs. Fields began the day having set an NFL rushing record for quarterbacks in a two-game span, getting 178 against Miami and 147 against Detroit.
He had 85 yards against the Falcons, who decided not to blitz most of the afternoon, and was held to a long of 17. Fields’ 4.7 yards per carry were his fewest since Week 2, and he had a season-high 18 carries.
“Just coming in disciplined, sticking to the game plan and just being detailed,” cornerback A.J. Terrell said of the job Atlanta did against the explosive QB. “Everybody doing their job. Just got the job done.”
The running game, which ranks second in total yards rushing, continues to be a major asset. Atlanta ran for 149 yards and 4.5 yards per carry against Chicago, highlighted by Tyler Allgeier’s 55 yards and Patterson’s 52.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
With Pitts down this week, the Falcons will be hard pressed to get more productivity from their passing attack. They rank third-fewest in total yards passing, but still need to produce more of a threat with play-action so the offense can open up.
Safety Jaylinn Hawkins came down with a big interception on the Bears’ final drive, picking off Fields at the Chicago 40 with 1:07 remaining and Atlanta holding a three-point lead.
The kickoff coverage unit began the game by allowing Velon Jones to run the ball back 55 yards to set up a touchdown on the Bears’ opening possession.
Like Pitts, defensive end Ta’Quon Graham has a knee injury that will sideline him for at least the next four games as he was placed on injured reserve.
4 — The Falcons, who rank 28th in sacks, tied a season high with four against Chicago. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Grady Jarrett registered one sack and has a team-best 13 1/2 pressures this year to go along with seven quarterback knockdowns and 5 1/2 sacks.
The Falcons get ready to face the Commanders and work Pruitt into the game plan to compensate for the loss of Pitts.