Pitts, offense held in check in disappointing Falcons debut

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta first-year coach Arthur Smith had reason for optimism when his offense ran 29 plays and gained 136 yards on two clock-draining possessions to open his debut.

The bad news for Smith’s Falcons: The two long drives produced only six points.

Even worse news: Those were the team’s only points in Sunday’s ugly 32-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The poor start to the season for Atlanta’s offense was especially disappointing for such new faces as rookie starters Kyle Pitts and Jalen Mayfield.

Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, had a modest four catches for 31 yards. He had eight targets in his much-anticipated debut and, as expected, looked more like a big, physical Julio Jones-like wide receiver than a tight end when lining up outside.

Pitts had only one catch for 1 yard in the first half. His biggest gain was for 18 yards as he saw more work in the second half, when Atlanta was in comeback mode.

“It was great, I had a lot of fun,” Pitts said. “My emotions where high and I was vibin’.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said Pitts “did some good things for the first time” but added the rookie was hampered by a “choppy” passing game.

Ryan said Pitts had “a really good catch on a seam route and showed he can catch the ball through contact, which is what you want.

“I think he’s only going to continue to get better for us,” the quarterback said. “I think as young players, it’s always good to have that first one under your belt, but I think he’s only going to get better for us.”

Two more newcomers shared the carries. Mike Davis, the former Carolina backup, ran for 49 yards. Cordarrelle Patterson was the surprise rushing leader with 54 yards.

Mayfield, starting at left guard, drew two false start penalties in the first half. He couldn’t stop Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave on two fourth-down sacks of Ryan in the second half.

“We’ve just got to be a lot better,” Mayfield said. “I know personally I’ve got to be a lot better.”

Smith, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator who is calling plays on offense in Atlanta, accepted blame for the poor debut. He said Mayfield and the line protected Ryan in the first half before “self-inflicted wounds” made the offense predictable.

“That would have put heat on anybody at the end of the game when you’re down multiple possessions like that,” Smith said, adding having rookie starters is “not our excuse. … They beat us whether we had a rookie.”

Atlanta (4-12 in 2020) and Philadelphia (4-11-1) are each starting over with new coaches, but Nick Sirianni’s Eagles outgained the Falcons 434-260.

Smith tried to take pressure off his players by putting blame on himself.

“I did a really poor job getting us ready to go,” Smith said. “I feel awful for our fans. Everybody showed up today. We’ll do a better job. That game is not going to define us.”

Ryan, 36, was held to only 164 yards passing despite the heavier emphasis on the passing game in the second half. It was his eighth-lowest total in a completed game since his 2008 rookie season.

Ryan was sacked three times and forced to scramble too often.

“I’ve played a long time and I know it’s never as good or never as bad,” Ryan said.

“It’s disappointing. You come out and expect yourself to play well and win and just have some things that got off-schedule and had some self-inflicted wounds and when you do that it puts you in a tough spot to overcome.”

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