Falcons lean on revamped protection to beat Bryce Young in his Panthers debut

ATLANTA — The greatest takeaways from the Falcons’ season-opening win over the Panthers? Easily, Jessie Bates’ three takeaways in his Atlanta debut.

The veteran security, signed to a four-year, $64 million free-agent deal this spring, earned that massive paycheck and extra Sunday, intercepting rookie Bryce Young twice and forcing a key fumble. Those three performs led to 17 Falcons factors in a 24-10 victory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“He’s been working exhausting, main us. He was voted captain for a cause,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell mentioned after the sport. “To come out right here, first recreation, and witness it firsthand? Practice is one factor, however doing it in a recreation’s an entire completely different beast. He ought to positively be Defensive Player of Week for the NFC. It set the tone for our complete season, who we’re.”

Bates, 26, hasn’t had a two-pick recreation since he was at Wake Forest in 2016, and he’d solely pressured three fumbles in 5 NFL seasons earlier than Sunday’s massive three performs. The two interceptions had been practically an identical, within the first and third quarters, sitting in centerfield, studying Young and transferring as much as bounce in entrance of a receiver and choose off the go.

“They had been actually related,” Bates mentioned of the 2 interceptions. “He likes to throw the ball contained in the hashes. Both of them had been 2-by-2, related routes, attempting to hit that dig in the course of the sector. I’m certain Green Bay will throw deep on us subsequent week. But we have a good time these two interceptions and no matter we had immediately, and we transfer on tomorrow and prepare for Green Bay.”

The Falcons can relish such a convincing win for a bit. The franchise hadn’t gained a season opener since 2017 — solely the Colts had an extended streak in the complete NFL — and the group hadn’t had a successful file at any level in any season since 2017. Instead of digging a gap early within the yr, Atlanta has a leg up, particularly with a division win.

The two-score margin hides how shut the sport was — late within the third quarter, rating tied 10-10, Carolina had the ball in Atlanta territory, and operating again Miles Sanders went up the center for a 10-yard acquire. But as he went down, Bates managed to get the ball free — Sanders was initially dominated down by contact, however an official evaluate reversed it to a fumble — and that modified the arc of the sport. Atlanta’s offense scored on the subsequent possession, and the Falcons protection saved the Panthers from scoring the remainder of the way in which.

“It felt wonderful, man,” mentioned Bates, who performed in seven postseason video games the previous two seasons with the Bengals. “It’s a number of exhausting work that lots of people do not see. And not simply from me, from my teammates. When we began in OTAs once I first obtained right here, I knew we may do one thing particular, and that is only the start of it.”

Jessie Bates III discusses his distinctive recreation in Atlanta’s 24-10 win

Jessie Bates III discusses his exceptional game in Atlanta's 24-10 win

Young, the highest choose on this yr’s NFL Draft, had thrown two picks in a recreation simply twice in 34 video games at Alabama, however Bates had his quantity Sunday in a battle of two of the league’s most fun rookies. Young completed 20-for-38 for 146 yards with one landing, however no passes longer than 14 yards, held in test by a revamped Falcons protection. Meanwhile, Falcons RB Bijan Robinson, the No. 8 general choose within the draft, had a extra promising debut. He ran for 56 yards on 10 carries and caught six passes for 27 yards and a landing.

“I bear in mind enjoying my first recreation. I can solely think about what it is like for a quarterback enjoying his first recreation,” Bates mentioned of Young. “It’s a number of strain. You wish to get in a rhythm and get that really feel, and truthfully, I believed we had an excellent bounce on him immediately. He’ll be a extremely good quarterback on this league, however immediately, we obtained the perfect of him.”

Atlanta’s protection may have regarded like a rookie Sunday, with six new starters and a brand new coordinator in Ryan Nielsen, however the Falcons have not often leaned on their protection as a lot as they did in opposition to Carolina. The offense completed with simply 221 yards — Atlanta got here in 1-18 since 2001 when totaling 225 yards or fewer, so this was a case of 1 facet of the ball coming collectively extraordinarily effectively in its first alternative.

Atlanta RBs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier after defeating Panthers

Atlanta RBs Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier after defeating Panthers

That could possibly be seen on Carolina’s opening drive, because the Panthers marched contained in the Atlanta 20. Facing a third-and-1 on the 11, Carolina was stuffed for no acquire, and when the Panthers determined to go for it on fourth-and-1, they had been stopped once more. Campbell had anticipated them to take the sector purpose and the factors, so he was completely happy to get one other likelihood to cease them.

“Thank you for giving us the chance,” Campbell mentioned. “We know what we’re able to doing. I’m glad they tried to go for it. You by no means wish to give them factors. It’s each blade of grass. You defend each blade of grass. If it is fourth and an inch, when you give me a chance, I’m going to get on the market, all of us have the identical mentality. It was large to set the tone for who we will be this season.”

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Campbell and Bates are used to postseason soccer, however the Falcons aren’t — they have not made the playoffs since 2017, the final yr they gained their opener. This is just one step, however Atlanta’s protection likes the route they’re headed in, sparked by three large takeaways.

“Huge. Huge,” mentioned linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who recovered the fumble Bates pressured. “That’s one of many keys is takeaways. To be capable of get these massive turnovers and assist the offense out, you’ll be able to’t even measure these. Jessie does an ideal job, simply protection and strain. He’s a wise man, so he makes a number of checks, will get us in the correct spots. I recognize it and I really like Jessie. This is what we have been coaching for all low season, placing within the work.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, masking the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his tenth season masking the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having hung out on the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can observe him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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