The Atlanta Falcons’ 2017 season ended on a bizarre note back in January when the offense ran an unusual play on fourth down that did not work. Five months after the play, the coach responsible for the call explained his reasoning.
Trailing the Philadelphia Eagles 15-10 in the fourth quarter of the NFC divisional round matchup, the Falcons faced fourth-and-goal from the Eagles’ 2-yard line. With fullback Derrick Coleman as the lone receiver on the left side of the formation, Matt Ryan took the snap from shotgun and rolled to his right on a designed bootleg, where he had two receivers in the end zone directly in front of him.
Ryan was pressured and heaved a desperation pass to Julio Jones, who could not make the catch. Atlanta’s 75-yard drive ended two yards short of the end zone, and the final play call led to a great deal of criticism on social media about Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian’s decision.
On Wednesday, Sarkisian met with the media and explained the reasoning behind that play call from back in January.
“At the end of the day, there’s really good coaches in this league. There’s really good players — veteran players, smart players — and very rarely do you run plays where they have no idea it’s coming,” Sarkisian said. “A lot of what you try to do is to get your players in position to be successful.
“We felt like we came up with a play there at the very end that got our best player, if not our best player one of our best players [Jones] — in a one-on-one situation with the chance to win the game to go on to the next round. That’s a lot of times what you’re striving for.”
Last year, Sarkisian inherited a Falcons offense that was third in the NFL in passing and fifth in rushing in 2016 and helped the team reach Super Bowl LI. Sarkisian was criticized off and on in his debut season with the team, as the Falcons fell to eighth in passing and 13th in rushing and finished second in the NFC South to the New Orleans Saints.
Sarkisian’s last play call of 2017 was criticized primarily for the decision to roll Ryan out of the pocket, which cut the field the veteran quarterback had to work with in half. Still, Sarkisian stuck by his decision to make the call with the season on the line.
“Whether they knew Matt was rolling out or not, at the end of the day, we got a really cool opportunity,” Sarkisian said. “It didn’t play out the way we wanted.”