ATLANTA -- Rookie Tyler Allgeier took the ball on the right side, got around the offensive line, and black pellets from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf kicked up as he turned up field. The running back evaded tacklers and ran past the Los Angeles Chargers.
By the time he was done, 44 yards later, he had the longest run from scrimmage for a Falcons player in two seasons.
“Huh? You’re lying. For real?" Allgeier said. “... All the credit goes to the O-line, man.”
It was just one play -- the longest run since Brian Hill went for 62 yards against Tampa Bay on Jan. 3, 2021 -- but emblematic of an entire Falcons team, really. Atlanta's identity is clear. Run the ball, over and over again, run the ball. And on a day where Atlanta got back its starting running back, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Patterson scored two touchdowns, it was more evident than ever.
The Falcons missed opportunities offensively with drops and mistimed passes and defensively with a continued inability to get off the field on third down in a 20-17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. But the reason the Falcons are 4-5 and still in the midst of the NFC South race is its running backs. All of them are carrying the offense and really the entire team at the moment.
Patterson, 31, missed four games in October with an injury. But the ground game held surprisingly strong in his absence.
“Happy he’s back,” coach Arthur Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that we believe in that they can help us and clearly CP helped us in a lot of different roles.”
Patterson had 13 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Allgeier had 10 carries for 99 yards, Caleb Huntley seven carries for 34 yards, and quarterback Marcus Mariota five carries for 24 yards.
Pre-injury, Patterson had received the bulk of the work, leading to two of his best rushing games as a pro. Then, in his absence, the Falcons discovered they had more than Patterson in their backfield. Allgeier emerged as what was expected out of BYU -- a hard-to-tackle runner who could break away from defenders.
That emergence has offered Atlanta a different type of balance -- something the rookie didn’t necessarily anticipate.
“Shoot, who would have thought I would be getting this many reps, honestly,” Allgeier said in an otherwise quiet Falcons locker room Sunday. “It just speeds up my process.”
It’s a process that began with Allgeier being inactive for the first week of the season as a healthy scratch. So much has changed since then. Veteran Damien Williams was injured on the second drive of the season and hasn’t been back since. Patterson got hurt. And midway through his rookie season, Allgeier is leading the Falcons in rushing with 423 yards, including 176 after contact.
Each week, the speed became more familiar for Allgeier. His style fit well with what Smith wanted in a running back and as the weeks went on, his game caught up. He feels like he has become a more well-rounded runner now, learning spacing and pass protecting and catching out of the backfield. He’s trusting everything more now, although it’s still a process.
And trust can go throughout the Falcons runners.
The emergence of Huntley was unexpected but gives Atlanta three backs it can count on. Mariota can take off on scrambles and designed runs. Together, the Falcons finished Sunday as the No. 2 rushing offense, yardage-wise, in the league.
There’s balance, too: Allgeier has 423 yards, Patterson 384, Mariota 304 and Huntley 299. Entering the game, they were the first quartet to have 250 or more rushing yards for a team through eight weeks in NFL history. In seven of nine games, Atlanta has rushed for more than 150 yards.
At 162.9 yards per game, they are on pace to have their best rushing offense since 2006, when they led the NFL with 183.7 rushing yards per game, the last of three straight years as the best rushing team in the league.
The Falcons are a running team. They are a team, Sunday's loss aside, with a chance at the postseason and are building on a clear philosophy. If the defense can get a little stouter and the pass game a little more prolific, it can be something to truly build on, too.