Bijan Robinson did not have to wait long to have a team take a chance on him in the 2023 NFL Draft, as he was selected eighth overall by the Atlanta Falcons.

First-round running backs have grown increasingly rare in recent years, with the days of the position being viewed as a premium one long gone.

But Robinson's talent is such that he has long since been seen as an exception to the rule, and the Falcons made him the first top-10 running back since Saquon Barkley went second overall to the New York Giants in 2018.

There can be little doubt he has earned his selection with such a high pick.

Robinson racked up 1,580 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground in his final season with Texas in 2022. On top of that, he had 314 receiving yards and two further scores through the air. His 1,894 yards from scrimmage were second most in the FBS.

As a runner, Robinson wins with his scarcely believable change of direction quickness that allows him to evade defenders almost at will, along with contact balance to slip through tackles and field-flipping speed.

His X-factor is what he can do as a receiver. Robinson runs routes like a wideout and has shown the ability to go up and make outstanding grabs and the catch point.

Robinson can be a substantial weapon from anywhere in the offensive formation and, by adding him to a backfield that already included Tyler Allgeier - who went for over 1,000 yards in his rookie season -- the Falcons now arguably have one of the most dynamic running back rooms in the NFL.

The Detroit Lions are moving on from cornerback Jeff Okudah, sending the former first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for a fifth-round selection in this year's draft.

The trade was reported by multiple sources on Tuesday.

The Lions selected Okudah with the third overall pick of the 2020 draft, but he has had a hard time staying healthy.

In three seasons with Detroit, Okudah has appeared in 25 games while missing 25 games due to injuries.

Heading into the fourth season of his rookie contract, Okudah will make $5.1million and the Falcons have until May 1 to decide on picking up his fifth-year option.

Atlanta will hope a change of scenery will give Okudah a fresh start and help shore up a pass defense that ranked among the worst in the NFL in 2022.

Only five teams had fewer interceptions than the Falcons' 10 last season, while opposing quartebacks posted a 95.7 passer rating – fourth highest in the league.

In 15 games last season, Okudah had one interception, seven pass breakups, 73 tackles – including two for loss – and one forced fumble.

The Atlanta Falcons are signing Taylor Heinicke as the former Washington Commanders quarterback returns to his native Georgia.

According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Falcons are bringing Heinicke in to compete with Desmond Ridder and add some much-needed experience.

Heinicke – who turns 30 on Wednesday – will arrive in Atlanta from Washington, where he played 27 times since arriving towards the end of the 2020 season.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the deal will be for two years and worth up to $20million.

After being released by the Carolina Panthers in 2019, Heinicke joined the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL, though did not play a game before the league was suspended in April 2020.

He signed with Washington in December 2020, playing once in the regular season against the Panthers, before also featuring in the Wild Card round defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Heinicke was a near ever-present in the 2021 season, with 20 passing touchdowns and one rushing in 16 appearances (15 starts), while he also started nine times in the 2022 campaign, with 12 passing TDs and one rushing.

The Atlanta Falcons made a splash by bolstering their defensive secondary on the first day of NFL free agency. 

After spending his first five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, safety Jessie Bates III is signing with the Falcons for four years and $64million, according to multiple reports. 

According to NFL Network, the contract will pay Bates $23m in its first year. With an average annual salary of $16m, Bates becomes among the top five highest-paid safeties in the league. 

Bates, who was a second-round draft pick in 2018, was expected to leave Cincinnati after playing under the franchise tag last season. 

The Falcons' defense allowed 3,942 passing yards last season, 25th in the NFL. 

While Bates will immediately be expected to make an impact and provide veteran leadership with the Falcons, the void he leaves in the Bengals' secondary is likely to be filled by 2022 first-round draft pick Daxton Hill. 

Earlier on Monday, the Falcons announced a five-year, $105m contract extension for guard Chris Lindstrom. 

After a 7-10 campaign last year, Atlanta are likely to continue spending in free agency. The Falcons also have the number eight pick in April's draft. 

Marcus Mariota was released by the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday as Arthur Smith cut the quarterback from his roster after just one season.

The move seemingly boosts the prospects of Desmond Ridder, a third-round pick who played four times in his rookie season, becoming the regular starting QB for Atlanta.

The Falcons may still elect to bring in a more experienced starting signal caller, but the Mariota dalliance is over.

Recruited to take the place of Matt Ryan, who joined the Indianapolis Colts, Mariota ranked 27th among NFL quarterbacks in completion percentage (61.3 per cent), registering 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions, also rushing for 438 yards.

The Hawaii-born 29-year-old had joined on a two-year contract last March and his release frees up salary cap space.

Falcons head coach Smith had previously worked with Mariota at the Tennessee Titans, where the quarterback had a four-and-a-half-season stint as a starter, eventually losing his place to Ryan Tannehill.

A subsequent spell with the Las Vegas Raiders saw Mariota serve as back-up to Derek Carr, before the Falcons swooped for him.

Although Ridder lost out to Mariota for the start initially in the 2022 season, the 23-year-old usurped his senior colleague towards the end of the campaign. Mariota finished with a 5-8 record in a 7-10 season for the Falcons, with Ridder 2-2 over the closing four-game stretch.

Smith, quoted on the team's web page, praised Ridder but offered no assurances over who would be his starting QB, saying: "As always, all options are on the table."

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has called time on his 50-year coaching career.

Pees announced his retirement on Monday after the Falcons failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season with a 7-10 record.

The 73-year-old worked for seven college programs and four NFL franchises, finishing in Atlanta after spells with the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.

Pees is one of eight defensive coordinators in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two different teams, playing his part in New England and Baltimore's runs to one of the biggest events in sport.

His retirement comes less than a month after he was taken to hospital ahead of the clash against the New Orleans Saints after being involved in an on-field collision.

Pees had been with the Falcons since coming out of retirement following the hiring of Arthur Smith two years ago.

Falcons head coach Smith said of Pees: "You appreciate all the work and the sacrifice.

"We all get paid to do this and we're lucky as hell, but there are sacrifices you have to make. Dean's a guy who has coached at every level and had success.

"He has impacted a lot of lives and he has impacted the game."

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will miss the New Year's Day trip to face the Atlanta Falcons due to a knee injury.

Hopkins had been listed as questionable for the Week 17 encounter on Sunday and he was ruled out on New Year's Eve after his injury flared up this week.

He will sit out a seventh game of the season for a Cardinals side that are out of playoff contention.

Hopkins missed the opening six games of the year due to a suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Andre Baccellia has been promoted from Arizona's practice squad in the absence of Hopkins.

The Cardinals confirmed on Friday that David Blough will be the starting quarterback against the Falcons.

 

The Arizona Cardinals will have their fourth starting quarterback this season after coach Kliff Kingsbury announced that David Blough will get the nod for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

Blough, signed off the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad on December 14, will fill in for a still-injured Colt McCoy.

McCoy had cleared the NFL's concussion protocol earlier this week but reported a recurrence of symptoms following Thursday's practice.

Kingsbury told reporters on Friday that McCoy, who inherited the starting job after Kyler Murray tore his ACL in Week 14, will likely be held out of Arizona's final game of the season at San Francisco as well.

McCoy also missed the Cardinals' 19-16 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Christmas Day. Trace McSorley made his first NFL start and threw for 217 yards with one interception while completing 24 of 45 passes.

Kingsbury said the Cardinals want to get a further look at Blough, a five-game starter for the Detroit Lions in 2019, and then will decide between his options as to who will start on Week 18.

"We'll give him a chance, evaluate him, and see how that goes," Kingsbury said of Blough.

"The last week, we'll see where we're at and name a starter then.

"[Trace] is a competitor, but he understands the situation we are in and where we are at. There is some evaluation that needs to be done at this point."

Blough went 0-5 when pressed into duty as a rookie for the Lions. The 27-year-old threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut on Thanksgiving Day of 2019, but completed just 52.9 per cent of his passes with five interceptions over his four subsequent starts.

He will be taking the field on Sunday for a Cardinals team that has lost five straight games and sits last in the NFC West at 4-11, one year after finishing 11-6 and reaching the playoffs. 

Atlanta Falcons running back Caleb Huntley suffered a torn Achilles in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, ending his season.

Huntley, 24, went undrafted in 2021 before spending his entire first campaign on the Falcons' practice squad.

He was elevated to the active roster for the first time in Week 2 this season, before being thrust into a starting role two weeks later, scoring his only professional touchdown in Atlanta's Week 4 win against the Cleveland Browns.

The former Ball State player set a new career-high in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers, carrying 16 times for 91 yards in an overtime win, but he has since been relegated back to a depth role as Cordarrelle Patterson has returned to health and rookie Tyler Allgeier continues to impress.

Avery Williams will function as the third-stringer going forward, with the backfield trending towards Allgeier after he put up 139 rushing yards and a touchdown from 17 carries against the Saints.

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been taken to hospital ahead of the clash against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday after being involved in an on-field collision.

The 73-year-old's neck was stabilised by medical staff on the 35-yard line before he was placed on a stretcher and carried off the field.

In a statement, the Falcons said: "Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees was involved in an on-field pre-game collision.

"He was stable, alert and responsive and has been transported to University Medical Center New Orleans for medical testing.

"Frank Bush will serve as interim defensive play caller for today's game."

Pees has been with the Falcons for the past two seasons, having come out of retirement following the hiring of Arthur Smith.

The business end of the NFL season is here as the playoff picture starts to emerge.

You can tell things are getting interesting as this weekend sees three Saturday games, meaning football fans can stretch out their weekend viewing even further.

Saturday sees the Minnesota Vikings host the Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore Ravens visit the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills taking on the Miami Dolphins.

Sunday's action includes a clash in the NFC South where no team seems to want to finish first, but the winner of the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints will leave themselves with an inexplicable chance to do so.

Stats Perform has taken a look at the numbers behind a selection of Week 15's games.

Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

While the Vikings have been having a far better season than the Colts, they are just 7-18-1 all-time in the series between the two (including playoffs). It is the Vikings' worst record against any single opponent.

Indianapolis entered their bye week with a 54-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, in which they were outscored by 33 points in the fourth quarter (33-0), the largest point differential in a single fourth quarter in NFL history.

Matt Ryan needs 125 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the 13th consecutive season, which would make him the eighth QB in NFL history to accomplish the feat, joining Philip Rivers as the only two to do so without a Super Bowl victory.

Justin Jefferson set a franchise record with 223 receiving yards on 11 catches against the Detroit Lions. Jefferson is up to 4,516 career receiving yards, the most of anyone in NFL history in a player's first three seasons (next most being Randy Moss with 4,163).

Miami Dolphins (8-5) @ Buffalo Bills (10-3)

The Bills have a five-game winning streak at home against the Dolphins, tied for their longest of all-time. This is just one game shy of matching Buffalo's longest home win streak against a divisional opponent (twice against the Colts and once against the New England Patriots).

The Dolphins lost 23-17 to the Chargers last week, posting a season-low 127 passing yards. Miami's 10 completions in the game were their fewest since Week 13 of 2015 (nine).

Tyreek Hill had a 57-yard fumble return touchdown and 60-yard receiving touchdown last week, and leads the NFL with four plays of 50 or more yards this season. Hill had four total plays of 50 or more yards in his last three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sean McDermott is 9-2 (.818) in his career as a head coach against the Dolphins, the best record by any head coach with at least eight games against Miami all-time. Only two coaches have 10 or more career wins against Miami (Bill Belichick, 26, and Marv Levy, 15).

Atlanta Falcons (5-8) @ New Orleans Saints (4-9)

The Falcons' three-point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their last game was Atlanta's 10th game this season decided by six points or fewer, tied for the most in franchise history (also in 1995, 2015 and 2017).

Cordarrelle Patterson is one of three players in NFL history to average 5.0+ yards per rush and 9.0+ yards per reception over his career (minimum 400 rushes and 200 receptions), along with Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell.

The Saints have held their opponent to fewer than 300 net passing yards in 22 consecutive games, tied with the Bengals for the second-longest active streak in the NFL (after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 27).

Chris Olave has had at least 40 receiving yards in all 12 games of his career thus far, the second-longest streak by any NFL player to begin his career in the Super Bowl era behind fellow Saints player Michael Thomas (19).

Elsewhere...

Panthers QB Sam Darnold has won both of his starts this season and has not thrown a pick in either. He has now won seven straight starts dating back to 2020 in games where he has not thrown an interception, tied for the third-longest active streak among QBs (Jimmy Garoppolo 16, Jalen Hurts 13, Joe Burrow 7), and will look to extend it against the Steelers.

The Dallas Cowboys will have to find a way to stop Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence. Since November 1, Lawrence has the highest completion percentage in the NFL among players with at least 100 attempts (71.8). On the season, the Jaguars are 5-2 when he completes at least 70.0 per cent of his passes compared to 0-6 when he does not.

The Las Vegas Raiders will look to bounce back against the New England Patriots after blowing a 13-point lead with fewer than four minutes remaining in their 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last week. Over the last 40 seasons, the only other time the team had lost a game it led by 13+ points with four minutes or less remaining was in Week 3 of the 1993 season to the Cleveland Browns. 

Tom Brady was 34-for-55 for 253 yards last week, the 11th time in his career he has attempted at least 55 passes. His teams are now 3-8 in such games, with wins in 2002 against Chicago, 2015 against Buffalo, and Week 9 of this season against the Rams. The Buccaneers (6-7) will hope he can guide them to a much-needed W against the Bengals.

The Atlanta Falcons are returning from their bye with a new starting quarterback.

Head coach Arthur Smith announced Monday that rookie Desmond Ridder will take over the starting duties from Marcus Mariota for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

"I did make a switch at quarterback. Desmond Ridder will be the starter. It’s a performance-based decision," he said in a press conference.

The move had been expected after it was reported last week that Ridder would be named the starter.

A third-round pick in April’s draft, Ridder has yet to take an offensive snap in the regular season after throwing for 10,239 yards with 87 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in his four-year collegiate career at Cincinnati.

He takes over an offense that is in need of a jolt, with Atlanta having lost four of five, averaging 15.3 points in those defeats.

Despite their recent slide to drop to 5-8, the Falcons are only a game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the lowly NFC South, so a path to the playoffs with Ridder at QB is not out of the question.

Ridder will foreseeably be the Falcons' starter for the remainder of the season, as Smith said Mariota will likely be placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Mariota was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week following his performance in the Falcons' 28-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6, but he's struggled to generate much offense over the last month.

In Atlanta’s last five games, Mariota was averaging just 157.4 passing yards with five touchdown passes and three interceptions for an 81.6 rating.

The Atlanta Falcons are handing Desmond Ridder the starting quarterback berth when they return from their bye week.

The 2022 third-round pick has been elevated to starter ahead of Marcus Mariota, with NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport saying his first game in that role will come in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints.

Having traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, Ridder was picked up on Day 2 of the Draft and showed flashes of his ability during preseason – though a patient approach has led to him standing as back-up to Mariota for the first 13 weeks of the campaign.

Standing 5-8, the Falcons have hit a rough patch after failing to score more than 17 points in each of their four losses over the past five weeks, with Atlanta's chances of reaching the playoffs now looking slim.

Turning to Ridder for the remaining weeks of the season will provide experience to the rookie ahead of an expected first full campaign as the leading quarterback in 2023.

A decision will need to be made regarding Mariota, however, with Tom Pelissero reporting the 29-year-old is due $12million in 2023, including a $3m bonus in March.

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields is feeling the effects of Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, telling reporters he hurt his left shoulder late in the contest.

Fields has broken out over the past couple of months, establishing himself as the Bears' quarterback of the future, but it is yet to translate to wins.

After only throwing a touchdown pass in one of Chicago's first four games, Fields has now thrown a touchdown pass in each of their past seven fixtures, going 1-6 in that stretch.

It is hardly Fields' fault, with the defense conceding an average of 35.5 points per game across their past four outings, while Fields has also broken the record for rushing yards from a quarterback in a single regular season game (178) and the record for most over a two-game span (325).

Attempting to come back from a late deficit against the Falcons, Fields told reporters he believes he landed on it awkwardly, forcing him to finish the game in pain.

"I don't know what happened, to be honest with you," he said. "I just landed on it, I think.

"I was hurting, but it was the last drive of the game. I tried to be there for my teammates and fight through the pain.

"The pain right now is pretty bad. I'll just take it day by day and see how it feels later in the week."

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus added they are expecting an update mid-week.

"We will have an update on Wednesday," he said. "We don't know what exactly it is, that's why we are going to take a look at it."

Marcus Jones scored the first punt return touchdown of the NFL season in the final seconds as the New England Patriots continued their hoodoo over the New York Jets.

The AFC East rivals appeared destined to take a game severely short on offensive production into overtime.

However, with the game locked in a 3-3 tie, rookie Jones took Braden Mann's punt back 84 yards to clinch a 10-3 win for New England and spark delirium at Gillette Stadium.

The dramatic ending was in stark contrast to the nature of a game that saw field goals from Nick Folk and Greg Zuerlein in the second quarter as the only scoring prior to Jones' decisive touchdown.

His return means the Patriots have won their last 14 games against the Jets, who were held to 2.1 yards per play in an offensive performance likely to spark significant questions about second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.

Had they ended their drought against New England, the Jets would have sat atop an ultra-competitive AFC East.

Instead, their defeat, combined with the Buffalo Bills' win over the Cleveland Browns, means drops them to the bottom of the division at 6-4.

Eagles survive scare

The Philadelphia Eagles lost for the first time on Monday, suffering defeat at the hands of the Washington Commanders, and they narrowly avoided a second successive loss on Sunday.

Philadelphia trailed the Indianapolis Colts, playing their second game under interim coach Jeff Saturday, 13-3 going into the fourth quarter.

But Jalen Hurts threw a 22-yard touchdown to Quez Watkins to set a comeback in motion, and eventually broke Indianapolis hearts with a seven-yard touchdown run with 80 seconds left, improving the NFC-leading Eagles to 9-1 with a 17-16 win.

Philadelphia also gained extra breathing room in the NFC East as the New York Giants dropped to 7-3 with a home loss to the Detroit Lions.

Patterson makes history in Falcons win

The Atlanta Falcons are still in the mix in the NFC playoff picture after coming through a thrilling game with the Chicago Bears 27-24.

It is a win Cordarrelle Patterson will remember forever after he took a kick return 103 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Patterson's score marked the ninth kick return touchdown of his career and saw him claim the outright record for the most in NFL history

Atlanta's NFC South rivals, the Carolina Panthers, lost 13-3 to the Baltimore Ravens, who are now 7-3 at the top of the AFC North.

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