LONDON (AP) — Matt Ryan didn’t have his top two wide receivers in London. The Atlanta Falcons quarterback did have Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson — and that was enough, especially with the New York Jets stumbling early again.
Ryan threw for 342 yards and two touchdowns, including the first NFL score for Pitts, and the Falcons held on and closed out the Jets in a 27-20 victory Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The Falcons (2-3) built a 20-3 halftime lead with Ryan finding wide-open targets despite the absence of receivers Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage. He was “pleasantly surprised” by how much separation his receivers had.
“It was an opportunity for a number of our wide receivers to step up and make plays,” Ryan said. “They had more playing time than they normally have.”
Atlanta coughed up a late lead last week in a 34-30 loss to Washington, but this time grounded out the win despite allowing the Jets (1-4) to stick around by losing two fumbles.
But Zach Wilson and the Jets had trouble moving the ball, which has been the story of the season for the rookie quarterback. Coming off his best game of the season last week against Tennessee, Wilson finished 19 of 32 for 192 yards and no touchdowns with one interception.
Pitts, taken by Atlanta two spots after Wilson at No. 4 overall in the NFL draft in April, had his best game with nine receptions for 119 yards and his first NFL TD.
Ryan completed 33 of 45 passes with no interceptions. The 14-year veteran became the seventh QB to reach 5,000 completions and surpassed Eli Manning for the eighth-most passing yards in NFL history.
And he did it Sunday without Ridley, who didn’t accompany the team to London “due to a personal matter,” while Gage is sidelined with an ankle injury.
Patterson continued doing a little of everything for the Falcons, and the Jets had few answers for him. The running back/wide receiver/kick returner had seven receptions for 60 yards and ran for a team-leading 54 yards on 14 carries.
OK, maybe not “everything” as he was 0 for 1 passing, when he took a handoff and threw an incompletion.
The Jets struggled mightily again in the first half, gaining just 80 yards and getting five first downs compared to the Falcons’ 251 yards and 17 first downs in the first two quarters.
“We weren’t able to get going in the first half,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “A couple three-and-outs. Couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
New York battled back in the second half with rushing TDs from Ty Johnson and Michael Carter, but couldn’t pull off the comeback.
“We can’t keep trying to come-from-behind,” Wilson said. “The NFL is too hard to always come from behind. We have to find some way to move the ball from the beginning and get that confidence going.”
Carter’s 2-yard run and Jamison Crowder’s catch on the 2-point conversion trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 20-17 with 6:55 remaining.
The Falcons then finally found the dagger drive they’ve been missing, driving 75 yards on nine plays, ending with Mike Davis’ 3-yard run. On second-and-goal, Davis took the handoff, spun and got a collective push from his offensive linemen to get into the end zone to extend the lead to 27-17 with 2:19 to play. Davis finished with 53 yards on 13 carries.
The scoring drive included Olamide Zaccheaus’ 15-yard catch and dive for a first down to the Jets 24 on third-and-13 after Ryan found Pitts for a 39-yard gain.
“Kyle got behind the defense. He’s got incredible speed for a tight-end player,” Ryan said. “That’s not a thing most guys can do. That was a great play by Kyle and a really good call by Arthur Smith.”
Matt Ammendola’s 49-yard field goal made it 27-20, but the Jets’ onside kick was recovered by Zaccheaus — sealing Atlanta’s victory.
After Patterson’s 17-yard reception to the Jets 2 in the first quarter, the Falcons got a mismatch with defensive end John Franklin-Myers covering Pitts on first-and-goal. Ryan hit Pitts near the back right corner of the end zone to make it 10-0.
Pitts, whose mother and father made the trip to watch him in person, said the Falcons had seen that coverage in film study of the Jets.
“I’ve been waiting on that all week — praying that that’s how they were going to run it,” Pitts said.
After another Jets three-and-out that included Wilson throwing behind Corey Davis, the Falcons ended a 77-yard drive with Hayden Hurst’s 17-yard TD catch to make it 17-0.
London hasn’t been kind to rookie quarterbacks. With Wilson’s loss, they are 0-5 in the English capital since the NFL started staging regular-season games here in 2007.
It was the second London game for both teams, but their first at Tottenham. In 2014, the Falcons blew a 21-0 lead to the Detroit Lions, losing 22-21 on Matt Prater’s game-winning 48-yard FG at Wembley Stadium. A year later, the Jets beat the Miami Dolphins 27-14 also at Wembley.
The NFL will hold another game at Tottenham next Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars face the Miami Dolphins.
Jets: Bye week, then at the New England Patriots on Sunday, Oct. 24
Falcons: Bye week, then at the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, Oct. 24.
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