The Atlanta Falcons fell short on the road in Seattle, 26-24, but of the nine players who caught a Matt Ryan pass on Sunday, one of them made a key impact that may have gone unnoticed.
On the final box score, it shows three catches for 30 yards for wide receiver Justin Hardy, placing him fourth on the team in that category. That doesn’t seem like much does it?
Well, on the day Atlanta converted only 3-of-11 third downs and Hardy accounted for two key ones.
Trailing 17-13 on the opening drive of the third quarter, the Falcons used nine plays, 75 yards and four minutes of clock to score a touchdown. Facing a 3rd-and-6 from their own 40-yard-line, Ryan found Hardy over the middle for a nine-yard gain. Three plays later, Julio Jones hauled in a 36-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to seven.
Ryan later connected with Jones on two long gains setting the Falcons up at the Seattle 39-yard line. However, they only gained one yard on two plays and then came a 3rd-and-9. Hardy took a pass short to the right for 10 yards and Atlanta converted.
Once again, a touchdown was a result of the drive and it was also three plays later, a 10-yard grab by Mohamed Sanu. At that point the game was tied.
Atlanta’s defense toughened up again forcing a Seattle punt after six plays. Starting at their own 3-yard-line, the Falcons had a 2nd-and-7 that they need to convert to get out of their own endzone. Hardy came up with another short pass over the middle of the field for an 11-yard gain.
Five plays later, a 46-yard touchdown from Levine Toilolo put the Falcons on top, 24-17.
However, a punt, interception and turnover on downs were the results on Atlanta’s three fourth quarter drives as they gave up nine points defensively. Again, Hardy’s catches and conversions may not get the love they deserve, but it kept the Falcons going in the third quarter and put them back in the lead.
Every team needs a third down target and after this week it looks like Hardy could start to get more opportunities to fill that role.
Coming into Week 6, the second-year East Carolina product had only four receptions (7 targets) for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Behind Jones and Sanu, the 5-foot-10, 192-pounder is starting to quietly make plays, though. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be looked upon in the passing game often as well out of the backfield and out wide, but with Ryan playing at an extremely high level, there’s no reason why Hardy can’t benefit.
We saw at times in his rookie season that he can come up with key grabs.
If Hardy can continue to catch passes that come his way, especially on third downs, the Falcons will benefit and so will he. Jones and Sanu draw so much attention and rightfully so, there could be room for Hardy to find some open field more often than not.
Hardy isn’t a top wideout in this league, but he is a nice compliment to what Atlanta is doing right now on offense.