Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer 54d

Cordarrelle Patterson finds fit, ignites Atlanta Falcons offense

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Cordarrelle Patterson strode to the podium late Sunday afternoon, smile on his face, shades covering his eyes despite being indoors. He looked the epitome of cool, like a man understanding his importance in his corner of the world.

And after Sunday, when the Atlanta Falcons' individual offensive steamroller returned to the lineup and proceeded to flatten the Jacksonville Jaguars, it made perfect sense. In his return, one thing became clear about Atlanta, its playoff hopes and its emerging star.

Patterson is not just a versatile player for coach-slash-offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. The 30-year-old has become the principle player within Atlanta’s offense, a catalyst of good for the Falcons (5-6).

He has become their most effective player and has an aura that can only be described as a positive energy generator.

It fits. As much as the on-field production is valuable, how he can alter the mood and play of the guys around him makes him even more invaluable to Atlanta’s offense.

“He’s always about uplifting his teammates,” said fullback Keith Smith, one of his lead blockers. “It’s not only an example, but he is contagious as far as encouraging others.”

It’s the emotion, too. After Patterson scored his second touchdown against Sunday, he pointed to the ground and ran toward Atlanta running back Mike Davis, where he told Davis “This is my s---.”

At that moment, he could have meant the field they were playing on, the offense they were playing in or the team he is playing for. Because right now, it seems like it’s all Patterson’s.

So much of this felt missing during the six quarters he was out. The Falcons were barely their offensive selves with Patterson sidelined in the second half against Dallas and against New England. They didn’t score a touchdown. Managed one field goal. Blown out twice.

And sure, Patterson’s return came against the lowly Jaguars (2-9), a team plummeting toward a top pick in next year’s draft, but everything around Atlanta’s offense felt different when Patterson was in the game. Patterson may have been born on St. Patrick’s Day, but this is not about luck. It has been a combination of skill and speed and scheme to put him in this position.

While Patterson wouldn’t say the offense is different with him in it versus him out of it, all you have to do is watch the games to know Atlanta’s offensive reality.

“I’m a big part of this offense. That’s a no-brainer, man,” Patterson said. “I mean, outside looking in, you can see that. Like I told you before, I love it here. I love when I’m out there on the field. I love competing. I love having fun.

“That’s just something I’m always doing.”

On Sunday, he had 18 touches in his 29 snaps. He averaged 7.5 yards per touch – 6.75 yards a rush and 13.5 yards a catch – and had a career-high 108 yards rushing on a season-high 16 carries. It was the first time all season he’d had more carries than routes run – and became his introduction to potentially becoming Atlanta’s lead running back.

In his career, he has had seven games with over 100 yards from scrimmage. Five have come this season, including a season-best 135 on Sunday.

It mimics what the production has been this season for Patterson, who is catching a career-best 81.6% of his targets and is being targeted on 32.7% of his routes. He also has had the most yards per reception (12.48) and yards per route (3.33) of his career and the second-most yards-after-catch per reception (7.60) in his career.

He has been consistent as a rusher no matter the front -- gaining 4.5 yards per carry with seven defenders in the box and 4.3 against eight. He has been most successful running to the right (5.8 yards per carry), but he's also productive going left (4.6).

It all has led to a breakout year for a player who has become more a catalyst for a team’s offense than he has been at any other point in his career.

“He plays a lot of roles, but he's physical. He's a hard guy to tackle, and that's stating the obvious here. So, it brings a different element in that right,” Smith said. “When it gets late in the year, and you're running the football, those hits add up and he can do a lot for us. It says a lot about him and went out there and played and he made an impact.

“But really, we needed something early. [I] felt we got some good momentum, and he was able to punch the ball in on that run and it kind of got us going again.”

It got the Falcons right on offense for a game – and if Patterson continues his ascent, perhaps the Falcons can make a playoff push.

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