Four straight losses, an injury to its star running back, a struggling offense and now the once undefeated Atlanta Falcons (5-0) are desperate for a win on the road this Sunday against division rival Tampa Bay. Luckily for the 6-5 Falcons, Devonta Freeman returns from a one-game absence due to a concussion, so that clears up one of those issues mentioned at the top of this story.
Freeman currently ranks fifth in total yards from scrimmage this season with 1,184 yards (764 rushing, 420 receiving) along with 11 touchdowns (nine rushing, two receiving). His total yards per game average (118.4) is second to only Minnesota’s workhorse back Adrian Peterson.
Over his last four games, Freeman has recorded only one touchdown, on a Matt Ryan pass in a 17-16 road loss to San Francisco on Nov. 8. After going over 100 yards or more from Week 3-Week 7 as the Falcons went 4-1, Freeman has just one game in his last three with 100 plus yards.
Interestingly enough, that 100-yard performance came in a 23-20 overtime loss to the Buccaneers on Nov. 1. Freeman had 131 total yards on 27 touches but was kept out of the endzone all afternoon.
Prior to suffering a concussion two weeks ago against Indianapolis, Freeman got off to a hot start with three rushes for 43 yards, including a season-long of 39 before leaving in the first quarter. Now, the second-year breakout star is back and ready to flourish in a must-win matchup with five games left on the season.
He practiced on a limited basis in a black non-contact jersey on Wednesday after being cleared of his concussion. Despite that, he’s going to be a full go for Sunday’s game with rookie Tevin Coleman taking a backseat as a change of pace back.
“We’ll limit the contact for sure just as a precaution, but he’s fully ready to play and he is absolutely jacked,” Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said of Freeman via ESPN. “For those of us who know Devonta in here, you can imagine the excitement he has. It jumps off the field and off the tape by how much he loves football. And so we can’t wait to get him back out there.”
Regardless of what’s being happening as of late in Atlanta, Freeman’s presence is huge. His nine rushing touchdowns lead the entire league while his 11 total scores are second to only Cincinnati’s tight end Tyler Eifert (12). 11 touchdowns in 10 games is some feat for a player who didn’t do much a season ago as a fourth-round rookie from Florida State.
At 5’8″, 206 lbs, Freeman is both speedy and powerful. Now, he has to prove his health over this final five-game stretch of the regular season. Combined with wide receiver Julio Jones, who continues to be a handful for opposing defenses every week, the offensive duo together has amassed 2,429 total yards which is the most of any two teammates in the NFL.
Freeman is the 1B and Jones is the 1A in the Falcons offense most of the time. With smarter play and less mistakes, Atlanta still has a huge opportunity for a playoff push. Those chances start this Sunday in Tampa Bay with Freeman back at the forefront of the offense.