Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

From 6-1 to shut out in Charlotte: What happened to the Falcons?

CHARLOTTE -- These short takes are presented as an adjunct to the Falcons-Panthers game column, which can be found here . The Panthers won 38-0. The Panthers are 13-0. The Falcons are not.

1. We begin with a detailed recap of all the Falcons’ scoring plays.

(Blank space.)

2. We continue with a rundown of all the things the Falcons did right.

(More blank space.)

3. So, frivolity aside, what happened to this team? It’s clear the Falcons weren’t as good as they looked when they were 5-0 and then 6-1, but we pretty much knew that. They entered the season with the league’s softest schedule, and they took advantage – until they started losing to all comers. The schedule has toughened, but only a bit. In their six-game losing streak, the Falcons have been beaten by the 49ers, the Colts and the Buccaneers (twice). None of those teams is above .500.

What nobody could have imagined was that the Falcons’ offense would be the chief culprit. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones haven’t missed a game, but Ryan was again substandard (two turnovers, two fumbles, three sacks, a passer rating of 71.2) and Jones was rendered just another guy (88 yards on seven catches). In the second quarter, the Falcons faced first-and-10 at the Carolina 20. After a first-down sack and fumble and Jones recovery, it was second-and-36. They wound up punting. The Falcons have scored a first-half touchdown in only two of their past seven games. They’ve scored a grand total of three touchdowns over the past three games. (By way of contrast, they scored three in the second half against Dallas on Sept. 27.)

Let’s give the Panthers their due. They’re really good. (Maybe you guessed as much from their record.) They’ve developed an offense to complement their brawny defense, and that wasn’t always a given: Kelvin Benjamin, their best wide receiver, was lost in training camp to injury. They hit the Falcons hard early – it was 14-0 after 6 ½ minutes, 21-0 after a quarter, 28-0 at the half -- and the Falcons seemed interested in hitting somebody after the whistle than before it. Coach Dan Quinn gathered his men on the sideline during the first half to lambaste their lack of poise, and afterward asked what single silly thing prompted his tirade. He couldn’t recall. There were so many silly things.

The scariest part about Sunday’s flop was that the Falcons didn’t start turning the ball over – they finished with four, all in the second half – until they were too far behind for it to matter. They were simply overwhelmed by Carolina’s excellence, and a team with talents on the order of Ryan and Jones and Devonta Freeman and Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley Jr. shouldn’t be overwhelmed. Over the first seven games, the Falcons mostly played to their strengths. Over the past six, it’s as they have no strengths. When they were 6-1, you felt a corner had been turned. Today it feels as if every advance made then has been canceled by what has become a retreat on roller skates. This isn’t the worst stretch of Falcons football we’ve ever seen, but it’s among the most disheartening.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.