The Atlanta Falcons came into Sunday’s content against the Carolina Panthers having recently struggled converting third downs. In their last two games, the Falcons had averaged just a 30.4 percent success rate on the key down.
Those issues were magnified in the Falcons’ first division game of the season as it failed to convert several crucial short-yardage third downs in a 20-17 loss at Bank of America Stadium.
The Falcons were just 2 of 4 on third-and-1s and failed to convert a fourth-and-1. Those miscues led to 10 Carolina points. Overall the Falcons converted 4 of 12 third-down attempts and were 0 of 3 on fourth down.
“We had a lot of third-and-short situation. In those situations, you have to find a way to get it done,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Our execution in those types of situations is really one of the differences in the game today and has been the case throughout the season.”
On three of those third-down attempts and the lone fourth-and-1, the Falcons tried to run up the middle and were successful on two of the third downs. For a majority of the game, running the football wasn’t an option against the NFL’s sixth best run defense. Atlanta averaged just 2.9 yards per carry.
“We have to convert,” running back Devontae Freeman said.
So, after getting shut down on a short third-down run, the Falcons attempted to put the football in the air to no avail. Ryan was pressured and had to throw it away several times.
The glaring example of a short-yardage failure occurred late in the second quarter. The Falcons led 10-0 and had no trouble moving the ball to this point. And with a second-and-2 coming at the Panthers 35-yard line, it appeared the Falcons were poised to score again.
However, that wasn’t the case. On the next three plays -- all runs -- the Falcons only mustered one yard and turned the ball over on downs. With new life, the Panthers scored a touchdown shortly after.
“Anytime you don’t convert, you get disappointed, especially when you think you have the right play call to excute it,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We have the opportunity to go for it when you’re in those situations based on the runners and how we attack. We didn’t get the job done at the line of scrimmage.”
Then in the third quarter, Ryan’s incompletion on third-and-1 resulted in a three-and-out and forced the defense back on the field after it had just defended a 5:57 Panthers’ drive. Carolina kicked a field goal after it got the football back to go up 20-10 for an insurmountable lead.