The Falcons, who have blown three fourth-quarter leads this season, will face a difficult test on Sunday in trying to close out the Kansas City Chiefs, who have a patent on miraculous finishes this season.
In their most recent escape, Andy Reid’s team appeared to be dead against the Broncos, down 24-16 with three minutes to play. They rallied to tie the game with two seconds left and won it in overtime when a deciding field goal went through after slamming into the left upright.
The Chiefs also posted dramatic comeback victories over Carolina and San Diego.
The Falcons, who were able to close out Arizona last weekend on their way to a 38-19 victory, blew fourth-quarter leads at Seattle, against San Diego at home and at Philadelphia.
Unlike the Falcons, who are powered by their offense, the Chiefs draw their energy from their defense.
Linebackers Justin Houston and Tambi Hali lead the unit with marauding defensive backs Marcus Peters and Eric Berry backing them up. Houston, the former University of Georgia standout, has recovered from January knee surgery.
He had 10 tackles, three sacks and three quarterback hits against the Broncos. He will mainly face Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder on Sunday.
“There are a number of things that they bring and Justin is one of them,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Dee Ford for sure has been a factor on the other side (and they have) Tamba.”
With Peters leading the way, the Chiefs lead the league in turnover differential with a plus-14. Peters has five interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
“The way they go after the ball (is impressive),” Quinn said. “They’ve done a terrific job ball-hawking.”
Berry, who played at Creekside High and Tennessee, is also playing at a high level, having regained his form after coming back from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“He’s been our leader all the way through, so it’s just a matter of stepping up in this game here,” Reid said to the Kansas City media on Monday. “It was one of those kind of games and he clearly had something in mind there that he was going to bring to the table and he did that.”
In the meantime, the Chiefs offense has scored just 21 touchdowns over 11 games.
Quarterback Alex Smith has been deft at hitting short passes. Tight end Travis Kelce has 57 catches for 675 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley, a former Georgia standout, have also been effective. Hill has 45 catches for 429 yards and five touchdowns. Conley has 34 catches for 380 yards.
“Offensively, they’ve got big speed,” Quinn said. “They know how to feature guys. The tight end package is one. The running game, the screens, we’ll have our hands full, but our team will be ready.”
After playing the early afternoon game last Sunday, the Falcons were able to watch the Chiefs storm back against the Broncos in the evening game. The Falcons face a unique challenge. The Chiefs’ offense is most effective with short and horizontal passes.
“That discipline to make sure that, No. 1, you better have your tackling right because they are going to get completions because they get the ball out quickly,” Quinn said. “If you are tackling and you miss one, the 8-yard play turns into a 20-yard play.”
The Falcons are hoping that rookie linebacker De’Vondre Campbell can handle the dynamic Kelce.
“I think just getting healthier has been a real factor for (Campbell),” Quinn said. “Coming off the bye, his ankle looked much better and he looked much quicker. He has his speed back. …
“We always thought he had the length to cover tight ends and he’s done it more. Anytime you get to do more of it, you get better and better. I see that happening with him, certainly with covering the tight ends.”
The Falcons are a plus-3 in turnover differential, which is eighth in the league.
“They are good at (getting at) the ball,” Quinn said of a Chiefs defense that has forced 11 fumbles. “We like to think that we are getting better at the ball and improving in that way as well. Those two things will certainly be a big part.”