Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

REPORT CARD: Even the referees were tired of the Falcons

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The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter joins CineSport’s Noah Coslov to go inside the Falcons 38-0 loss to the Panthers and to describe what it was like in the locker room after the game.

The Falcons’ 2015 season appears headed for the history books.

The collapse from 5-0 to 6-7 will be studied in NFL coaching classrooms for years to come as they appear set to become just the seventh team over the past four-and-half decades -- since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger -- to not make the playoffs after starting the season 5-0.

On top of that, they could become the first team in that group to finish with a losing record. A total of 66 of 72 teams who started the season 5-0, advanced to the playoffs.

The 2009 Denver Broncos (8-8), the 2009 New York Giants (8-8), the 2003 Minnesota Vikings (9-7), the 1993 New Orleans Saints (8-8) and the 1978 Washington Redskins (8-8) and the 1974 New England Patriots (7-7) all started the season 5-0 before faltering.

The collapse has been historic and complete.

Here’s a look at the grades from the 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Game balls: The Referees, who were caught on their open microphone, discussing how they wanted to get the game over quickly. “Four more inches and we are out of here,” said the referee, who later used an expletive. It was the most entertaining moment of the game.

Quarterbacks, F. Matt Ryan completed 22 of 34 passes for 224 yards and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 71.2. The new offense has turned Matt into one of the McCown brothers. There’s Luke, Josh and now Matt McCown. Sean Renfree saw some action. Ryan (three) and Renfree (two) were sacked five times and the Panthers has 11 quarterback hits.  It was the first shutout of Ryan’s career and the team’s first since Dec. 5, 2004 when Tampa Bay beat them 27-0.

Running backs, F. The running backs were held to 55 yards on 15 carries. Devonta Freeman had 12 carries for 40 yards and Tevin Coleman had three carries for 15 yards. Freeman caught three passes for 22 yards and had a fumble.

Wide receivers/tight ends, F. Julio Jones' matchup with Josh Norman was uneventful. Jones caught seven passes for 88 yards, but did not score a touchdown for the fifth straight game. The Falcons piled up some late stats at garbage time in the blowout. Nick Williams had four catches for 40 yards and Roddy White had four for 35 yards. The Falcons are trying to find out if they have a player in Justin Hardy, but he caught only one pass on seven targets for nine yards. If he can’t play, they’ll have to draft another receiver soon. Hardy's one catch was a nice one on a crossing route.

Offensive line, F. The offensive line wasn’t stout enough to hold up against the Panthers’ defensive front. Defensive tackle Kawann Short partied in the Falcons’ backfield for most of the game. He led the five-sack charge with two. The Panthers also had 11 hits on the Falcons’ quarterbacks. The running game wasn’t a factor after the Falcons went down 21-0 in the first quarter. The makeshift interior line of castoffs from the Titans, Redskins and Rams is starting to fall apart. Jake Long received his first action at right tackle for the Falcons as Ryan Schraeder was pulled from the game. Long played 10 of 64 offensive snaps.

Defensive line, F. Rookie Grady Jarrett started for Paul Soliai at nose tackle and finished with six tackles. Jonathan Babineaux and Vic Beasley had sacks. The line didn’t hold up against Carolina’s strong rushing attack. Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 10 for 75 yards. He broke free for 44 yards on the third play of the game. That run showed that the Falcons were not prepared for the Panthers’ rushing attack. Defensive tackle Joey Mbu, who was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, played in his first NFL game and had two tackles.

Linebackers, F: Linebacker Paul Worrilow led the team with eight tackles and one tackle for loss. Justin Durant also had eight tackles, but five were assists. O’Brien Schofield got a cheap unnecessary roughness penalty, where he took three steps before hitting Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. After an incomplete pass it would have been third-and-6 instead of first down. The Panthers scored two players later and the rout was in session.

Defensive backs, F. Cornerback Robert Alford appeared to quit on the 74-yard touchdown pass to Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Alford didn’t give chase after the catch was made. It will be interesting to hear coach Dan Quinn's explanation of that play on “Tell the Truth Monday.” Did Alford stop because he knew it was penalty? He didn’t want to be Ginn’s highlight video? Safety William Moore took a weird angle on the Stewart’s 44-yard run. Moore had a shot at Stewart at 8-yards, but didn’t take it. He let him get away and gave chase. The Falcons knew the Panthers were going to try and spring Stewart and should have been keying on him.

Special teams, F. Punter Matt Bosher had five punts for 228 yards (45.6 average). He had two touchbacks and placed three punts inside the 20. Devin Hester had a 35-yard punt return.

Coaching, F. Total fail by the staff. The defense wasn’t ready for Carolina’s run-heavy attack. Letting out a 44-yard on the third play of the game showed that the defense wasn’t ready. The defense wasn’t ready for the 74-yard touchdown pass to Ginn, the Panthers only fast receiver. The book on the Panthers was that they’ll pound you with Stewart and try to go deep to Ginn and then kill you with intermediate routes to tight end Greg Olsen. They did all of that on their opening touchdown drive. Offensive coordinator  Kyle Shanahan has to be relieved of his play-calling duties or at least get some help from other members on the staff. The Falcons have scored just two touchdowns over the past 12 quarters. Since starting the season 5-0, the offense has been in a tailspin. When teams adjusted to the offense, the Falcons have failed to counter. The Falcons keep saying they are going to “fix” their problems. Their woes may be beyond fixing.

NEXT UP: The Falcons (6-7) face Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8) 1 p.m. at EverBank Field. The Jaguars are coming off a 51-16 victory over the Colts. The Falcons were defeated by the Colts, 24-21 on Nov. 22.

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.