The AJC's D. Orlando Ledbetter reports from the Georgia Dome following the Falcons' 24-21 loss to the Colts and discusses the defense's inability to sustain pressure on Matt Hasselbeck.
The Falcons are shook.
They can't do the things that are supposed to be their fundamental base. They couldn't score off of turnovers and the couldn't finish the game, two pillars of coach Dan Quinn's philosophy.
After starting the season 5-0, they have now dropped four of their last five games and are in clear free-fall after the 24-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
“We definitely have to fix something,” wide receiver Julio Jones said, after lamenting the team’s lack of a killer instinct.
After going up 21-7 against the Colts, the Falcons went into chill-out mode instead of going for the jugular vein. A couple rookie mistakes by defensive backs Jalen Collins and Akeem King, a Matt Ryan pick-six and they were suddenly watching Adam Vinatieri line up for the game-winning 43-yard field goal kick.
This was a game the Falcons needed. They could lose to the Vikings, Panthers (twice) and beat Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and the Saints and finish 9-7.
But with this team, nothing is guaranteed with Ryan playing so poorly and the over reliance on rookie talent, that's under performing.
In the NFC South race, the Falcons are four games behind the streaking Carolina Panthers (10-0) with six games to play.
They are in control of their own destiny in the wildcard race at 6-4. They have a game lead over Tampa Bay (5-5) and Seattle (5-5) for the last wildcard berth. Minnesota and Green Bay of the NFC North are 7-3.
There are a host of teams at 4-6 on wildcard life-support in the Rams, Saints, Bears, Eagles and Washington. Dallas is at 3-7 after getting quarterback Tony Romo back from injury.
Game balls: Middle linebacker Paul Worrilow had two turnovers, six tackles and a pass breakup.
Quarterbacks, F. Matt Ryan has not played this poorly over a stretch of five games over his career. His reputation for reading defenses has been stellar, but a glaring mis-read led to an interception by Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson that was returned for a touchdown. “I didn’t see D’Qwell Jackson popping back out of the line of scrimmage," Ryan said. "It was just a play that I can’t make. In those situations, critical situations, you can’t turn the ball over. I’ve got to be better than that." Ryan completed 25 of 46 passes for 280 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 67.3.
Running backs, D. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who had 43 yards on three carries, sustained a concussion in the first quarter and did not return. Freeman walked to the locker room with trainers early in the first quarter after Ryan was intercepted in the end zone by Colts safety Dwight Lowery. Freeman was replaced by Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward. They combined for just 50 rushing yards on 19 carries.“I think it was a real factor for sure,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. After the Colts cut the lead to 21-14, Coleman fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive and the Colts recovered at the Falcons’ 15-yard line. The turnover ended up not hurting the Falcons much because Colts quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw an interception three plays later. That was Coleman’s second big fumble of the season.
Wide receivers/tight ends, D. The Falcons tried to get the ball to Roddy White on the first three plays of the game. He finished with four catches for 24 yards after being targeted a season-high nine times. Wide receiver Julio Jones caught nine passes for 160 yards. Leonard Hankerson, who was returning after missing two games with a hamstring injury, had a major dropped pass in the end zone. He caught four of seven targets for 36 yards. Tight end Jacob Tamme had one catch for 7 yards.
Offensive line, D. Coleman said he couldn’t find much room to run on his 17 carries for 48 yards. The line also gave up one sack and five quarterback hits.
Defensive line, C. The unit continued to be stout against the run. They held Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw in check. The Colts rushed for 74 yards on 27 carries. The move of Vic Beasley to left defensive end and O’Brien Schofield to right defensive end didn’t play instant dividends for the pass rush as neither player recorded a sack or a quarterback hit. The best pressure came off of blitzes.
Linebackers, C-plus: Linebacker Justin Durant, who returned after missing a game with a calf injury, led the Falcons with nine tackles. Worrilow had an interception and a fumble recovery. Kroy Biermann got a sack while blitzing. Brooks Reed had one tackle and a quarterback hit.
Defensive backs, F. Rookies Jalen Collins and Akeem King, who took over at nickel back from Phillips Adams, both struggled and had costly penalties during the Colts’ third-quarter touchdown drive. The Colts faced a third-and-seven at the Falcons’ 31-yard line when Hasselbeck threw incomplete, but Collins was whistled for holding a receiver who wasn’t targeted on the play. “I felt like I had pretty good coverage but the refs called what they called,” Collins said. “You can’t really do much about that. I’ve just got to come back and play it a little bit better.” Three plays later, Hasselbeck delivered a pass intended for tight end Dwayne Allen down
the right sideline. King made contact without turning back to the ball and was called for a pass interference penalty that gave the Colts a first down at the two-yard line and they scored a touchdown two plays later to pull within 21-14.
Special teams, F. Returner Eric Weems should not have come out of the end zone with 52 seconds left. His return to the 18-yard line cost the Falcons 2 yards and five precious seconds. Kicker Matt Bryant missed another field goal and the coverage units were shaky. Punter Matt Bosher continued having a Pro Bowl type season as he punted five times for 253 yards, an average of 50.6 yards per punt. This is the fifth time this season Bosher has averaged at least 50 yards per punt.
Coaching, C-plus. This defeat was on the players’ shoulders, Matt Ryan in particular. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tried to get White involved, but that wasn't a cure to their woes. They even jumped in the no-huddle for a couple of plays. The Falcons scored 162 points (32.4 points per game) while going 5-0 over their first five games. They’ve scored just 88 points (17.6 points) over the last five games. The offense started off slow by wasting two turnovers and then went back into hibernation after taking a 21-7 lead after their first possession of the third quarter. The offense did put together touchdown drives of 12, 10 and 10 plays. However, they needed at least one more drive. Also, who called the pass play from the 1-yard line anyway? The play-action fake was weak and didn't hold D'Qwell Jackson at all. A better play-action fake and maybe that play works. Defensive coordinator Richard Smith sent some nice blitzes at Hasselbeck. Biermann and Desmond Trufant, on a nice corner blitz, had sacks.
NEXT UP: The Falcons (6-4) host the Minnesota Vikings (7-3) on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Here's how the Falcons reached the 6-4 mark after 10 games
Here's a look back at the game stories, news and notes from the Falcons' games this season after their disappointing 24-21 loss to the Colts on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS GAME COVERAGE -- Colts 24, Falcons 21
SAN FRANCISCO GAME COVERAGE -- 49ERS 17, Falcons 16
TAMPA BAY GAME COVERAGE -- Bucs 23, Falcons 20 in OT
TENNESSEE GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 10, Titans 7
NEW ORLEANS GAME COVERAGE -- Saints 31, Falcons 21
WASHINGTON GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 25, Redskins 19 in OT
TEXANS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 48, Texans 21
COWBOYS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 39, Cowboys 28
GIANTS GAME COVERAGE -- Falcons 24, Giants 20
EAGLES GAME COVERAGE -- FALCONS 26, EAGLES 24