On a day when their video game offense seemed to be replaced by a vintage 1970s electronic football game, complete with linemen vibrating in the wrong direction, the Falcons were slapped back to earth a little bit Sunday.
They couldn’t block. They couldn’t stop the run. They committed a few silly penalties. They couldn’t convert third downs. They blew chances in the red zone. Their kickoff coverage was dreadful (the Eagles had five returns for 146 yards). Most of all, the Falcons got hammered physically.
“Frustrating,” coach Dan Quinn said.
The lava oozing out of his ears suggesting he was close to full verbal eruption but held back.
The Falcons lost to Philadelphia, 24-15. This was not the way a team that expects to make the playoffs wanted to go into the bye week. It didn’t matter that New Orleans and Carolina also lost in the NFC South, so the damage was minimized. All Quinn and every player knew is that performances like this one can’t replicated in the season’s final six games if the Falcons hope to make the playoffs and have something other than a cameo role.
The Falcons entered the week averaging a league-leading 33.9 points and 429 yards per game. In the season’s first nine weeks, they scored 30-plus six times and 40-plus three times.
But they went from pyrotechnics to sparklers Sunday. Philadelphia held the Falcons to one fourth-quarter touchdown, three field goals, 48 yards rushing (on only 13 attempts) and just 2 of 11 conversions on third down. Defensively, the Falcons were gashed for a season-high 208 yards rushing.
Time of possession can be a misleading statistic. But in this case, with the Eagles holding the ball for more than 38 of 60 minutes, it speaks to the level of dominance up front on both sides of the ball.
“It’s frustrating when you have a team run the ball on you with the physical style of play that we like to play,” Quinn said.
The Falcons’ only touchdown came when Taylor Gabriel put away Eagles cornerback Leodis McKelvin with a double-move. It made it all the more interesting after the game when McKelvin, who is from Waycross, referred to the Falcons as “front runners.”
“I told our defense, this is the type of team, they a front runner,” he said. “If you make some stops, they eventually are going to be dying down.”
It was amusing commentary coming from a player who was badly burned for a touchdown and one whose team is only 5-4. But it reaffirmed that Falcons have much to prove.
Their defensive front got pushed back. Their offensive line managed little push themselves in the run game and often struggled against the Eagles’ pass rush, forcing Ryan to throw either on the run, off balance or out of desperation.
This was a reminder game – a reminder that it doesn’t matter how great the X’s and O’s are if a team can’t block, tackle and stand its ground.
So what are we to think of this team 10 games in with a 6-4 record?
Two things: 1) The ceiling may be high; 2) The ceiling also is quite capable of collapsing.
Ryan, who completed only 7 of 18 attempts in the second half under duress, said he will deliver a message to teammates before everybody breaks camp Monday for a week.
“We have to come back with the mindset that we’re not preparing for the last six games of the season but we want to play nine or 10 more,” he said.
Ryan came into this week as an MVP candidate. This also was a relative “home” game for him as he’s a Philadelphia native and had about 60 family members and friends in attendance. But there were few great moments.
The Falcons had only six points on two field goals in the first half and Ryan was visibly upset on the sideline after the second field goal. The Falcons had a first down at the Eagles’ 17, but after a Devonta Freeman run lost two yards, Ryan was sacked for a six-yard loss, pretty much ending hopes for a touchdown.
“I screwed up,” Ryan said. “I missed one of our checks on the line of scrimmage.”
These are things that get overlooked when a team has another aspect of its game working. But Sunday wasn’t one of those days. They couldn’t run. There was a sideline drop by Julio Jones. There was a 29-yard completion to Freeman at the Eagles’ 30 with three minutes left nullified by a needless offensive interference penalty on Joshua Perkins (he picked a Philly defender).
Gabriel’s touchdown had given the Falcons a 15-13 lead early in the fourth quarter (Matt Bryant missed the extra point). But the Eagles responded with an eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive (and two-point conversion) that consumed 6:49. The Falcons couldn’t answer.
“We had the lead. It’s time to go close it and we didn’t do it,” Quinn said.
They have an entire off week to think about it.
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