Falcons’ offense takes a major step back

The Falcons’ lethal Matt Ryan to Julio Jones passing combination was stymied by the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The Vikings kept Ryan out of the end zone for the first time in 30 games and Jones hauled in just two passes for 24 yards in the 14-9 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Ryan completed 17 of 30 passes for 173 yards. It was his lowest output since he passed for 172 yards in a 33-10 loss to Seattle on Nov. 10, 2013. 

The loss snapped the Falcons’ three-game winning streak and dropped them to 7-5 on the season with a big NFC South game coming up against the New Orleans Saints at 8:25 p.m. on Thursday.

Ryan and Jones connected 12 times for 253 yards and two touchdowns in their previous game, a 34-20 win over Tampa Bay. 

The Falcons were also inefficient on third downs against the Vikings, just 1 of 10 on against an ornery defense.

“I thought we had too many third-and-7s,” Ryan said. “I think one of the points of emphasis for us during the week was to try and be efficient on first and second down. We didn’t do a good job of that.”

The Vikings defense was led by defensive end Everson Griffen and linebackers Eric Kendricks (10 tackles) and Anthony Barr (five tackles). 

“They are a very good defense,” Ryan said. “We knew it was going to be tough sledding at times, but we’ve got to be more productive and put ourselves in better positions. When we get our chances on third downs, we’ve got to make some plays.”

Jones wasn’t surprised that the Vikings were able to slow him down.

“You always have to keep working,” Jones said. “It’s just not going to be given to you. People make adjustments and things like that. We just have to adjust and keep working better. We just have to remember who we are and what we do.”

Jones didn’t have any answers for their third-down woes.

“We were just missing,” Jones said. “We were just off today. Any given Sunday, we were just off today.”

Jones didn’t catch his first pass until the 9:56 mark in the second quarter. It netted 13 yards. 

He didn’t get his second catch, an 11-yarder, until 6:49 remained in the fourth quarter.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes had help from a safety on most of Jones’ routes. During that late drive, Ryan tried to hit Jones in triple coverage and was nearly successful.

“It’s just one of those things,” Ryan said. “They did a good job of kind of shutting all of us down. We didn’t play very well. We didn’t play very well on offense as a unit, but I give credit to them. They made plays today.”

The Falcons opened the game with a 16-play drive that was marred by three penalties. Left tackle Jake Matthews had an illegal block and center Alex Mack and left guard Ben Garland had holding penalties.

Running back Devonta Freeman, who was making his return after missing two games with a concussion, had five carries for 25 yards on the opening drive. He had a 25-yard run called back on Mack’s holding penalty.  

“I had a block in the back,” Matthews said. “That’s not going to help you. It’s only going to hinder you.”

The Falcons tried to mount a fourth-quarter drive to retake the lead. The drive stalled at Minnesota’s 27-yard line with the Falcons trailing by the final five-point margin.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn elected to try a 45-yard field goal on fourth-and-4 with 4:58 to play instead. Matt Bryant missed the field goal and the Vikings ran out the clock.

Ryan supported Quinn’s decision.

“No, we trust Dan,” Ryan said. “He’s going to make those decisions. We have one of the best kickers in the league and our defense had been playing well the entire day. We’re one hundred percent behind it.”

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