I knew better than to jump on the bandwagon. I’ve never been a bandwagon guy. As long as I have watched and then starting covering the team I’ve seen many bad teams. I remember the days when a .500 season to me was positive for the Falcons. Ever since Arthur Blank bought the team in 2002 I’ve wanted more. And boy did we come close a couple of times.
Sunday’s 33-30 loss at the Georgia Dome reminds me of why I know better to get my hopes up. There are plenty of reasons the Falcons lost this game after leading by 17 with a little over four minutes left in the half. I first and foremost blame Hammer. Not Mike, but MC. Sunday at the Dome it was “throwback” uniform time. The past throwbacks were great as they were from the early years (’66-’70). That’s not what they wore. They wore their black uniforms introduced by then coach Jerry Glanville. You remember him – the former Oilers coach with a fixation of wearing black, big belt buckles and an unhealthy obsession with Elvis Presley.
There was neither sighting of Elvis Sunday nor one of Glanville. In fact, Glanville has kept an uncharacteristically low profile. Actually I did see the “Back in Black” coach last year at all places, the sidelines of a college football game in Chattanooga, TN. But there were no sightings of Elvis in Chattanooga – or of Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain for that matter.
There was always something I didn’t like about the black uniforms I never liked. I always related them to bad teams and disappointment. Yes, I know the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl in these uniforms in the 1998 season but they lost to the team I hated most in the world – the Denver Broncos and John Elway. Ugh. But that season along with any other season that showed promise always ended in disappointment and the season directly following was a disaster. After a rematch of the NFC championship game to open the season against the Vikings, which Minnesota won this time, came the gut punch. The newly anointed “it” team the Falcons played week two on Monday Night Football. On the crunch heard ‘round the world Jamal Anderson went down to a season ending knee injury. The man who set franchise records in rushing and led the team to the Super Bowl and let us not forget the man who gave us the “Dirty Bird” was gone. The Falcons floundered and did so for most of the rest of the time they wore those wretched uniforms although 2002’s playoff run was fun. But that was about it. The Falcons changed uniforms in 2003 to which they wear to this day. And I’m glad.
The game Sunday reminded me of the “Back in Black” days as it was hyped that way the whole time at the Dome. The pre-game festivities included the Falcons cheerleaders dancing to a “’90s remix”. Ironically the first song played was Morris Day and the Times “The Bird” from 1975 as well as some ‘70s R&B favorites, but I digress.
The crowd was fired up and the team entered the field to Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” and of course the standard, AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. And to make it a truly “black” tie event former president and Georgia native Jimmy Carter was at midfield overseeing the official coin toss that the Chargers won and elected to receive.
During the first series I thought the Falcons had gone back in time to the black uniform era as Phillip Rivers and Melvin Gordon moved down the field relatively easily. It was the Philip and Melvin show for pretty much the entire game for the Chargers. The first series benefited was Rivers’ 49 yard pass to Tyrell Williams that moved the ball to the Falcons’ 10. Two plays later Gordon smashed over the goal line to take an early 7-0 lead. I had a feeling at this point as if I was going backing in time watching the Birds and not to a good time either.
The Falcons answered with their next two possessions both settling for field goals. It was at this point with Atlanta trailing by one point that I was transported back to the red zone troubles the team had last year when their fast start started to collapse. The only thing that made me feel better about things was that the second field goal was set up by Dexter McCluster’s interception of Rivers. But the Atlanta scoring drive stalled after managing only one yard after having a first and goal.
The Chargers widened their lead to 10-6 before the Falcons that I had become accustomed to seeing this season finally awakened.
Within a matter of minutes the Falcons scored three touchdowns – one by air, one by ground and one by defense. Before you knew it the Falcons were ahead 27-10 and the Dome was rocking. Everything started clicking as Matt Ryan was finding Julio Jones open including a 50 yard hookup that set up the first touchdown and the running game that was looking sketchy the entire first quarter started to break runs including the second touchdown where Tevin Coleman broke a couple of tackles at the line and then pretty much ran into the end zone untouched. So shocked by this Coleman even looked over his should in shock as he scored untouched. And then the vastly improving defense let their presence known.
After being sacked on two consecutive plays Rivers coughed up the ball in what began as a third consecutive sack. The ball was knocked loose and then it became a rugby scrum with arms flailing and swatting at the ball. Adrian Clayborn picked up the fumble caused by Vic Beasley and jaunted five yards into the end zone to extend these Dirty Birds lead to 27-10 with 4:31 left in the half.
But then something started to change.
The Phillip and Melvin Show returned (Not to be confuses with “Phillip and Terrence”). The Chargers methodically marched down the field pretty much the same as they did with their opening drive as Rivers hit a few clutch passes including a long receptions of 38, 19 and 16 that gave the Chargers a first and goal at the Atlanta three. On the next play Gordon bulled through the middle of the line to score with 1:02 left in the half. I was getting that uneasy feeling again despite Atlanta leading 27-17.
Atlanta got the ball to begin the second half. The black was sinking in. After three consecutive punts. The Chargers started to make their move. On their second series of the quarter the Phillip and Melvin Show heated up as they drove down to the Atlanta 19 before the drive stalled. A Josh Lambo field goal brought the Chargers within a score at 27-20.
The Falcons offense looked to finally get on track again as they drove down inside the San Diego ten before a sack of Ryan and an incomplete pass forced them to settle for a Matt Bryant field goal.
And that was all she wrote for the Atlanta offense and defense for that matter. I thought we stayed aggressive, we just didn’t play well,” Ryan said of the offensive play in the second half.
Rivers completed seven consecutive passes sandwiched in between sacks Adrian Clayborn and Beasley to give the Chargers a first down on the Falcon 17. Rivers finished off the drive four plays later when he hit Gordon from five yards out to make the score 30-27 with just under six minutes to play.
Atlanta looked to rebound as Jones caught a 21-yard pass from Ryan to bring Atlanta close to midfield. Two nice runs by Devonta Freeman gave the Falcons a first down at the San Diego 40.
Then the echoes of last week’s loss as well as the second half collapse started to ring loud. Ryan threw another late game interception as Denzel Perryman stepped in front of Jones giving the Chargers the ball back with 3:41 to play.
And just like last week the turnover was converted into points. The Chargers drove down to the Atlanta 15 tying the score at 30 on a 33-yard field goal with 18 seconds to play.
Then ever so briefly stirred the ghosts of 2008 when the legend of Matty Ice was born. Ryan hit Jones over the middle for 25 yards putting the ball at midfield with 11 seconds to go. Then the ghosts of last week reared their ugly heads again. Ryan threw again to Jones and was once again clearly interfered with almost identical to the play that ended the game against Seattle. And just like in Seattle it was a non-call.
With six seconds to play Ryan once again went to his to go to guy hitting Jones once again giving the Falcons the ball on the Chargers’ 40 with one second left in the game.
Matt Bryant lined up for a game-winning 58-yard field goal. The ball was up, the crowd stood up, but the ball fell just short and regulation ended with the score tied 30-30.
Atlanta got the ball first in overtime. And then the ghost of Mike Smith reared their ugly heads. There were a lot of ghosts rearing their ugly heads at the Georgia Dome Sunday. I think the “Back in Black” uniforms stirred them up.
The Falcons drove to their 45 and had two plays to make one yards. Both times they were stuffed at the line of scrimmage on the second one saw Freeman lose a yard when hit by Perryman – you know the guy, he’s the one that intercepted Ryan to set up the tying score.
“As players, it’s our responsibility to make him right and to go out there and make the plays, and we had two chances on third-and-short and then fourth-and-short and we didn’t get it done. From a player’s perspective, that’s the point that’s very disappointing,” said Ryan.
The Chargers took over at the Atlanta 44. A River’s pass to Antonio Gates and a Gordon run put the ball on the Falcons’ 22. One play later Lambo banged through a 42-yard field goal to give the Chargers the upset win.
“Honestly, we had real belief we were going to make it and keep the drive going and keep extending it. Just a gut feeling that I went with. It didn’t work. We can second guess it; that’s easy to do, but it was more of a mindset. I have such belief in the guys to go get aggressive and get that half-a-yard that we needed so when we didn’t, that was a costly mistake,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn.
NOTABLES: Ryan passed for a season low 274 yards but in doing so he went into the records books as he set the records for most consecutive 200 yard passing games (46 and counting). Despite Melvin Gordon’s three touchdowns (two on the ground) the Atlanta defense held the Chargers to under 100 rushing yards (78). The Falcons defense also piled up four QB sacks to bring their total to 15 on the season through seven games, four short of last year’s season total of 19. Vic Beasley had two of those sacks and is now fourth in the league. Despite an uneven performance the Falcons running game once again rushed for over 100 yards (130). Julio had another big game in a losing effort. He hauled in nine passes for 174 yards but did not find the end zone.
THINGS THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME: There was only one punt in the first half and four total in the game.
The Falcons remain home this week, as they will try to rebound as they host Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:05pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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