“I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I just missed it. No excuses or anything like that. I just missed it,” Julio Jones said of his dropped pass in the end zone on fourth down in which he was wide opened. That quote pretty much encapsulates the Atlanta Falcons’ season to date.
After the meltdown in the second half of Super Bowl LI, talk began immediately of the notorious “Super Bowl hangover” that usually curses Super Bowl losers and often Super Bowl winners. Only seven teams have been repeat winners of the Lombardi trophy with the Pittsburgh Steelers being the only team to win back-to-back Super Bowls twice. Losers have only returned to the big game four times with the Buffalo Bills playing in four in a row – losing all four. And the last time a loser appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls was Super Bowl XXVIII that featured who else? The Buffalo Bills.
History is not on Atlanta’s side especially after blowing a 25-point lead in the second half back in February. And while the season started off shaky with promise (3-0 to begin the season) the Falcons dropped their fourth game in the last five weeks to be at .500 at the midseason point.
Since starting 3-0 the Falcons’ offense that averaged over 30 points a game last season has averaged barely 17 point a game since. For the season they are averaging 21.3 points a game while allowing 21.4 thus it is easy to understand why they are 4-4 at this point.
Sunday’s game encapsulated the season for the Falcons as they let the game slip through their hands – much like that dropped pass by Jones 20-17 against the Carolina Panthers.
After running out to an early 10-0 lead everything fell through for the struggling Falcons. Costly turnovers, drops and missed opportunities spelled doom for the now 4-4 Falcons.
The Panthers took advantage of this as they scored the next 20 points to hold on for a three-point win. Both Cam Newton and Christian McCaffery caused fits for the Falcons defense who gave up 100 yards rushing for the fourth week in a row with Newton leaving all rushers with 86 yards and McCaffery now far behind with 66. By comparison the Falcons continued to slump running the ball again gaining only 53 yards on the ground.
The first half was all Falcons fro the most part. With 4:30 to go in the half Atlanta was unable to convert on a fourth and one on the Carolina 35. An illegal block by the Falcons on the play gave the Panthers the ball at midfield. A half dozen plays later Carolina found the end zone as McCaffery found the end zone on a four-yard scamper with just less than two minutes to go in the half.
On their next drive, after Ryan hit Jones for a 26 yard gain into Panther territory and on the next play he was intercepted as Austin Hooper slipped on the turf and Mike Adams returned the ball to the Falcon 31 with 1:15 to play in the half. With 23 second remaining Newton ran the bal in diving head first into the end zone to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish taking a 14-10 lead into the locker room.
“It was huge to have that before the half and to score before the half. It was a momentum swing because they were driving. I think they had a big play before that with Julio [Jones],” said Adams about his interception.
“It’s one of those things where we are going to stay aggressive for sure. I felt like we had an opportunity with Hoop in front of the safety, he made a good play. That’s one of those situations, disappointing,” Ryan said about the interception.
Both defenses toughened up in the second half as Carolina extended their lead with two Graham Gano field goals before the Falcons tried to make things interesting.
With 8:20 to go in the game the Falcons were facing a fourth and seven at the Carolina 39. Deciding to go for it, Ryan found a wide-open Jones in the end zone. Touchdown right? Nope. Jones dropped the ball. With 3:25 remaining Ryan found Tevin Coleman for a 19-yard score to make the score 20-17. The Falcons got one more chance with 2:18 but were unable to do anything and Carolina ended up running out the clock to hold on for the must needed divisional win.
“It’s definitely tough. We’ll just go look at the film tomorrow and figure some things out and just get ready for Dallas,” said Falcons’ receiver Mohammed Sanu.
The Falcons return home Sunday to host the Dallas Cowboys at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 and the game will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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