And just like that there was no more offense.
After a three-week run that saw the Atlanta Falcons offense take off again after being in hibernation most of the season, they were back to their old slow ways losing in an important NFC match up Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings 14-9.
With a score like that you would think it was a defensive struggle. Actually it was an offensive struggle. Neither offense could manage much, dare I say – offense. Poor execution and penalties – lots of penalties made what looked on paper as a marquee game one that if you were watching at home would flip back and forth between games or if you were at the Benz you were watching the RedZone app because there was minimal red zone action for either team. Minnesota made it into the red zone twice and cashed in while the Falcons were on the outside looking in as they settled for three field goals making it into the red zone only once as their lone drive inside the Vikings’ 20 stalled at the 18.
That’s right, the Atlanta Falcons with perhaps the deepest team in the NFL with offensive firepower were held out of the end zone. The last time this team didn’t score a touchdown you’ll have to go back to the last game of the 2014 season in a game the team for all intents and purposes phoned in after it was announced the morning of the game that then head coach Mike Smith was going to be relieved of his duties following the game.
You knew things weren’t going to go well when Julio Jones dropped a pass on a slant pattern on their first play from scrimmage. After a history making performance last week Julio played like a college freshman. The All Pro receiver only caught two balls for 24 yards. Even Levine Toiloio had more receiving yards than him. To make matters worse Jones was targeted six times only coming up with two catches.
After an encouraging start by Matt Ryan that saw him complete six of his first seven passes he went 10-of-22 the rest of the game and for the second time in three games did not pass for at least 200 yards. Prior to this passing drought Ryan literally had passed for at least 200 yards for four consecutive seasons (64 games).
The one bright spot for the Falcons offense was the return of Devonta Freeman who returned to action after leaving the Cowboys’ game after the second play with a concussion. Freeman picked up everyone’s slack on offense by rushing for 74 yards at a 6.2-yard clip and added a reception for seven yards. Outside of that there was not much to cheer for Sunday if you were a Falcons fan. Except the defense.
The defense did its part with the exception of letting Latavius Murray break free on a 30 yard run that set up the first of two Case Keenum’s touchdown passes.
Keenum keeps winning as unimpressive as he is. Completing 83.3 percent of his passes helped his cause but most of the passes were safe passes against a depleted Atlanta secondary that’s missing Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Keenum’s forte is short, safe passes – the forte of all game managers. Nothing he did under center was that impressive except his completion percentage although a third of his completions were for ten yards or better. The Falcons’ defensive front kept a lot of pressure on him but with the short throws he was able to avoid trouble most of the time even though there was plenty of pressure early as the Falcons recorded two sacks.
Atlanta was their worst enemy on offense. Penalties constantly made third down conversions extremely difficult. The Falcons were a paltry 1-of-10 on third down as they averaged over third and seven on third downs. Lacking for the Falcons was the big play. Ryan only tried to go long twice overthrowing Jones and Tevin Coleman on sideline/post routes. They also began to sputter the closer they got to Minnesota’s 20 as they only go that far once. You knew this wasn’t going to be Atlanta’s day when Matt Bryant missed what is usually a sure field goal for the Falcons with 5:04 remaining. After that the Falcons never saw the ball again as the Vikings were able to get three first downs and run the clock out to win their tenth game of the season.
The fallout from the loss is obvious. Depending on the outcome of Seattle’s game against the Eagles the Falcons may fall out of that last playoff slot. Atlanta missed an opportunity to also move up in the division when Carolina lost to New Orleans. They remain one game behind Carolina and now two games behind New Orleans for the division lead with time running out.
The Falcons will get a chance to make up ground this week as they host the Saints on Thursday night at the Benz. Both teams now showcase duo power running threats and two of the league’s best quarterbacks. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:25 and will be aired on NBC.
– Dave Weinthal
Enigma's mobile Concert Calendar!