At the very end of the game, Matt Ryan had the Falcons at the 25. Julio Jones had just made a nice catch. Ryan would have looked for him again on the next play, but Jones committed a costly penalty and backed the team up five yards.
Two plays later, with the clock winding all the way down, Jones couldn't reel in a pass with Kareem Jackson in his face. Game.
You can point more fingers than Shiva in this one—at a defense unwilling to challenge T.J. Yates after Andre Johnson went down, at Dunta Robinson for an extremely costly penalty, at Mike Mularkey and the offensive line for being unable to protect Matt Ryan—but if you're looking for an iconic image to affix to the team's calendar alongside a frowny face, Jones dropping a beautiful pass would probably be it.
Longest sentence ever? Longest sentence ever.
Embarrassing is a good word for how the offense played against the Texans in general. While the defense put up a game fight and held the Texans to just 17 points, the offense struggled mightily to put ten on the board. Jones and White's drops were glaring, but how to account for Ryan and Michael Turner's middling days? That would largely go back to the offensive line, which was overmatched by the Texans' front seven. That in turn goes back to Mike Mularkey, who could not or would not change his plays to offer Ryan a little time.
To put a finer point on it, the entire offense is to blame. Right behind them are the two soul-crushing penalties that cost the Falcons defensive touchdowns, which might have won the game. Knowing that this team—this gifted, intelligent team that is about as consistent as rain in the Sahara—could have pulled this out if not for seemingly dozens of mistakes in execution is truly haunting. It's not so much that they lost to a tough team, it's more the way they lost to that team.
Silver linings? The Falcons are still 7-5 and in the thick of the wild card race.The defense that was so long the bogeyman of fans everywhere has become a terrific unit, one that can hold the Texans to 17 points even with two of its top three cornerbacks and one of its starting linebackers out of the game. And despite everything, the Falcons came incredibly close to at least tying the game up at the end against one of the best teams in the NFL this season.
Ultimately, though, the Falcons have to improve swiftly and take advantage of the gift the rest of the NFC gave them last night. That starts today.
After the jump, a breakdown of the individual performances.
- It was obviously not Matt Ryan's finest day as a pro, but give him a lot of credit for being relentless. Under pressure all day long, he managed to get rid of the ball and made some truly nice throws. Without the drops, Ryan might have had three touchdowns, and we'd all be feeling a lot better about his day.
- Let's give props for effort to Michael Turner, who had a bad day but fought hard. Facing one of the league's best defenses behind a struggling offensive line, it's a wonder he had any yards at all.
- Tony Gonzalez is an ageless wonder. He caught seven passes for 100 yards and continues to be the best option in the passing game who won't drop a pass.
- On those plays were they were not affected by the dropsies, Julio Jones and Roddy White looked very good. Jones should have had a touchdown on the pass he reeled in over Jason Allen, but he couldn't keep his feet in bounds. When they're consistent, they're one of the best duos in football. When they're not...well, we'll get to that.
- Harry Douglas is arguably underused in this offense. He had four nice catches and continues to be fearless in traffic, a great trait for a wide receiver.
- Sure, it was only a 19 yard field goal, but Matt Bryant is automatic. Money. Moneymatic.
- Matt Bosher has gone from jittery rookie who can't punt a ball to save his life to one of the best punters in the league. This was, I believe, the third straight week where he averaged over 50 yards a punt. Couple that with his willingness to run downfield and go for the tackle and you've got a player who continues to impress the hell out of me.
- Curtis Lofton played his ass off yesterday. He had 11 tackles, helped out in coverage when asked and absolutely wrecked T.J. Yates for a big sack. The Police has operated in Sean Weatherspoon's shadow a bit this year, but he remains a great middle linebacker.
- James Sanders could have had a touchdown, but that's okay. All he did was make plays all game long, finishing with ten tackles and regularly appearing near the ball.
- John Abraham had a sack. A year ago, that was like writing that water is wet and also hydrating, but hey.
- A secondary that featured Chris Owens and Dominique Franks as its second and third cornerbacks allowed only 188 passing yards. Admittedly it was T.J. Yates, but I thought Dunta Robinson in particular hung in tough against Andre Johnson, while Owens and Franks mostly held their own. Thomas DeCoud was a bit of a machine.
- Vance Walker was questionable and still forced a fumble. That's my boy.
- Last but not least, Mike Peterson had a great game playing for Stephen Nicholas. He nearly had a touchdown on a turnover and was in the backfield all day long.
- Ryan mostly gets a pass for having drop-addled receivers and a struggling line, but he's still overthrowing receivers, which is leading to passes thudding onto the turf and the occasional interception. Something to work on before a game against a much weaker Panthers secondary.
- Roddy White had a touchdown and a few nice catches, but he was targeted 15 times and only came up with four grabs in all. Again, there were mitigating circumstances—Jonathan Joseph is no joke—but White has to play better.
- Julio Jones looked like a lost rookie today. Between the drops, not knowing where his feet were in the end zone and that dumb penalty near the end of the game, it was a miserable game for the vaunted Jones. I think it's wise to temper our expectations for him the rest of the way, because as good as he clearly is, he's got some learning and growing left to do.
- The offensive line was horrible today. While the Texans didn't get any sacks, someone was constantly in the backfield with a hand in Ryan's face, forcing him to make throws before he wanted to. Add Tyson Clabo's two penalties in one series and you've got a recipe for disaster that produced disaster-flavored cookies.
- Mike Mularkey can't force his guys to execute better. He can, however, adjust to the fact that the Texans are basically bull rushing the passer at will. Mularkey chose not to, and the Falcons suffered for it. If your quarterback has no time and they're keying on the run, it's time to swirl in the occasional draw, screen pass or gadget play just to make them think twice.
- Dunta Robinson's hold on the Mike Peterson touchdown was egregiously dumb, and you could argue that it cost the Falcons the game. I will defend Dunta's overall play in this one, but I can't shield him from the very legitimate criticism that he should have done anything but get a penalty there.
- As KMarch mentioned in the game thread, the defense's decision to not stack up against the Texans' potent running game once Andre Johnson went out was a little mystifying.
- The execution has been killing this team all year long. At some point, it becomes a simple matter of playing smart football, and the Falcons still aren't there yet.
Game MVP: Curtis Lofton, by virtue of spearheading a strong defensive effort.
Game Theme Song: Music of some sort. I dunno.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons sometimes make way too many mistakes. When they do, they invariably lose.
Next Week: It's back to Carolina to play the increasingly dangerous Panthers. For a lot more, go check out Cat Scratch Reader.
Final Word: Disappointing.