The Falcons all considered this game a must-win. After a week in London, however, all this team will leave with is a loss and a crushing sense of disappointment, one that has become all too familiar.
By the time we reached halftime and the Falcons were up 21-0 thanks to a combination of quality defense and actual living, breathing offense, fans were somewhere between stunned and jubilant. Unfortunately, the good times never seem to last with this Falcons team, and Wembley Stadium provided no respite from that.
After the blistering start, the Falcons looked hellishly inept, allowing 22 unanswered Lions points, turning the ball over and punting during a series of increasingly inept offensive possessions, and slackening on defense. They blew a three score lead in the most nightmarish fashion imaginable, allowing a game-winning Matt Prater field goal with just seconds left on the clock despite a delay of game penalty that never should have cost the Falcons the game. Even so, the Falcons indisputably did not put themselves in a position to win this.
It was a crushing loss, but it was also the fifth loss in a row this year. If this team doesn't make major changes as soon as this week, I'll be stunned.
It's just disheartening to be a Falcons fan right now. OFor the entire fanbase, the only thing that's clear is that changes are necessary and the rest of this season is going to be a tremendous slog. You hate to know a year's going to be like that after eight weeks, but we are here, and we're just going to have to deal with it.
To the individual performances we go.
- For the first time in weeks, the Falcons got off to a fast start. Matt Ryan moved the team down the field efficiently, capping the drive with a Devonta Freeman one-handed catch and touchdown. It didn't last, but given that this is likely to be a long season, I'll take any signs I can get that this team isn't going to play unimaginably bad every single week.
- Given time, Matt Ryan rolled. When the time evaporated and on his awful interception, he did not. It's as simple as that. For the bulk of the game he was pretty efficient, but between breakdowns in pass protection, the costly Julio drop and his own major unforced error, things went south.
- Steven Jackson gets as much crap as anyone on the team, but with a quality line and some opportunities, he was running well yesterday and punishing defenders. It was not a stellar performance, but it was an effective one for the most part, particularly because there was no Antone Smith to turn to this time.
- Roddy White erased the drops and led the team in receiving yesterday. It's good to see him get back on track a bit, at minimum.
- The return of Harry Douglas didn't lead to big numbers, but his fourth quarter catch on a high Matt Ryan throw kept the Falcons from turning the ball over to the Lions with about two-and-a-half minutes left on the clock. Huge catch for HD.
- The offensive line had stretches of truly competent play, no mean feat with James Stone at center and Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. That's the configuration this team is likely to use going forward.
- Robert Alford snatched his third interception in two weeks, coming down with a low Matthew Stafford pass. We'll have to hope this is Alford rounding into form, and that he'll finish the season with 10 interceptions and transform into one of the league's premier cornerbacks. Hey, I'm greedy.
- The start of the second half saw the Falcons returning to their unfortunate 2013-2014 form after a hot start, allowing the Lions to score and playing middling offense topped off by the worst Matt Ryan interception ever. More on that in a moment.
The fundamental failings of this team can be numerous at times, but what it comes down to is that they never seem to play well for four quarters. You're not going to win a lot of games when you only show up for a half, and unfortunately for the Falcons, and the Falcons were just good enough and lucky enough to pull it off here.
- While Ryan played well for much of the game, the throw he made in the third quarter was one of the worst of his NFL career, if not his worst. There was no receiver in the area and it was essentially right in the numbers of the Lions defender, who happily caught it and returned it inside the 20. I've watched the pass at least five times, and I'm still not sure how Ryan thought that was a remotely good idea. There's a lot working against him right now, but he simply can't make throws that terrible with the team's struggles elsewhere and expect to preside over a win.
- Julio Jones had a couple of nice, important catches in this game. Unfortunately, on 3rd and 10 late in the fourth quarter, he couldn't come up with a catch that would have kept the clock running and possibly would have given the Falcons a first down and the game. After his blazing start to the season, he's strung together some disappointing weeks, which is only going to lead to questions about his future with the team. For the record, I don't believe he's going anywhere.
- The Falcons made it more difficult than it needed to be on the pass rush front, once again turning away from Jonathan Massaquoi. It's not clear what the coaching staff's beef with Mass is, but he really needs to be getting a majority of the snaps at this point if the Falcons want to put their best possible defense on the field. He did not and they did not.
- The manner of this loss was a little stunning, even given everything we've seen from this Falcons team in 2014, and will likely result in jobs being lost. At 2-6, faltering badly and with as ugly a loss as we've seen this year, there's really no way around that conclusion. You can't blow a three score lead. You just can't.
Mike Smith will be fired, obviously, and it's the right move at this juncture. The only question is whether Arthur Blank will let him ride the rest of the year as a show of respect or can him during the bye. We'll know soon enough, one way or the other. It's impossible for me to argue against the firing, given the on-field product, and so I simply won't.
- That delay of game was horsecrap, of course. I understand the rules don't specify a 10 second runoff, but it's a hell of a way to lose when the opposing field goal kicker misses a field goal and a delay of game gives him a second chance. I'm not saying the win would have been particularly deserved, given the way the Falcons blew the lead, but I hated to see it end like that.
- Losing Antone Smith for any length of time makes the offense less dynamic. Let's hope he's okay. We'll have the injury update when we get it.
That's interception by Matt Ryan is one of the four or five worst passes by a pro football player I've ever seen.— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) October 26, 2014
Game MVP: There can be no MVP in a game like this. Just doesn't work like that.
Theme Song: The sound an abyss makes when you look into it. Sort of a quiet shoomph.
One Takeaway: Even if the coaching staff doesn't get cleaned out during the bye week, they're gone. This is the last year of the Mike Smith era.
Next Week: The bye! A chance for the Falcons to get fully healthy and figure out what to do with this football team going forward.
Final Word: Goodbyetoallthat.