Many spoke of this game as though it was not vital, as though the Falcons could make their playoff dreams come true in the last two weeks against the Saints and Panthers. While that may be strictly true, a win here would have put the Falcons firmly in the driver's seat and taken pressure off in Weeks 16 and 17. Instead, they got down early and never managed to dig out of that initial hole, and the Falcons now have to be perfect if they want to make it out of the putrid NFC South and into the postseason.
The Falcons are like the world's worst construction crew in that sense, because they can't build on anything. We knew it would be tough sledding minus Julio Jones, even with the Steelers' mediocre defense, but it was deeply disappointing to see the team to come out misfiring and handing the Steelers free points. If you ever needed evidence that momentum is a flawed concept in sports, the Falcons certainly provided it yesterday, and they weren't able to make good on the comeback. Given that they're now behind the 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers, there's got to be some bitter tastes in mouths in Atlanta.
For all that, it is worth pointing out that the Falcons were down Julio Jones, Robert Alford, andWilliam Moore before the game, and Josh Wilson and Jon Asamoah exited during the game. This is a team with real holes that was facing a squad with a terrific offense, and they managed to hang in despite the odds against it. None of that makes the loss or the anemic early game performance any more palatable, but it is the reality we are dealing with. In that light, it was impressive that the Falcons hung around until the end, yet ultimately more crushing because of that fact. The Falcons did only lose by a score, after all, and had enough missed opportunities to make you once again wonder what might have been.
The Falcons have put themselves in the unenviable position of needing to win two straight division games, which tend to be high variance games. It's fair to say that I'm not brimming with optimism, though I remain hopeful that the Falcons can at least sweep the NFC South, giving us something to feel decent about as we head into an unknown and likely tumultuous offseason. No matter how the season turns out, I have to say I'm deeply disappointed with the outcome of this one,
On to the individual breakdowns, and then on to the Saints.
- Matt Ryan largely put together a competent, strong game that helped keep the Falcons in it. I'm not going to sing his praises too much, however, because he did miss on a handful of throws that could have made a difference, including that incredibly costly pick six. Still, the balance of work was once again a quality one.
- Steven Jackson's quite boom or bust at this stage of his career, but he was booming yesterday against the Steelers. He finished with 11 yards for 46 carries, and it's fair to wonder whether the Falcons might have put up a better fight had they been able to balance the run and pass better. Once they went down by two-plus scores, that was that, though.
- The Falcons desperately needed Roddy White and Harry Douglas to step up, and while neither were fantastic, both put together strong days for Matt Ryan. Roddy snagged seven catches for 58 yards and a fourth quarter touchdown, while Harry Douglas managed eight catches for 123 yards, including one huge burst that set up that Roddy touchdown.
I should note that Devin Hester had his best game in weeks, too, with 5 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown, and a nice return to boot. The receivers weren't at fault for this one.
- Paul Soliai made a brilliant play in the late first quarter, forcing Roethlisberger to step up in the pocket and then getting the sack on him. It was the first sack of the year for Soliai, who was also instrumental in holding Le'Veon Bell to an anemic yards per carry average today.
- This was easily the most impressive game I've seen from the defense in a while, at least until the end. They limited Le'Veon Bell, managed to generate some real pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and generally kept the Falcons in the game when their offense wasn't cooperating. Kroy Biermann and the line got pressure, the linebackers tackled pretty well and the secondary was able to keep Antonio Brown from destroying them until the end. It wasn't enough, but it was improvement.
Now if they could just stop running backs near the goal line, we'd be in business.
- Ra'Shede Hageman was a force yesterday, occupying blockers and slicing through the defensive line at one point to drop Le'Veon Bell a long ways behind the line of scrimmage. We're getting closer and closer to seeing him deliver on some of his considerable potential, and I do think he'll be incredibly useful in 2015.
- Matt Ryan threw yet another ugly interception that turned into a pick six. Ryan was too locked in on Harry Douglas, HD didn't run a great route and the Falcons utterly failed to catch and tackle William Gay, which led to an easy touchdown for the Steelers. They did not need an easy touchdown.
Ryan's harshest critics don't need the ammunition that mistakes like these and some of his other missed throws today provide. Again, on balance he's an excellent quarterback, but it's tough to deny that his worst mistakes have come at the worst times in 2014.
- Harry Douglas picked up two offensive pass interference calls in this one, and while the second one wasn't particularly damaging, it was discouraging given the day he had otherwise.
- The offensive line allowed more pressure than it has in weeks, with Ryan getting blown up once and chased multiple times. That got even worse when Jon Asamoah exited the game, and if he can't go next weekend against the Saints, all the progress this line made in recent weeks is in real jeopardy.
- I'll spare a word for Jonathan Massaquoi, here. I don't have the snap counts from the game yet, but it appeared to me he was active and playing very little once again. While I don't think Massaquoi is the pass rushing savior he's sometimes made out to be, he's very obviously useful in that regard, and the Falcons are still not generating a consistent pass rush without him. If we find out his snaps were even further reduced because he keeps bringing up his playing time in the media...well, there's not going to be much joy in Falconville.
- Desmond Trufant has been stellar this year, but his illegal contact penalty on 3rd down on Pittsburgh's last drive wound up being extremely costly for the Falcons. I understand wanting to take your guy out of the play, but Trufant simply made a mistake there, and the referees were waiting for them to make that mistake. It was not his finest day.
Unfortunately, the referees were making a lot of bad, borderline calls yesterday, and by bad luck alone, more of them went against the Falcons.
- Hindsight is 20/20, but given how well things worked out on defense, it would have been nice to see the Falcons go for it once or twice on short fourth downs. The lack of aggression is just frustrating as a fan, even in those cases where it is perfectly justifiable from any other viewpoint.
Game MVP: I don't really have an easy MVP to give out in this one, so I'll return to my habit of not giving one out in losses. Maybe next weeks, fellas.
Theme Song: Well...
One Takeaway: The Falcons are capable of rallying through injuries and early mistakes. They're just not capable of turning that rally into a win.
Next Week: As anticipated, the biggest game of the year, a road trip against the hated New Orleans Saints. As always, head to Canal Street Chronicles for all the latest on the Saints.
Final Word: DisappointingbutheyIguesswe'restillinitsochinup.