Last Sunday, as the Falcons authored an impressive comeback over the Saints, there was a sense of confidence that Atlanta could execute in virtually any offensive situation. Third and long? 19-yard completion. 10-point deficit? Wiped away. Down by three with 1:20 left in regulation? No problem.
This bravado was noticeably absent today, as Matt Ryan and Co. failed spectacularly to emulate Week 1’s impressive showing. Couple that lack of potency with an abysmal defensive performance, and the Bengals were able to cruise to a decisive 24-10 victory -- dropping the Falcons to 1-1 on the young season.
It was the kind of beat down Falcons fans saw often in 2013 -- and have endured countless times over the years -- but one that many thought would be avoided moving forward. Certainly, there is no shame in losing in the NFL, but to get dominated in virtually every facet of the game – well, that’s a different story.
The new-found toughness and resiliency that were so evident against the Saints just weren't there.
Despite being out-gained by nearly 200 yards in the first half, Atlanta trailed by just seven at the end of the second. Some good luck and three errant field goal attempts provided the Falcons with this small deficit, but the momentum quickly changed after intermission.
Andy Dalton fired a 76-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu just 4:02 into the third stanza, giving Cincinnati its second lead of the day -- one it would not relinquish. Matt Ryan then threw an interception on the ensuing drive and the Bengals promptly drove down the field and scored again, this time via a Jeremy Hill touchdown run.
Atlanta showed some life in the fourth quarter when Ryan hit Julio Jones for a 14-yard touchdown pass, bringing the score to 24-10, but the Cincinnati defense, which was stellar throughout the contest, held strong and prevented the Falcons from scoring again.
Ryan finished the game 24/44 with 231 passing yards, one touchdown and three interceptions -- quite a change from his record-setting numbers against New Orleans. Ryan can hardly be blamed for these paltry stats, as the offensive line in front of him was dominated from start to finish. Lamar Holmes had a particularly rough day, though he was far from the only problem along that front.
On the ground, Steven Jackson led the way with 46 yards on 11 carries. Ryan, once again flashing his mobility, scurried for 28 rushing yards on three attempts; JacQuizz Rodgers had 23 yards.
On the other side of the ball, we saw more of the usual: feeble pass rushing, poor tackling, mediocre run defense. Paul Worrilow led the team with 14 total tackles (six solo), but he was far from perfect. Yet again, Mike Nolan's unit failed to register a sack.
As bad as the Falcons were, the Bengals deserve a tremendous amount of credit. They're 2-0 for a reason. Andy Dalton was clearly the superior quarterback, succeeding even though A.J. Green left early in the first with a toe injury. He finished with 252 yards and a TD.
Running backs Giovani Bernard and Hill had little trouble piercing Atlanta’s front seven, racking up 164 combined yards and two touchdowns, one apiece. The inability to stop Cincy's running game should be particularly concerning for Atlanta, as its beefed up defensive line looked like the feeble group from 2013.
Looking ahead, the Falcons have a short week ahead of them and will take on the Buccaneers on Thursday night. How they respond to today's thrashing will give us a good indication of what to expect in the months ahead.