The Atlanta Falcons lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home. It was close, the Falcons turned it on in the second half, and they still have a winning record, but none of that can erase the loss, and frankly we shouldn't be so quick to forget this one.
This Atlanta team is playing some uninspired, extremely sloppy football right now. They're turning the ball over too much, committing too many penalties, and making far too many mistakes against quality teams, and their divisional rivals are taking advantage. I firmly believe this is a team talented enough to push for a playoff spot and perhaps even make some noise in the postseason, but playing like this, they'll be lucky to hang on to a wild card. There's no question 6-2 is better than many of us expected heading into the season, but the team's complete inability to play quality football right now has to give you pause. Frankly, it should, because through most of this game Atlanta was bad.
I thought a lot during this game about how our perception is altered by the W or L, but there was little question we were going to have to discuss some of the grim facets of this game regardless of how it ended. With the loss, fans and the team alike can acknowledge the fact that things are going awry in Atlanta right now, and it'll take more than a few little fixes to correct the team's course.
I don't know what this team's true upside is, though I'd wager it's considerably higher than this. The question is whether they can realize that potential in 2015 with painful scheme adjustments, poor play, and plenty of mistakes from some of their best players. if they're going to be down Desmond Trufant for any length of time, this season becomes a tougher one, and the Falcons are certainly no lock to do much more than squeak their way to a winning record. For the record, yes, I still think they can come away with a playoff spot, though I'll readily acknowledge we're not seeing a lot of signs right now besides the record.
The bottom line is that this is a team playing like they belong in the basement of the NFC South, not a division contender and playoff-bound squad. It's easy to see these mistakes on tape, but we have to acknowledge that if it was easy for the Falcons to fix, they probably would have done so already. We all wish that wasn't so, but we have to face the stark reality that this team is 6-2 and hasn't played well enough over the last month for that record to do much more than ring hollow.
On to the full recap.
- The bone-headed throw on the interception is going to stick in everyone's craw, but Ryan definitely played his most crisp game in a while outside that. He connected with a ton of receivers despite being without Leonard Hankerson and a largely shaky ground game in the first half. He had one major mistakes, which we'll cover, but I think we're so used to reflexively (and largely justifiably) bashing Ryan for his play over the last month that we're in danger of overlooking a quality game.
- The Buccaneers keyed on the run early, and the Falcons were left with Julio Jones as the only consistently effective receiver in the game. Appropriately, he destroyed the Bucs' defense, putting up over 100 yards by early in the second quarter. He's a passing game starter kit for a shaky Falcons team right now, and I can't imagine what this offense would look like if he wasn't here. His final line was 162 yards and a touchdown, and if the Falcons had made a point of feeding him, he might have had more.
- Devonta Freeman overcame a slow start to put up well over four yards per carry and a very effective game with just a few hiccups along the way. The fault for the Falcons' ongoing struggles does not lie with him, that's for sure, and he remains the obvious #1 back here.
- Justin Hardy made a nice catch. And then another! He was active! This is good.
- Jake Matthews continues to block well, even as his linemates fall apart around him.
- What an incredible play by Adrian Clayborn on 3rd and 2 on the Buccaneers' first drive, finding the hole Doug Martin was supposed to run through and blasting him for a five yard loss, ending what looked like it might be a promising drive. Clayborn isn't consistently great or anything, but he's putting up a couple of big plays a game, and is a big part of this improved defense.
- The run defense was sneakily good again. They allowed a couple of scrambles, yes, but they held Doug Martin in check throughout, and once again they were not the problem for this Falcons team. It's good to know that Atlanta will be able to run well and stop the run well as they try to figure everything else out.
- O'Brien Schofield has consistently been one of the team's better defenders, playing better against the run than anyone anticipated and offering quality (if inconsistent) help for the pass rush.
- This team is still 6-2, and there is time to figure this thing out and snatch a playoff spot. That's the brightest note I can manage today.
- Matt Ryan was playing quality football until his second quarter interception, but for my money, that might have been the ugliest one he threw all year. It was into what looked like double coverage with a third defender in the area to Jacob Tamme, the last person you want to try to force a throw to when Julio Jones is on the field. It was another costly turnover, given the fact that the Falcons only lost by 3.
- Mike Persons's second quarter snap mishap was one of the worst you'll see, and I'm including James Stone's awful mistake a couple of weeks ago in that. Person simply snapped it into the ground, putting an off-guard Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman in an impossible situation and giving Tampa Bay the ball back.
- Speaking of ugly, I believe Andy Levitre picked up three false starts in this game. He's been a fine blocker most of this season, but that simply can't continue. He and Chester had some issues on the penalty front today, and the line definitely allowed a few more pressures than I would have liked.
- Atlanta came out of this one with a very unfortunate set of injuries. Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Paul Soliai, and Mike person all got hurt in this one, and we just have to hope those injuries won't linger. Person, at least, returned.
- I'm not one to blame the referees, so I won't start now. I will just point out that the officiating crew threw a ton of flags, and that the Falcons were hit with a larger share of them. I think that has more to do with a flag-happy crew than a biased one, even if the last pass interference call on Atlanta was bullpoop.
- What a sloppy football team this is. We sometimes shook our heads at Mike Smith's teams, which were fundamentally sound but didn't always present a lot of upsides, but the opposite isn't a hell of a lot of fun, either. These Falcons have talent but are being undone by penalties and turnovers at the most inopportune times imaginable, and they inarguably left at least a touchdown on the table in this one. It bears repeating that the Falcons are not going to go very far this year if they can't clean that up, and I thought this Tweet summed up the game nicely.
@TheFalcoholic the Falcons most difficult opponent is the Falcons— Luke Bragg (@LukeBragg15) November 1, 2015
Game MVP: Nope.
Theme Song: What is the saddest song you know?
One Takeaway: If Dan Quinn can't get this team blitzing more and making fewer mistakes, he's going to have a looong second half of the season.
Final Word: Nowisthetimetomakeachange.