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Falcons vs. 49ers 2015: Abysmal Atlanta and the search for answers

Atlanta falls to 6-3 with arguably its worst game yet, an unbelievable 17-16 loss to a bad 49ers team on the road, and there are a lot of justifiable questions swirling around this football team right now.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If there was a game left on the schedule that the Falcons should have dominated, it was this one. Especially if they managed not to turn the ball over. The lessons of this loss are easy enough to follow: The Falcons are a team playing worse football by the week, and it's not just turnovers that are dooming them.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this football team, unfortunately. I just kept assuming that they'd clean up the turnovers and most of their glaring problems would go away, but the Falcons managed to improve their ball security and still play like hot garbage throughout this road game. The 49ers dominated them at the line of scrimmage, locked down most of their receiving options, and managed to do enough on offense with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback to come out of this week with a narrow win. Losing to the 49ers is not a lot of fun, but losing in the fashion the Falcons did is what makes this so bitter.

There are many things plaguing this Atlanta team, from lackluster receiver play to shaky play calling to injuries, but the end product is one that's lousy no matter how you justify it. We knew the Falcons were winning some close games in the first four weeks of the season, but anyone who thought Atlanta was going to regress so rapidly in the coming weeks was being dour for the sake of being dour. Losing like this is an embarrassment, one that fans were justifiably fuming over last night.

After the hot start to the season and the clear improvement on defense, I was always going to be more patient with them through their struggles. The time for patience has ended, however, because this is the fifth straight mediocre effort, and it cost them the game against one of the worst teams in the entire NFL. That's an inexcusable outcome for a team that wants to be a contender, and I'm done assuming they're going to get this thing figured out until they prove they've figured things out. T

he future is brighter in Atlanta, because I believe this is a competent coaching staff and the defense is genuinely improved, but there's a lot of work to do, and it's hard to be as optimistic about 2015 as I might have been. When folks are openly wondering aloud whether Dan Quinn is a good coach and whether Kyle Shanahan should be fired, things have gone awry, however premature I believe both of those takes are.

On to the full recap. Thank goodness for bye weeks to sort through our feelings.

The Good

  • Julio Jones is the man, even if he's the only one doing anything on the football field. He was routinely the only man open, and even if he had a drop or two that we wish we could forget, he's a terrific player.
  • It's good to see Matt Bryant, unflappable man, unflapped by his recent misses. That's a bright spot.
  • Eric Weems hasn't had an inspiring season as a returner, but he's starting to pull it together. Nearly every one of his returns put the Falcons in excellent field position, and it certainly wasn't his fault that they stalled out as often as they did.
  • Hell of a play by Phillip Adams, who held on to a tough interception that Jerome Simpson handed to him.
  • Oh, interceptions. Vic Beasley's fourth quarter pick was magnificent. It hasn't been a great rookie season for him, but that play made up for quite a bit.
  • It's a bye week. If there was ever a team that needed nearly two weeks weeks off to grapple with its ongoing issues, it was this Falcons team. They're 6-3, too, for what that's worth.

The Ugly

  • Devonta Freeman did his damndest, but there simply weren't any holes for him to run through this game, and he wound up having easily his worst game of the 2015 season.
  • Adding this note after several people justifiably pointed out that I've basically ignored Roddy White in every recap. There are, I believe, two factors at play in making Roddy (and Justin Hardy, and Nick Williams, and Levine Toilolo) non-factors in this offense. One is unquestionably Kyle Shanahan's insistence on having Matt Ryan progress through his reads in an orderly fashion, which almost inevitably means he's throwing to Julio or Tamme. The other is that these receivers (and Roddy in particular) simply aren't getting open often enough. It's a problem that continues to cripple the passing game.
  • The defense really looked rough on the third drive of the game, allowing Blaine Gabbert to escape the pocket and make crisp throws, run for first downs, and nearly run for a touchdown. They're a little banged up right now, but there's really no excuse for that against Blaine Gabbert.
  • I recognize the team's fortunes throughout the game in the red zone and in short yardage, but man, how do you not go for it with the game essentially on the line in the fourth quarter when you're on the two yard line? You don't want to give Blaine Gabbert the ball at the two? What a nonsensical call, no matter how much confidence you have in your defense, and when paired with Dan Quinn's useless challenge earlier in the quarter, you can understand why there is shaken faith right now.
  • There's no excuse for any of this. I recognize the team is one-dimensional when the run game isn't going, but this was just a dismal effort when the Falcons really need to be winning to keep pace in the playoff hunt, and it was another decent (if shakier than normal) effort by the defense that was totally wasted by an anemic offensive performance.

    Atlanta has enough talent on this football team—and I keep saying it, but it's because I believe it so strongly—to be much better than this. They have a coaching staff I believe in. But right now, this team appears to be lost and searching for answers, and until they find them, it's fair to be wary.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: Julio Jones, for being a monster when no one else was even a mouse.

Theme Song: /stony silence

One Takeaway: This football team is truly regressing if they can't beat San Francisco on a week where they don't turn the ball over once.

Next Week: The mighty bye week! All hail the bye week!

Final Word: why?