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Falcons fritter away another game, drop to .500 in dispiriting loss to Buccaneers

It's bad.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

R.I.P., 2015 Atlanta Falcons. If that sounds overly dramatic, so be it. If the Falcons somehow, improbably push into the playoffs, I welcome you to haul this article out and laugh at me. They certainly look dead to me.

The team is now all but officially done in the NFC playoff race, is what I'm getting at. After three straight weeks of must-win games, the Falcons have exactly zero wins to show for it, and they will play out the string hoping to find some reason for optimism in 2016.

Everything that can be said has been said over the last several weeks, as a once-promising season turned into a quagmire which was also on fire. This team faltered on offense, slipped on defense, and just generally looked like one of the worst teams in football. After that largely brilliant 5-0 start, they have come crashing down to earth, and it seems likely that there will be some legitimate bloodletting from this roster heading into 2016. They're simply not good enough, and while I have believed and continue to believe this roster has enough skill to win in the NFL, they're not showing it. That kind of lackluster performance has consequences, particularly if you set expectations high and then race away from them like they're radioactive, and while the coaching staff and Matt Ryan are very likely safe, there are receiving options and offensive lineman and linebackers who are going to pay with their jobs heading into 2016. We have four more weeks for this team to make the case that no, they are not this bad.

The Falcons made a show of it in the second quarter and early third quarter, putting up some unanswered points and "racing" out to a 12-7 lead. They then promptly surrendered a touchdown, failed miserably on their next offensive drive, and gave the ball back to Tampa Bay for another scoring drive that featured penalties aplenty. They managed to rally back for a touchdown again and had the Buccaneers backed up on 3rd and 19 out of field goal range in the fourth quarter, before Jameis Winston somehow scrambled for 20 yards, a first down, and the effective end of the football game. You can (and we would) quibble with the idea that Winston actually picked up the first down there, but the defensive effort on that run was so bad you had to accept whatever was coming next. Then Matt Ryan had the ball with 1:39 left and threw a pretty awful interception yet again, ruining an otherwise solid day and dooming the Falcons to defeat. It was a bad, bad team loss.

As you know, I held out hope for this football team for a long time, and thought this was a winnable game for Atlanta. It has become painfully clear that I was wrong to do so, and the Falcons are now dead in the water for 2015. With a new stadium coming in 2017 and a new coaching staff reaching their second season, there's going to be genuine heat on the Falcons to contend in 2016, and I remain optimistic that they will. Right now, though, this is a .500 football team that can't purchase a win, and any positives we get from here on out are just gravy on a sad pile of mashed potatoes. We can only hope for better, not expect it, after the last several weeks.

On to the breakdown.

The Good

  • There was a stretch in the middle of the game where Matt Ryan was finding the open man consistently, and the Falcons were marching down the field and setting themselves up for some points. It felt glorious, and then in the fourth quarter, Ryan drove the Falcons down the field with steely resolve (that's a thing, right?) and the Falcons had their first touchdown of the game. And then things went badly awry.
  • The return of Devonta Freeman was a beautiful thing. He scuffled a bit in short yardage and on the first drive, but once he got rolling, the Buccaneers were flying every which way as he wreaked his mighty vengeance. He's awfully fun to watch, even if his final numbers weren't that impressive, and especially because he didn't get all that many carries.
  • Nick Williams is suddenly a fantasy option after scoring two consecutive weeks. The world makes no sense.
  • Jonathan Babineaux is ageless. He's good for at least one big play a game, and his huge stop on Doug Martin on second down in the second quarter was the play in question this time. He legitimately deserves consideration for the team's Ring of Honor, given his longevity and production.
  • Ra'Shede Hageman has a solid but unremarkable year. but man did he choose a nice time to come up with a sack in this one, bringing Jameis Winston to the turf on a 2nd and long in the fourth quarter. It would've been even better if the Falcons hadn't immediately surrendered a 20 yard scramble to Jameis Winston.
  • Every time you give Paul Worrilow up for a lost cause, he does something fairly spectacular. This time around, he forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that Ricardo Allen recovered, keeping the Falcons alive. He also had an interception that was called back on a Desmond Trufant DPI, which was just awful to experience.
  • Tevin Coleman recovered a Matt Ryan fumble. I have no jokes.
  • Shayne Graham has filled in admirably. He was called upon to hit a 47 yard and 52 yard field goal in the first half of the game and nailed them both. I'm not suggesting that Matt Bryant's job should be in danger, but kickers become fungible fast, and they may keep Bryant on the shelf another week while Graham's hot.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan overcame a shaky start to deliver a pretty solid day (albeit one without, you know, touchdowns), but the wheels truly came off in the end, on a bad interception (yes, again) to
  • The passing game still just looks off. A missed long bomb to Jacob Tamme (who's probably too slow to bomb it to anyways), a missed Julio connection, and a poor route and effort by Justin Hardy ultimately doomed the Falcons on their first drive of the game. They have to come out playing crisper football, and there were some bad drops along the way that were really infuriating.
  • Unfortunately, you can pin a ton of that on the pass protection, which nearly got Matt Ryan killed on multiple occasions. The line has been breaking down for a few weeks now, and when Ryan's getting sacked three times in the first half,
  • Sometimes you remember why a rookie coaching staff with players they don't necessarily love hurts a football team. In this case, it was Paul Worrilow somehow ending up covering Mike Evans with the game on the line near the goal line, which is indefensible on so many levels.
  • The defense really struggled a week after surrendering 150-plus yard to Adrian Peterson, allowing Doug Martin to rumble all over the field and giving Jameis Winston plenty of time to connect with his tight ends and running backs all over the field. Vincent Jackson only had a couple of catches, but they were both massive and sustained long Buccaneer drives that led to points. The pass rush was weak, the secondary had a rough time outside of Desmond Trufant, and the tackling was a problem yet again despite the team acknowledging it as a concern for the 13th consecutive week.There's a solid foundation here that should get better with another offseason of additions, but flat performances like these are worrying.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: I guess it would be Shayne Graham? The tears, they fly!

Theme Song: There's always next year.

One Takeaway: The Falcons have a tremendous amount of work to do, as they have each of the last two seasons. If they can't make something of themselves in 2016, we might witness the first major teardown of this roster in many years.

Next Week: On the road against the Carolina Panthers, a sure-to-be-tough matchup. Check out Cat Scratch Reader for more.

Final Word: Why?