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One reason to celebrate, one reason to worry after Falcons’ loss to Seattle

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This team took a big step forward, even in the loss.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons’ 26-24 heartbreaking loss at Seattle has been discussed and analyzed ad nauseam because of the controversial ending.

It’s always a hard thing to say whether or not a penalty would have made a major difference in the game’s outcome, but a solid argument could be made that the Falcons would have been in a good position had the flag been thrown on fourth down.

But, it wasn’t. In his Monday presser, Dan Quinn said that it’s a tough way to lose, but that the team has to regroup and refocus for their upcoming game against the San Diego Chargers. That’s the approach I’m going to take here. It’s a tough way to lose, but there’s not much that can be done now.

Besides, there are more important things to take away from Sunday’s game than what the officials did or didn’t do.

Let’s get to it.

One reason to celebrate

Matt Ryan or (The Unexpected Virtue of Resilience): I have never been more proud of an Atlanta player than I was of Matt Ryan on Sunday. There’s no delicate way to describe the punishment he took at the hands of one of the hardest-hitting defense in the league. He was hit early and often – and sometimes even fairly late – but the resilience he displayed was truly admirable.

Ryan is off to the best start of his career and has become a legitimate MVP candidate in the early portion of the season. But even more impressive than his stats is his composure and competitiveness.

Atlanta’s offensive line did very little to prevent the Seahawks from getting to their quarterback, but there were no shots of Ryan yelling at his teammates on the sidelines – no matter how badly I may have wanted him to – or becoming notably frustrated. Instead, he showed Seattle that he wasn’t going to let them get into his head. He then responded by carving them up in the third quarter and becoming the first quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards against them since last November.

Watching that game, I couldn’t help but think of the 2010 loss to the Packers in the playoffs. That game was tied at 14 midway through the second quarter and in the span of a minute before halftime Green Bay gained a 28-14 lead. The most memorable play from that game was Matt Ryan’s interception in the closing seconds of the half that was returned 70 yards for a touchdown.

There’s no denying that Ryan, who was in his third season, was shaken after that moment, and he never looked the same in that playoff rout. Once the Falcons went into the locker room at halftime on Sunday down 17-3 in arguably the NFL’s most hostile environment, there were many fans expecting a blowout. Instead, Ryan and the offense said, “We’ve taken your best shot, now it’s our turn.”

This is not the same quarterback with a 1-4 record in the playoffs. Ryan is having a fantastic statistical year, but more importantly, he’s no longer intimidated in big moments and he proved that on Sunday.

One reason to worry

Missing tackles: There are a few other things that could have occupied this spot, namely, failure to find balance on offense, penalties, Eric Weems’ decision-making and the offensive line. But this one is arguably the problem that most needs to be fixed.

Down the stretch, Atlanta defenders began missing tackles that allowed Seattle to maintain drives and put points on the board. While the Seahawks tightened things up in the fourth quarter, the Falcons could not do the same. In the team’s Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay, there were several missed tackles that contributed to the end result. That’s not to say missed tackles are the reason Atlanta lost on Sunday, but generally taking the ball carrier to the ground is a good way to prevent the opposing team from scoring points.

It’s no secret that Quinn wants to build the Falcons’ defense in the model of the one they just played. What makes Seattle so difficult to move the ball against, however, is that they rarely allow offensive players to get yards after contact. When a defender gets to the runner, they do a tremendous job of tackling.

Atlanta’s defense has shown signs of improvement this season, but tackling needs to be the most important focus each and every week.