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Falcons - Chargers recap: Atlanta’s crushing loss re-introduces doubt to the fanbase

Atlanta’s third loss of the season is the most devastating yet, and it’s casting a pall over everything the Falcons have done this year.

San Diego Chargers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

I did say that I anticipated this game would be a shootout, didn’t I? It didn’t deliver immediately, but when both teams got down to brass tacks, the yards and points started flowing. Unfortunately, Atlanta’s offense went ice cold after the half, and it wound up costing the Falcons the game.

I won’t spin any sugar around this one: The Falcons collapsed on both sides of the ball, and it wound up turning what should have been a nice home win into a brutal loss. After going up 27-10, the Falcons scored just three points and surrendered 23, ultimately dropping the game in overtime when they allowed the Chargers to march into field goal range. It could not have been a more Falconly loss, replete as it was with missed opportunities, ill-timed penalties and turnovers, and especially a frustrating lack of defensive acumen over the middle of the field.

I anticipated this would be a bit of a tough game for the Falcons, given San Diego’s talent, but I didn’t anticipate that they’d run out to a 17 point lead and then squander it, even if that has been an Atlanta tradition in recent years. I just didn’t anticipate that it would be this rough, because I didn’t expect the offense to evaporate the way it did in the second half. Everything else was not particularly surprising, and it points to the work still to be done on defense, which was easy to forget (and frankly ignore) after the last three weeks/

If you’re looking for my usual positive spin, here it is. The Falcons just scored 30 points, lost by three in overtime to a game team that was better than their record, and remain out in front in the NFC South, which is not a terrific division. They’ll have to right the ship in short order, preferably against Green Bay at home next Sunday, but at 4-3 they’re in better shape than many of us anticipated, and still in solid shape.

If they can only play one great half of offense and continue to scuffle on defense, though, that optimism is going to evaporate in short order.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • When you are Julio Jones, you receive many targets and eat well. In the first half alone, Julio reeled in a 50 yarder, dominated in the first quarter, and wound up with 93 yards. He followed that up with a handful of nice catches in the second half, though he was not nearly as effective. His final line is still mighty impressive, he torched San Diego’s overmatched secondary multiple times, and I love him.
  • Tevin Coleman took a little time to get going, but he turned on the jets in the second quarter and ran for a 30 yard touchdown to extend the Falcons’ lead. Devonta Freeman took over when Coleman exited the game with an injury, going from an ineffective second fiddle in the first half to his usual dynamic, helpful presence in the second half on the ground. It still looked like Atlanta missed Coleman’s presence after halftime, but Atlanta can ride Freeman a long way.
  • Deion Jones has already made his mark on this defense, and I was so glad to see him back and starting for Atlanta on Sunday. His interception was a huge play in the first quarter, and it set the Falcons up for a field goal to get them within one point.
  • Vic Beasley is coming on in a major way. His second quarter strip sack of Philip Rivers (and Adrian Clayborn’s recovery for a touchdown) put the Falcons in comfortable position. He wound up with two sacks, adding to an impressive total, and has clearly arrived as the Falcons’ most productive pass rusher, even if Dwight Freeney still looks better on a per-snap basis.
  • He had some errors along the way, but Keanu Neal still looks terrific. He delivered timely hits, dragged Travis Benjamin down by one arm, and took Hunter Henry out of the game for long stretches when he was covering him. It’s certainly not his fault that Atlanta lost this game, and Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford were generally very good, as well.
  • Matt Bryant rocks. He’s as reliable as ever, and it’s hardly his fault he missed the 58 yard try at the end of the first half that the Falcons set him up for.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan did not have an ugly day, on balance—his receivers were not great outside of Coleman and Julio, to put it mildly—but his interception was exactly the kind of mistake that doomed him last year. He simply missed Denzel Perryman on the play, and considering the margin, that has to be considered one of the most painful errors of the game.
  • The pass protection was not good, with Ryan Schraeder and Chris Chester struggling again this week.
  • The Falcons got off to a painfully slow start on defense, allowing the Chargers to march down the field like Atlanta was hardly even there. The Chargers are a good team, particularly on offense, but it was a disheartening start.
  • Oh, it got worse! Atlanta’s inability to cover Travis Benjamin, Hunter Henry, and especially Melvin Gordon over the middle of the field was an unfortunate throwback to last year. The fact that it plagued them until the very end of the game says a fair amount about the work ahead for the likes of De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones, and especially Ricardo Allen, who did a nice job of mopping up but struggled in coverage. If that’s the book on Atlanta again this year, teams will know just how to exploit it.
  • The penalties, man. None were more egregious than the back-to-back false starts penalties on Andy Levitre and Ryan Schraeder, but that was not Levitre’s first penalty, Chris Chester got hit with two, and the line genuinely struggled in this one, the second straight week in a row where that was the case. I’m hopeful this is not a trend, but it’s fair to say that I didn’t expect San Diego to dominate along the line, so keep an eye on this.
  • Just bad! The erosion of faith in the fanbase was inevitable after this, because the Falcons did what they seemingly always do: Blew a big lead, looked inept doing so, and erased a lot of goodwill. We just have to hope this is a fluke.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Julio Jones, with Vic Beasley in the running. Jones destroyed the Chargers, and it’s a sign of how dominant he is that something short of 200 yards felt a little disappointing.

One Takeaway

The Falcons, when faced with a very strong offense, still look pretty bad on defense, and their offense has now only played well in two halves the last two weeks. Okay, that’s two takeaways.

Next Week

The Green Bay Packers, who will hopefully prove to be easier then the Chargers. Check out Acme Packing Company for more on the team.

Final Word