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

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Well, that’s not how that was supposed to go.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Since an opening-weekend loss to Tampa Bay, the Atlanta Falcons had built some very real momentum. There were some impressive wins, and even the loss at Seattle seemed to improve the nation’s respect for the team.

That feels like a distant memory after an ugly 33-30 home loss to the San Diego Chargers. It’s Atlanta’s second-straight loss, and whether or not you believe this is a different team than last season’s (I do), the ghost of 2015’s collapse still lingers over the franchise.

Whether or not that is fair, this is a league with extreme short-term memory when it comes to positive feelings and a loss can wipe away all good vibes. It’s very much worth stating, though, that one game does not make a season, and Atlanta is still capable of having a great season. Still, the margin for error just shrank in a big way.

One reason to celebrate

Julio Jones: If he isn’t already, Julio is well on his way towards claiming the honor of best player in franchise history. Despite having two weeks in which he gained a combined 45 yards on his resume this season, Julio still leads the NFL in receiving by 55 yards. He once again had a dominant performance, catching 9 passes for 174 yards, giving him a grand total of 830 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns this season.

Matt Ryan sometimes gets into trouble when he starts locking in on Julio too often, which led to his lone interception on Sunday, but it’s hard to blame him with the NFL’s best receiver making play after play. It’s also become apparent that Julio looks virtually unguardable on slant and quick in routes.

Thank God for Julio Jones.

Two reasons to worry

Because I couldn’t pick just one

Defense: The Falcons’ defense appeared to be making good progress in recent weeks. There were reasons for optimism on the road against Denver and Seattle, but that was not the case against San Diego. In the second half, Atlanta could not get off of the field against the Chargers’ offense and allowed Philip Rivers to pick them apart in the passing game.

This loss should not be laid solely at the feet of the defense, however. There were several factors that played a part, but the Falcons’ defense remains this team’s biggest weakness.

To end this on a positive note, though, there were some notable individual performances that should be recognized. Vic Beasley notched two more sacks and a forced fumble. He is tied for fourth in the NFL with 6.5 sacks this season and tied for second with three forced fumbles. The secondary actually performed well, although the stats may not reflect that. Deion Jones continues to make plays at middle linebacker and Adrian Clayborn had several impact moments.

The defense as a whole is still a work in progress, but the main building blocks continue to take steps forward.

Penalties: In Atlanta’s two recent losses, penalties have been a common thread. Against Seattle, the Falcons had eight penalties for 66 yards and things only got worse on Sunday, as Atlanta was penalized nine times for 70 yards. The Falcons now have 50 penalties this season, 13 of which have occurred before the snap.

Memorably, Atlanta’s offensive line had back-to-back false start penalties committed by Ryan Schraeder and Andy Levitre at a crucial point in the game. The Falcons had quickly moved the ball to the Chargers’ 40-yard line before the penalties pushed the ball back to midfield and set up a first-and-20 situation. On the very next play, Ryan threw an interception that greatly changed the momentum of the game. Would that pass have ever occurred without those penalties?

Good teams don’t shoot themselves in the foot, and if Atlanta wants to take the next step forward it will need to cut down on the pre-snap penalties.