The Falcons were only down 17-13 at the end of the first half, despite playing undisciplined, sometimes terrible football throughout most of the first 30 minutes. There was reason to believe they could get back into it and win if they just played better football.
This being the Atlanta Falcons, they didn’t do that. Instead, they fell apart in spectacular fashion, allowing two easy touchdowns to the Buccaneers in the second half to turn a close game into a 31-13 rout before the third quarter was even over. I said on Twitter that nothing the Falcons did short of a playoff berth was going to fully erase the stink of this one, and I don’t think I was wrong.
The comeback was the encouraging note of the afternoon. The Falcons battled back within a touchdown, came up with a stop with enough time left for them to try to push the game into overtime, and simply came up short. There was a fight and discipline in that comeback that wasn’t evident the rest of the game, and that’s something to build on. The problem was that the rest of the game was a foul-smelling wrapper around those handful of drives, and Atlanta simply didn’t look as good as Tampa Bay throughout this game, which is a painful truth to face.
It was all too familiar, too. The weird play calling that featured too many shovel passes and negative plays, the penalties that wiped out drives, the defense allowing too many big plays and finding themselves unable to get after Jameis Winston, and of course, the losing. It was an effort that started off decently and got miserable in a hurry, and if you couldn’t shake the discomforting feeling that this team wasn’t better even though it should be, you were alone.
That’s three straight losses against the Buccaneers, and with the schedule coming up, you could be forgiven for worrying a lot about the season. My expectations have been that the Falcons will settle in right around .500 on the year, and despite feeling really discouraged by this loss, I still believe that. It’s important not to overreact to a single loss, especially one in the NFC South—even if it’s extremely difficult not to—and let things play out over the first month a little bit. The schedule and some of the sloppy mistakes are enough to make anyone nervous, yes, but as we know from last year, almost anything can happen.
On to the usual recap, if you can stomach it.
- Matt Ryan will take his abuse for some of his worst throws in this game, but he played a generally crisp, solid game that was derailed by repeated penalties and a lousy ground game. Ryan was the problem many times a year ago and may be again in 2016, but generally he looked more comfortable in the offense and much more capable piloting it en route to over 300 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and zero turnovers. It was an encouraging performance in a discouraging game, and a better Ryan likely still means better things for this 2016 Falcons team.
- Tevin Coleman looked like the team’s best runner—that wasn’t saying much in this one, but still—and he also had some impressive catches, including a crazy 47 yard romp that put the Falcons nearly in scoring range before they collapsed into a heap again. He finished the day with 95 yards on five receptions, and considering Freeman is the guy with the (largely justified) reputation for being the premier pass catching back on this team, that’s huge.
It’s the improvement in the passing game that will prove to be especially important for him, because if he can both run and catch more effectively than Freeman, he’s going to start.
- Drops and injury aside, Mohamed Sanu’s first game as a Falcon went very well. He got loose on busted coverage early, reeled in a five yard touchdown catch, and generally looked like a capable target for Matt Ryan. The converted two point conversion was a nice addition to a quality first day, and I think this offense will benefit from having him if he can stay healthy and Shanahan keeps him involved.
- Julio Jones took forever to get going for reasons that may have had nothing to do with him, given that Shanahan and company were trying to get the run going and try some different things (damn shovel passes), but he predictably did get more involved in the second half, if only slightly. His 25 yard touchdown turned an 18 point game into something semi-respectable.
- For all the hate he got just for holding on to a roster spot, Eric Weems did a nice job, putting together 27 and 34 yard returns and playing his usual crisp special teams snaps. He’s ageless, and a lot of the ire directed toward him is misplaced, in my humble opinion.
- Desmond Trufant was great, as usual, with a key interception and lockdown coverage.
- You could not have scripted a much uglier start for the Falcons, between the quick offensive three and out and the defense struggling, but at least things settled down. JUST KIDDING.
- Matt Ryan did have a nice day, but when push came to shove, he and the passing game melted down. The Falcons had four straight incomplete passes on a do or die final drive, where the pressure got home, Sanu screwed up a bit, and Ryan simply couldn’t connect. It was a deeply disappointing end to a pretty impressive comeback, and unfortunately it’s going to mar an otherwise strong day for Ryan in the minds of many.
- Jake Matthews was, to put it charitably, kind of a tire fire. He was beaten easily for a first quarter sack and was penalized multiple times, looking like the overwhelmed rookie we saw in 2014 more than the polished tackle we saw last year. It was not fun to watch.
- I can’t think Chris Chester is going to have a long leash after he got destroyed by Gerald McCoy and drew a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty that may have cost the Falcons a field goal in the third quarter. The team doesn’t have any particularly inspiring alternatives, but those penalties are brutal, and Chester doesn’t have Matthews’ upside at this stage of his career.
- The run blocking was just putrid. I don’t think Devonta Freeman suddenly forgot how to run the football, but nobody could get going on the ground, and Freeman’s usual vision and power just didn’t avail him. If there’s one subplot from this game I’m legitimately concerned about going forward, it’s the possibility that the Falcons’ run blocking and ground game may not be up to snuff, because that would be a bitter pill
- I’m not going to beat up on Justin Hardy for one game, but he was neither impressive nor a factor in this one, and the Falcons kind of needed him to be with the Buccaneers focusing their energies on Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. If Julio and Sanu are a bit gimpy heading into the next game, Hardy, Aldrick Robinson, Jacob Tamme and Coleman are going to be counted on more in the passing game.
- The "Vic Beasley is a bust!" calls grow louder by the week, but you won’t hear me adding to that chorus yet. Beasley has yet to look impressive, but it’s also true that the Falcons once again simply couldn’t gin up much of a pass rush across the board, and Beasley was hardly the only player who didn’t look great in this one. We need to see progress and pressure from the second year pro (and we’d like to see it sooner than later), but not every pass rusher is impactful right away, and Beasley deserves more than a single game in his second season to deliver that.
Of course, it’d be easier to let Beasley’s play slide if the team could get any pressure on Jameis Winston, and in the second half in particular, there was very little.
- The defense was so frustrating because it was so up and down. The pass rush didn’t get home at all, but there was some pressure, some nice, athletic plays, and the impressive Desmond Trufant interception, but they were erased by poor tackling and poor decisions on other drives, most notably the 23 yard Charles Simms score that put the Buccaneers up just before the half. They then came out of the half with Sean Weatherspoon and Paul Worrilow at linebacker and allowed the Buccaneers to match swiftly down the field and score, putting them up two scores.
The defense clamped down from there, even if they let the Bucs run out quite a bit of time on their last drive, but the lasting impression of this unit will be the 31 points and the two embarrassingly easy touchdowns drives to start the second half. Atlanta has work to do, particularly in the secondary, where the team is thin at the moment and Robert Alford had one of his worst games in recent memory, and the Raiders are a tough draw with their young offense.
- The penalties were a nightmare, especially early. The Falcons cost themselves drives and ultimately wound up allowing a touchdown drive to the Buccaneers in the second quarter thanks to an Adrian Clayborn offsides, and there multiple poor penalties late in the game along the offensive line. By the time the Falcons cleaned things up, it was arguably too late, and it certainly is fair to wonder whether Atlanta would’ve been in it at the end had they not messed up so many times.
No. But Tevin Coleman or Matt Ryan, if you must.
The whole team is a work in progress, though the defense a little more than the offense. Atlanta’s not as far along the curve as perhaps we had hoped.
The Raiders in Oakland. The emerging team is going to be a tough challenge, unfortunately. Follow Silver & Black Pride to learn more about the Raiders.