If you were looking for a reason to think this team was actually doomed, this game delivered on that in spades. Atlanta not only lost Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu (and Keanu Neal, at least briefly), they also delivered a nightmare performance at home against a team they were expected to beat.
The Falcons threw a pick, fumbled, fumble again, committed penalties, and generally played uninspired football all day. They came within a yard or two of winning, but on fourth down and with the game on the line, Matt Ryan couldn’t connect in the end zone on a lousy play call, and the Falcons are now 3-1.
You could be forgiven for thinking this was a concerning outcome, given that Atlanta hadn’t yet lost but had displayed signs that they weren’t ready to blow out the average contender to this point. The loss here hasn’t shaken my faith, but it has given me some pause about how this team will fare against the great teams in the NFL if they’re not completely healthy and firing on all cylinders. It was the kind of loss that will either prove to be a blip in a huge year or a sign of things to come, and I hope it’s not the latter.
Here’s our quarter-by-quarter breakdown.
The Falcons got the ball to start the game thanks to Buffalo deferring, and they swiftly set about laying waste to the Bills defense. Unfortunately, the head of steam wore out, and for the first time in 2017, the Falcons had to punt on their opening drive.
The Bills got off to a similarly hot start, with Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy powering Buffalo to a quick first down. Despite an illegal block above the waist call that slowed them down, Buffalo kept moving, including a 2014 Falcons-esque 17 yard gain on 3rd and 17. Fortunately, a Derrick Shelby sack and a missed deep shot on third down stopped Buffalo short of field goal range, and they did have to punt. Unfortunately, Atlanta had to start the next drive from the 1.
The Falcons found success through the air, connecting with Julio Jones (twice) and Austin Hooper for first down en route to midfield. They stalled out there again, with Matt Ryan missing a couple of throws. Punt.
LeSean McCoy, from the ten yard line, ran for -1 yards thanks to Brooks Reed. END QUARTER!
The Falcons got the ball back on about their own 40 yard line, and swiftly set about making something of that, with a 29 yard Tevin Coleman run putting them within striking distance of their first score. Sadly, they stopped just shy because Matt Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu for three yards on 3rd and 7—they were working on 1st and 20 thanks to a Levine Toilolo penalty—and Matt Bryant hit the field goal.
Falcons 3, Bills 0
The Bills answered in emphatic question, with several nice LeSean McCoy runs, a huge pass to Charles Clay, and and finally a nine yard Jordan Matthews touchdown pass from Tyrord Taylor. It looked way too easy, and the Falcons defense looked slow and tentative minus Ricardo Allen.
Falcons 3, Bills 7
The Falcons couldn’t do a dang thing on the next drive with Julio Jones on the sideline. Austin Hooper came up a little short of the first down on third down, and the Falcons punted yet again.
Thankfully, the Bills didn’t fare any better, and they needed to punt after going three and out.
The Falcons, meanwhile, eased the panic of the fanbase with a long scoring drive that featured a huge reception by Tevin Coleman and a lot of steady movement, culminating in a Mohamed Sanu direct snap run that almost went for a touchdown and a Devonta Freeman punch-in. That meant Atlanta was positioned to go into the second half with a much-needed lead.
Falcons 10, Bills 7
Brooks Reed started things off swimmingly with a sack of Tyrod Taylor, and the Bills were swiftly forced to punt.
The Falcons took over and got moving thanks to Tevin Coleman, Derrick Coleman...and Levine Toilolo? This was about the time we found out that both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu were out for the game. This was also the time where Matt Ryan was sacked and the subsequent fumble was returned for a touchdown on arguably the worst call I’ve seen go against the Falcons this year. Maybe inarguably, since I’m not sure Ryan even fumbled.
Falcons 10 - Bills 14
The Falcons got a little bit of traction on the subsequent drive before Matt Ryan essentially threw a jump ball to Taylor Gabriel, a poor decision that was immediately made worse when the Bills’ Micah Hyde picked it off.
I’m not going to recap all the action from this drive because frankly it was too damn depressing. But the Bills drove, Keanu Neal got hurt, and the Bills were moving the ball fairly easily down the field against this Atlanta defense. The quarter ended with Buffalo in the red zone and Grady Jarrett driving Patrick DiMarco backwards on second down.
The Bills, despite being getting literally a 1st and Goal against a Falcons defense that seemed incapable of stopping them, were stopped. They had to settle for a short field goal, and suddenly hope was alive.
Falcons 10 - Bills 17
The next drive was nuts. The Falcons fumbled the ball away on a long gain from Tevin Coleman, but Jake Matthews recovered it. Then Justin Hardy fumbled it away, except he didn’t, because the call was overturned. Then Tevin Coleman just keep going, getting the Falcons close, and a Justin Hardy touchdown grab tied things up.
Falcons 17 - Bills 17
The Falcons got the stop on the subsequent drive, sure, but the Bills have an awfully good kicker. The 56 yard field goal put them up by three, and gave the ball back to Atlanta.
Falcons 17 - Bills 20
The Falcons couldn’t get anything going on their subsequent drive, and then Matt Ryan threw his second interception of the day, continuing an ugly streak. That gave the Bills the ball back with less than 3:30 in the game. They hit a field goal again.
Falcons 17 - Bills 23
They couldn’t do anything of note, thankfully, and thanks to judicious use of timeouts the Falcons got the ball back.
They managed to drive across midfield thanks to clutch Matt Ryan passes, and by the grace of some undetermined deity they actually reached the red zone. They were on fourth and short and couldn’t connect, and that was the ball game.