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Falcons vs. Dolphins recap: A second half ass kicking dooms Atlanta

The Falcons got beat up and ultimately just plain beat in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Miami Dolphins v Atlanta Falcon Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This is my eleventh year running The Falcoholic, and in all that time, I can count on two hands the number of games that have truly disgusted me. As unimaginably bad as the losses in the Super Bowl and the 2012 NFC Conference Championship Game were, they were at least hard-fought games against stellar opponents. The truly disgusting games are the ones where you get blown off the field by teams that shouldn’t be much better than you, like Mike Smith and company’s death knell against the Panthers in 2014, when they lost 38-0 in the final game of the season with a playoff spot on the line.

You can add Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Dolphins to the list of games that I’m going to be thinking about and getting mad about well into the 2020s. This was a loss that proved to be emblematic of every concern fans have had with the Dan Quinn Falcons in 2017, and it so thoroughly stripped away the illusion of progress on key items like better tackling, more turnovers, and getting the offense on track that is almost played as an absurdist comedy. You know, except for the part where we weren’t laughing.

The first half was fine, and even good. Atlanta almost let the Dolphins score a couple of times, but they held firm in the end and got an interception courtesy of Deion Jones, and the offense did enough to put them up 17-0. They were on track to score the 34 points I had projected for them, and the Dolphins were on point to score...well, 0. Which was far less than the 20 I projected for them. There was no particular reason to think, at that moment, that the Falcons were about to blow it in such complete and catastrophic fashion.

Yet they did. The Atlanta team that came out of the locker room may as well have comprised spooky ghosts in Falcons jerseys for all the corporeal good they did on that football field. The offense only got a few chances and blew all of them, with uninspired play calling (and not much running!) meeting poor execution, as was the case when Matt Ryan made a risky throw that Austin Hooper couldn’t come down with, leading to yet another unlucky dropped/tipped interception. The defense, meanwhile, extended drive after drive after drive with boneheaded penalties, poor tackling and poor play, allowing the Dolphins to score 20 unanswered points. And let’s not ignore the special teams unit, which repeatedly gave the Dolphins the ball near the 50 yard line, allowing their otherwise anemic offense to eke out enough yardage for scores.

We can quibble over who deserves the blame here, but this was a complete team meltdown against a less talented opponent, and I’m sure very few people in Flowery Branch would tell you otherwise today. There’s an urgent need to iron out the mistakes that have been plaguing this team with a three game road swing coming up, and they don’t have the luxury of extra time off to do so.

I have faith in this team—they are still talented, and one game shouldn’t constitute a crisis of belief—but that was indefensible. Embarrassment and anger can be powerful motivators, and we’ll hope they are in this case with that damn Super Bowl rematch coming up next Sunday night.

On to the full recap once more.

The Good

  • Coming out of the bye week and with time to work in the pocket, Matt Ryan was predictably crisp, hitting his options in stride and finding everyone from Julio Jones to Austin Hooper to Marvin Hall early. The pick hurt, but you can’t pin that entirely (or even mostly) on him, and he had one of his better games of the season. It just continues to not be reflected in the numbers and (sadly) the win column.
  • In his first regular season game with the Falcons, Marvin Hall caught a beautiful Matt Ryan pass for a 40 yard touchdown. I’m not sure Nick Williams will be hanging around when Mohamed Sanu heals up, to be honest, because even though that was Hall’s only contribution, it showed his ability to be a solid deep threat for a team that needs them and needs to make better use of them.
  • In a difficult matchup on paper, Wes Schweitzer and Ryan Schraeder largely got it done. The Falcons were able to run against a very good Dolphins defensive front, and Matt Ryan had the time to hit some nice throws, including that 40 yarder to Hall. When things fell apart on offense in the second half, it really wasn’t because those guys weren’t doing their jobs.
  • Dontari Poe hasn’t had the best year yet, but his fourth down tip of a Jay Cutler pass late in the second quarter was beautiful and killed the Dolphins’ best chance of scoring in the first half. Nice play.
  • Deion Jones had a critical interception of Jay Cutler on a drive in the second quarter and came awfully close to punching the ball out of Jay Ajayi’s hands on the opening drive of the third quarter. Then he snagged a second pick that was called back thanks to a Grady Jarrett penalty, which sucks because he otherwise obviously would have been this game’s hero. He once again had a couple of rough stretches tackling, but this was one of his finer games of the year, and he remains a big play threat.

The Ugly

  • Offensively, I have no clue what the Falcons were thinking in the second half, and there were some weird usage trends throughout the game. Julio went a long time without being involved in the offense yet again, finishing the day with a solid but unspectacular six receptions for 72 yards, Tevin Coleman got the ball just once through the air on a quick four yard out, both Devonta Freeman and Coleman finished the game with nine carries apiece, and the team set themselves up to make a bit of a risky throw that backfired mightily with seconds to go in a game they could tie and take to overtime with a field goal. Steve Sarkisian is not this team’s biggest problem, but I’m starting to warm up to the idea that he needs to re-consider his approach, because the Falcons have now put up 17 points in consecutive weeks and that’s bad by any standard.
  • I have little doubt that Duke Riley will be at least a useful player sooner rather than later, but he continues to miss tackles at an alarming rate. Again, he’s not alone, but the team
  • The defense was putrid on the opening drive of the second half, allowing the Dolphins to burn about nine minutes and ultimately score a touchdown on a Jay Cutler pass to Kenny Stills. You had the greatest hits album here, with penalties, missed tackles, and just some lousy play along the way.

Then they did it again, blowing a largely unproductive Miami drive with a series of penalties, including a Grady Jarrett easy call that erased another Deion Jones interception. They were working with short fields and on short rest with the offense going three and out, but they still allowed an objectively lousy offense to uncork several good, long plays on them, including runs that went nearly 20 yards. If the Falcons defense is going to be this undisciplined against a team like Miami, they’re going to get murdered by teams like the Patriots. I hate to say that, but it’s a plain fact if they can’t clean up some of these obvious mistakes.

  • I don’t know what was going on with Matt Bosher today, but besides another great special teams tackle, he simply did not have a good game. He averaged only 36.7 yards on his punts yesterday, about ten yards below his average on the year, and gave the Dolphins a couple of drives that basically started at midfield. It’s not unfair to say that put the Dolphins in an excellent position to win, and they did. Josh Harris also had a rare bad snap, so special teams was just kind of a general mess.
  • You have to question how lax a team is getting with a lead, something I don’t like to do, when you can blow a 17 point lead at home like that. Ricardo Allen sort of gently alluded to this after the game with his comments about execution, but there’s gotta be some soul-searching when such an obvious win turns into a crushing loss.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

I don’t give these out after losses, as a rule, but look, Deion Jones basically tried to win this game himself. Give him some credit.

One Takeaway

The Falcons just got beaten at home with a 17-0 lead at halftime by the Miami Dolphins. That’s the only takeaway.

Next Week

The New England Patriots, in New England. Follow Pats Pulpit to see what it’s like when a 3-2 team’s fans freak out over its performance...oh, wait.

Final Word