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Falcons vs. Patriots recap: Waterloo and fog in New England

Atlanta gets embarrassed on the road.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this game, I felt very strongly that Atlanta had been sufficiently humiliated to realize there was a major problem on offense. I trusted they had enough talent to take advantage of a prime matchup against a struggling Patriots defense. I thought they could do just enough on defense to keep them in the game, and perhaps win. This was all based on the assumption that Atlanta would, after being punched in the mouth repeatedly, rally against a team that handed them a Super Bowl loss last season.

I was wrong. Wrong in every single way, and wrong in a way that shakes what faith I had left in this team for the 2017 season. I am forever an optimist, as you’ve noticed by now, but when reality is so far out of whack with my expectations for multiple weeks in a row, it’s time to reflect. This team was humiliated, dominated, and other ateds en route to a thorough ass kicking at the hands of the Patriots. By the second quarter I was angry, and by the end of the third quarter I was resigned. This team is squandering its considerable talent with poor play calling and poor play, period.

When the fog rolled in, it felt ominous as hell, and the gloom that persisted seemed to further incapacitate a team that couldn’t get anything going. Time and time again, the Falcons failed to get the tackle they needed on third and long, or settled for a short, easy pass when there was no reason not to look for Julio Jones further downfield. It was the logical conclusion of everything we saw against the Bills and Dolphins, which suggested that this team is tense, afraid to lose, and incapable of figuring out a way out of the doldrums.

It was unbelievable, given the stakes, to see the Falcons coming out so flat. They had a brilliant, gutsy 4th and 7 conversion on a Matt Ryan scramble, but other than that they fell into the same trap of settling for quick yardage, using very little time on the clock, and just generally playing uninspired offense against a defense that was among the NFL’s worst coming into the game. Couple that with some defensive lapses and penalties and you have a recipe for a bad loss against the New England Patriots.

I really thought that this team, with their obvious motivation, would be able to manage a quality effort against a struggling defense. Instead, they played like absolute garbage on offense and scuffled enough on defense to put them down 17-0 at the half. I’m done expecting wins against any halfway decent team on the schedule until this offense shows some signs of life, and I’m beyond disgusted that a team with Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Austin Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and the reigning MVP of the entire NFL could be so lousy.

Now 3-3 and with road games against the Jets and Patriots looming, the Falcons either have to reach a level of performance they’ve barely managed to touch this year, or they’re going to finish the year right around .500 and face an offseason of bitter disappointment. We, of course, are already at bitter disappointment.

On to the full recap, if you can stomach it.

The Good

  • Wow, Matt Ryan scrambled well in this game! Oh god, I led with this as a highlight.
  • Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu dominated targets, which was appropriate enough, and both did good things with the targets they had. It’s just that they arguably didn’t get the ball enough—particularly Julio—and there were too many missed connections when all was said and done.
  • Devonta Freeman is blameless, as far as I’m concerned. He ran hard, fought for yards, and did everything he reasonably could have to try to win this game. The team just didn’t do enough around him.
  • De’Vondre Campbell sounded fired up for this game after the Miami loss, and he came into this one playing with his hair on fire. On the first play of the Patriots’ second drive, Campbell came in unblocked and annihilated Tom Brady for his second sack of the season. Vic Beasley had a nice sack, too, it was good to see him back in action.
  • Robert Alford has to be tired of picking off passes that don’t ultimately impact the outcome of the game, but kudos to him for doing it yet again off Tom Brady.
  • Uh.

The Ugly

  • That first drive for Atlanta was insanely frustrating. You had a run up the middle, a quick hitter to Mohamed Sanu that fell short of the first down marker, and then a bit of a hurried short throw to Sanu that didn’t connect. It really set the tone for the day.
  • Matt Ryan fought like hell all game, and he ran the ball very effectively, which is the absurd sort of note you get in a 23-7 game. But while I think he’s had a relatively solid year and has been let down by the play calling and his receivers, he continues to miss throws, especially deep and when aiming for the end zone. The Patriots were big on disrupting the timing of routes last night, but at some point the fact that he’s been brutally inaccurate on the kind of long passes he excelled at a year ago has to be pinned on him, too.
  • Still no real involvement for Tevin Coleman in the passing game. He’s only one of the most dynamic players on the entire team, that seems fine.
  • Andre Roberts not catching a critical pass on the second offensive drive when Ryan hit him perfectly hurts, man. It hurts.
  • The Patriots are a nightmare. They blocked Matt Bryant’s 37 yard field goal in the first quarter, which would have given Atlanta an early lead, and of course they did. It’s like watching a horror movie where you know there’s a twist but you’re just not sure of what it’ll be. The Falcons targeted Julio twice after the Pats’ first scoring drive and got no penalties despite a couple of borderline pass interference calls.
  • The ugliness is knowing that this team could be so much better than they are. The penalty on Adrian Clayborn that erased a Robert Alford interception, while a bit ticky tack, was emblematic of the problem the Falcons have had all year. They are just a sloppy, undisciplined bunch thus far this year, and it is costing them stops, scores, and ultimately games.
  • The defense continues to struggle to stop the run. With Ahtyba Rubin inactive during his first week as a Falcon, the Patriots had a ton of success divvying up carries among their various and sundry backs and getting big yardage, including several embarrassing Rex Burkhead carries up the middle where he just sort of ran through the heart of the defense. The Falcons’ defense was the better unit out there last night, but they continue to struggle with fundamental things in a worrying way.
  • I don’t know if Matt Bryant is a little hurt, if the fog was a problem, or if that block rattled him, but it’s so rare to see him miss a field goal under about 50 yards that you have to be a little concerned he bounced one inside 40 off the uprights.
  • Steve Sarkisian isn’t going to be fired anytime soon, not with the backing of Dan Quinn and an understanding that he needs time to really implement an offense. But the heat is still on him, and it should be on him, because he has managed to essentially neuter an offense that broke records a year ago, and he’s calling some of the most baffling and frankly pathetic plays I can imagine this team calling.

    The one that finally broke me was the sweep to Taylor Gabriel in the fourth quarter, a play where a run up the middle to Devonta Freeman, a quarterback sneak, or even a surprise pass all would have be greatly preferable to a play that depended on a player—even one as speedy as Gabriel—getting to the edge when you literally had two feet to go. Considering the opponent, considering the stakes, and considering the last two weeks, there is absolutely no defending the game this offense turned in. That’s not all on Sark, but enough of it is that he is going to be blasted for the effort, and should be.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Us. We watched this garbage.

One Takeaway

The Falcons still truly do have talent, but they are playing so poorly and calling such a lousy game, particularly on offense, that it no longer fair to assume they’re going to win any game against a contender. Sobering, but eminently fair.

Next Week

The Jets on the road. The Jets have been playing pretty well of late, so it’s fair to say I’m nervous. Follow Gang Green Nation for more.

Final Word