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3 Falcons up, 3 Falcons down in Week 9 loss to Panthers

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Oh no.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons ended their three-game road trip with a 20-17 loss to an NFC South rival in the Carolina Panthers. Atlanta falls to 4-4 on the year with plans to make it to the postseason looking grim.

Who’s up and who’s down in the loss?

Up

Keanu Neal

Remember when some pundits labeled Neal a “reach” when the Falcons selected him 17th overall in the 2016 NFL draft? The strong safety was active on Sunday afternoon, getting in on eight tackles and forcing two fumbles, one he recovered himself after ripping the ball away from Jonathan Stewart. It’s encouraging to see the second-year player continue to make strides.

Matt Ryan

It was another nice performance from Ryan, who finished with 313 yards, two touchdowns, and another interception that very clearly wasn’t his fault. Aside from a slight overthrow to Julio Jones in the first quarter, Ryan’s looking more at ease.

Robert Alford

Alford shined against the Panthers, breaking up three passes — one coming on third down in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons the ball back with a little over five minutes remaining. He allowed just three catches on eight targets.

Down

Austin Hooper

Hooper has the ability, but it isn’t showing up on a weekly basis. He was responsible for an interception late in the first half after he failed to flatten his route, resulting in a gift for the Panthers’ Mike Adams. Carolina scored and went up 14-10 heading into halftime, and the rest there is history. Hooper also apparently had another gaffe on Atlanta’s final drive. The first play resulted in a -3 gain on a pass to Devonta Freeman, but judging by Troy Aikman’s reaction, Hooper should’ve been blocking instead of running a route.

Special teams

The Falcons’ special teams are continually setting up the offense with atrocious field position. Whether that’s from foolish penalties such as Brian Poole’s egregious hold on Carolina’s first punt of the game or Andre Roberts making little to no impact in the return game, special teams are doing this team no favors at this juncture. It’s seemingly uncharacteristic of a Keith Armstrong-led unit, but they’ve been performing terribly all season.

Steve Sarkisian

It feels like a pile on at this point, but at some point you’ve got to realize incessantly running Tevin Coleman up the middle or drawing up screens to Mohamed Sanu on 3rd and 14 may not be the best ideas. Granted, Sarkisian isn’t responsible for Jones uncharacteristically dropping a wide-open 39-yard touchdown and the other miscues we’ve seen this year, but it doesn’t feel like the rookie offensive coordinator is putting the team in the best position to succeed on a consistent basis.