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The Falcons lost the third down battle, and it cost them the game

Coming into the game, the Falcons were on fire on third downs. They fell apart and lost because of it.

Minnesota Vikings v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Let us be blunt: The Falcons lost this game because their offense wasn’t good enough. You can hang plenty of blame on the defense for not coming up with the stop at the end, or the two ugly scoring drives, but they held a quality offense to 14 points for the entire game. The offense managed just nine points, including a missed field goal, and that was the difference maker today.

A huge piece of the puzzle was the team’s inability to convert third downs. They repeatedly fell just short of the first down because Minnesota got excellent pressure and there were no good options downfield, and on a day where Julio Jones got just four targets and two receptions, that was a major problem. Had the Falcons managed even one more third down on one of their more productive drives, they might have won this. The Vikings are the best third down defense in the NFL, however, and they lived up to that reputation today.

Why did the Falcons struggle so much? It was a combination of a lot of factors, nearly all of them impacted by the Vikings defense. Matt Ryan felt more pressure than usual and whipped out some throws that were simply off-target, including an incredibly costly throw into the ground that Mohamed Sanu couldn’t dig out when the Falcons were close to scoring. Players couldn’t get open or ran short of the sticks because of Minnesota’s smothering coverage. And then the Falcons, in an effort to mitigate that tough Minnesota defense, repeatedly held and made mental mistakes that pushed drives back. Combine execution errors and poor luck against a great defense and you’re probably screwed.

As I said right after the game and will say again, this proves this improving Falcons offense isn’t ready to challenge elite defenses yet. There’s no truly elite units left on the docket during the regular season, but if the Falcons squeak into the playoffs, they may end up facing Minnesota (again) or Philadelphia, or even the Los Angeles Rams. All three of those teams are capable of shutting down the Atlanta offense, and that’s probably the best reason to feel pessimistic about this team’s fortunes beyond this week.