Near the end of this one, with just over five minutes to go, the Atlanta Falcons found themselves in a tough situation. Having just completed a pass to Taylor Gabriel that fell short of the first down marker, the Falcons were faced with this choice.
- Kick the field goal with Matt Bryant from 47 yards out, putting you down two points and giving the ball back to your defense;
- Go for it and try to convert a 4th and 2, keeping the drive alive and hopefully scoring a touchdown that would have given you a lead.
Neither of those choices were ideal. If Bryant missed, as he eventually did, the Falcons needed a turnover or a quick stop to give themselves another shot at a touchdown, which was a longshot given the way the offense had played. If he had made it, they still needed that quick stop, but they would have only needed a field goal to pul off the win.
Go for it, and you have a real shot to score the winning touchdown. The problem is that the Falcons were horrendous at converting third downs all day, hadn’t given us much cause to think they could convert a fourth, and still weren’t guaranteed to score a touchdown even with that. At some point, it was going to come down to the defense to make a stop.
Of course, with the advantage of hindsight, you’d say go for it. I felt that way at the time, too, simply because I didn’t think a defense that had allowed an eight-plus minute scoring drive could be entirely trusted for that quick stop at the end of a long day, and because the talent on offense is sufficient to believe in their success even in the least advantageous situations. I still think the Falcons would have struggled to win either way, but this feels like yet another example of Dan Quinn and company choosing an odd time to not go for it.
The question, right now, is whether that decision will prove to be a pivotal one for a team that is struggling to hold on to a playoff spot. We’ll know soon enough.