The Atlanta Falcons are not a good enough football team. We had suspected that coming into this Steelers game, what with the number of injuries and the way the defense in particular has performed in recent weeks. It was confirmed on the field Sunday against the Steelers, when the Falcons fell apart in totality.
It wasn’t just the defense this time, though they mixed a handful of nice stops with incredible ineptitude that allowed the Steelers to go up 27-10 heading into the fourth quarter. It was also the offense, which blew far too many chances thanks to asinine play calling (the ground game wasn’t working but the Falcons kept trying) and errors of execution (poor Ryan throws, poor pass protection) to ensure they wouldn’t be able to make up the ground. It was total team failure, and it ensured they were blown out by a Pittsburgh team looking to get back on track.
Still ultimately, the story of this team is a story of injuries that have exposed horrendous depth on defense and true weaknesses in how this team attacks challenges. The Falcons had more success on Sunday when they trotted out the likes of Bruce Carter and Kemal Ishmael, however briefly, than Jordan Richards or Duke Riley. Riley in particular erased two lowkey solid weeks with one awful performance, one that would put him in a position to lose his job to Foye Oluokun if the latter wasn’t also out there making huge mistakes. The defense is brutally bad, having now allowed well over 30 points in back-to-back-to-back weeks, and the Falcons are at 1-4 and only mathematically alive in the playoff hunt. The reality is that barring a dramatic turnaround, they’ll be lucky to finish out of the basement of the NFC South, and I don’t know where that turnaround would come from at this point.
It’s not a fun thing to see hope die for your favorite football team, but at least it frees us from the weight of any expectations the rest of the way. I hope for entertaining football going forward, and one way or the other, dramatic improvement in 2019. That’s all that’s left to ask for, and even that feels like a stretch here in the dark minutes after the latest hugely disappointing loss.
Here’s the quarter-by-quarter wrapup.
The Steelers picked up a first down on three downs, converting a short 3rd and 1 with a power run by James Conner. Deadrin Senat came close to backing them up on second down with a near-tackle for loss, at least. Then Conner picked up 29 on a pass from Ben Roethlisberger, helped by some excellent blocking by the Steelers. Then he picked up another big gain, Duke Riley missed a tackle, and Conner plunged into the end zone from five yards out for the game’s first score. Depressingly easy, again. Except they didn’t, because it was called back, but then they scored again. They did miss the extra point, though.
Falcons 0 - Steelers 6
The Falcons got the ball with a chance to make a statement and take a lead. They started things off with a quick four yard pass to Austin Hooper, a missed second down pass, and a first down to Hooper. A quick four yard run and four yard run for Devonta Freeman and first down pass to Calvin Ridley later, the Falcons were rolling. Unfortunately, they made it to the 33 or so in Pittsburgh territory before Matt Ryan was sacked on third down, forcing a punt to the Pittsburgh 6 yard line.
The Steelers were unstoppable, or the Falcons couldn’t stop, or both. Pittsburgh got to third down twice but had little trouble converting thanks to James Conner, a Vic Beasley’s offsides, and another big (16 yard) run by Conner. They managed to get the Steelers to 3rd and long and get the stop, but Duke Riley was called for (questionable) pass interference to keep the drive alive. Then Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a fairly easy 18 yard touchdown and the Steelers were dominating.
Falcons 0 - Steelers 13
Tevin Coleman ran for eight yards. Quarter mercifully over.
The Falcons saw Matt Ryan get sacked again, but Ryan kept things going with a 14 yard pass to Mohamed Sanu. A missed pass to Hooper and Freeman run to nowhere later, the Falcons were facing a tough situation they escaped with a first down pass to Hooper and then a short pass and gutsy run by Mohamed Sanu for the touchdown. Signs of life!
Falcons 7 - Steelers 13
The Steelers surprisingly stalled out completely on the next drive, with two incomplete passes and a six yard pickup for Vance McDonald. They had to punt.
The Falcons got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. They got a quick pass to Austin Hooper and followed it up with a 20 yard rumble by Devonta Freeman, where he showed some of that old elusiveness on the run. Ryan threw behind Julio and he bobbled it, which almost led to a pick, and then had to throw the ball away on second down, and then a missed pass under pressure on third down. Fortunately, a Steelers penalty kept the drive going. A seven yard pass and 15 yard roughing the passer penalty (a cheap one) later, the Falcons were inside the 30. Unfortunately, Ryan was sacked for a nine yard loss—the pass protection was pretty awful in the first half—and missed on second down. Ryan was sacked yet again on third down, but Matt Bryant was able to salvage the drive somewhat with a long field goal.
Falcons 10 - Steelers 13
The Steelers surprisingly stalled out again. The Falcons gave up a lot on first down but wound up doing a hell of a job getting stops on the next two plays, not allowing John Conner to beat them on the ground. It was worth noting that the Falcons really threw it all out there on that series, with Bruce Carter, Sharrod Neasman, Steven Means, and Kemal Ishmael getting snaps.
Tevin Coleman got nowhere on his first run of the drive, and then Ryan missed on second down with pressure coming in and hit Devonta Freeman short of the first down on third down. Punt, and then Russell Gage accidentally interfered with the punt returner and the Steelers began the drive with excellent field position.
Ben Roethlisberger found Smith-Schuster on first down for eight yards, a short first down to Antonio Brown, another short pass, and then Ben Roethlisberger for a first down run. Takkarist McKinley was hurt on the play. Fortunately for the Falcons, Desmond Trufant knocked down the next pass and Roethlisberger threw it up for grabs and Damontae Kazee intercepted it.
With the Falcons having the ball and a couple timeouts left, they managed to pick up quite a few yards to try to set up a field goal try before the half. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get close, settling for a 15 yard pass to Austin Hooper as time expired.
The Falcons got nothing from Freeman on first down, then a short gain on a pass, then a first down scramble from Matt Ryan to start the half. Another loss on first down for Freeman and a short pass to Mohamed Sanu brought up third down again, and the pass to Tevin Coleman fell well short of the first down. Punt.
The Steelers came out slinging to try to build their lead, connecting on sharp passes and handing it off to James Conner to get them nearly to midfield. First down saw a short run, Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster for a decent gain, and on third down, the Falcons missed a series of tackles en route to a 23 yard pickup by James Conner. A nice Isaiah Oliver play in coverage saved the Falcons from allowing an Antonio Brown touchdown, but they couldn’t capitalize on a James Conner fumble that bounced out of bounds. Eventually, the Falcons gave it up, with Oliver not being able to get in front of a touchdown pass to Brown. Two score Steelers lead.
Falcons 10 - Steelers 20
Atlanta needed a score to get back in this one. They missed on first down, with Matt Ryan throwing short, they couldn’t get much on second down, and Matt Ryan was nowhere near Julio Jones on third down. Then Matt Bosher’s punt was blocked, giving the Steelers excellent field position.
They took advantage. On first down, Roethlisberger threw a first down to bring the Steelers to the five yard line. Then Foye Oluokun got hit with a penalty to move the Steelers even further forward. They had little problem scoring, with James Conner running over Duke Riley en route to the end zone to give the Steelers a massive lead.
Falcons 10 - Steelers 27
The Steelers decided to make life easy for the Falcons by committing a pair of penalties to start off the drive, moving Atlanta down the field. Tevin Coleman slipped on his next run, a false start followed that, and then Ryan found Ridley over the middle for a first down.
The Falcons managed to get another first down on a Julio Jones sighting, the first of the game. Then Mohamed Sanu caught a pass to get close to the end zone. Then Ito Smith plunged it in from a handful of yards out to close the gap.
Falcons 17 - Steelers 27
An early first down for Antonio Brown set the tone for the following drive, where the Steelers ultimately scored on an easy bomb to Brown to take an insurmountable lead.
Falcons 17 - Steelers 34
Atlanta might have gotten moving, but they didn’t. That’s really all I’ve got at this point, especially after Matt Ryan threw a floater way over Mohamed Sanu’s head on fourth down to end the drive.
The next Steelers drive was sort of a blur, but they did have to punt. That punt landed inside the five yard line, because heaven forbid the Falcons have an easy path to scoring some points to at least give us a moment of joy.
On the first play of the next drive, Ryan threw a pick that was overturned on review. On the next play, he connected with Julio Jones, but then he was sacked from behind and fumbled, with Pittsburgh scooping it up in the end zone for the score.
Falcons 17 - Steelers 41
The Falcons decided to just exit this game with a little dignity and no chance of Matt Ryan getting hurt, tossing Matt Schaub into the fire. The Falcons got to third down and went for it, getting to the two minute warning by converting a fourth down.
Then it was over, mercifully.