A pitiful, uninspired display in Cleveland leaves the Falcons’ aspirations in a state of flux, yet somehow still alive as teams ahead of them lost as well. It was a tough task to pare down the awful aspects of this game, but here’s the good and the bad that stood out — mainly the bad.
Julio sets yardage record
He went without a reception in the first quarter, but midway through the second quarter part-football player, part-bionic superweapon Julio Jones finally broke the record for the fastest wide receiver to reach 10,000 yards. The record-breaker came on a 30-yard pass from Matt Ryan, and Julio doubled down by shortly following with a touchdown reception on a screen.
It was one of the few bright spots on a day full of downers.
Austin Hooper’s afternoon
Matt Ryan keyed in on tight end Austin Hooper early and often, targeting him 11 times for 10 receptions, 56 yards and a touchdown. He seemed to cross the plane on a third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter, but was ruled just shy of the goal line. Bummer.
Not to be denied, Hooper hauled in a fourth-down pass from Ryan, using his height advantage to secure the pass for the score and keep Atlanta alive.
Hooper has grown into his role as a reliable pass-catcher and end zone threat, and his talents were on full display in an otherwise ugly game.
Damontae Kazee becomes league leader in interceptions
Another day, another Damontae highlight. Granted, his interception wasn’t the feat of athleticism last week’s was, but it was the lone standout play on defense and set up the Falcons’ ensuing touchdown drive. Kazee sniffed out an awful Cleveland trick play, sitting back in coverage before jumping would-be receiver Baker Mayfield’s route for the interception and 33-yard return.
With the turnover, Kazee assumed the league lead in interceptions with five.
Sanu’s ill-advised stretch
I’m not quite sure if Sanu was aware of the down and distance, but with his stretch for yardage on what would have resulted in 3rd-and-14 he effectively turned the game with his fumble. The Browns would take over on the Falcons’ side of the field, and six plays later Baker Mayfield would complete a touchdown pass to Duke Johnson to make it 21-10.
We want to see aggression from the receiving corps, but we want to see awareness as well. Sanu’s stretch came at a needless moment, and Atlanta would ultimately be unable to rebound from this mistake.
Allowing a 92-yard rushing touchdown to Nick Chubb
What a mess. You’ve got a rookie quarterback pinned deep on his own side of the field, and on the second play of the drive you allow Nick Chubb to blast through your defensive line for a 92-yard touchdown.
The longest in Cleveland history, to boot.
The play was emblematic of how Atlanta’s defense looked all afternoon — unprepared, unable to execute, and utterly lifeless.
Sark’s goal line call
With the exception of the season opener, Steve Sarkisian has been masterful in his role as the offensive playcaller. The good will he’s built with the Falcons’ fanbase appeared to evaporate with his goal line sequence late in the third quarter.
The Falcons made their way to the goal line, and on 4th-and-inches Sarkisian dialed up a shotgun formation pass play to tight end Eric Saubert in the back of the end zone. Saubert’s a promising young player, but he also only has three receptions for 33 yards on the season. In that situation, lining up in shotgun in a designed passing play was simply a poor decision. Sticking with the run may have still resulted in a turnover on downs — and the Falcons were notably without fullback Ricky Ortiz — but rolling the dice on the run would have presented a higher upside opportunity to get in for the score.