This past Sunday showcased many of the issues that have plagued these Falcons in spades. Confounding coaching decisions and an inability to make decisive stops in the waning minutes are the story against Dallas, much as they have been the story in close losses this season. Here’s the good and the bad that stood out.
Julio Hit Stick
Julio Jones does a lot of things well, and Sunday we learned he’d also make a damn fine strong safety. Late in the second quarter, Matt Ryan sailed a deep pass intended for Jones, the ball landing directly in Dallas safety Jeff Heath’s hands. Not content only playing offense, Julio flipped into defensive mode and absolutely blasted Heath, knocking the ball out and rendering the sure interception null.
Jeff Heath would briefly enter the medical tent after the play.
Julio: We’re not worthy, sir.
Matt Bryant’s return
In the wake of Matt Bryant’s injury against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, many were questioning if he’d be able to return this season. He was forced to sit out the next three games, with Giorgio Tavecchio filling in admirably in his stead, but made his return against the Cowboys one to remember.
Bryant nailed all four of his field goal attempts — one coming from 53 yards — and was Atlanta’s entire offense through three-plus quarters. Age and injury are merely temporary roadblocks for Mr. Bryant, who continues to be one of the top kickers in the league.
Quinn’s final sequence timeouts
Like his predecessor, clock management is not Dan Quinn’s strong suit. That was fully on display during what would be the final sequence of the game, with Quinn getting timeout-happy on Dallas’ final drive. Showing curious confidence in his defense that had been gashed by Ezekiel Elliott all day, Quinn decided to stop the clock when the Cowboys were facing a third-and-5 from their own 30-yard line with over a minute-and-half left.
That would ultimately spell disaster, as the Cowboys would easily convert, and the subsequent timeouts that Quinn inexplicably called would only allow Dallas to churn deeper into field goal range.
Brett Maher’s game-winner barely snuck inside the right upright, and without those extra few yards resulting from Dan Quinn stopping the clock there’s a better-than-solid chance it dings off the post.
Calvin Ridley causes the pick
Calvin Ridley has had his share of ugly drops during his rookie season, but none more consequential than his failure to haul in Matt Ryan’s pass at the start of the fourth quarter. Running a quick slant, Ridley was positioned for an easy reception and first down pickup. Instead, Ryan’s pass hit him right in the hands and was then deflected into the waiting arms of fellow rookie Leighton Vander Esch.
This was a pivotal moment in the game, as Ezekiel Elliott would complete the 23-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Calvin Ridley is immensely talented, but the drops have been a real blemish on his rookie campaign and are a continuing concern.
Bringing out the punting unit
The decision to send out the punting unit instead of allowing Matt Bryant to attempt a 54-yarder is still a bit baffling to me, and it’s compounded by the fact that he easily drilled a 53-yard attempt later in the game. If your plan is to ease Bryant back into action, it’s puzzling that you’d activate him in the first place in a must-win contest.