The Atlanta Falcons are bad. They have come to this by injury and by ineptitude, but they are terrible right now, and they’re not getting better. Whatever incremental gains they made with Deion Jones back, including some quality defense early on, was largely invisible late in the game when the Ravens ran at will. And that’s not even saying anything about that high-powered offense with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, and weapons galore once again failing to do much of anything.
It was a hideous effort from a team that either has given up or genuinely is much less capable and talented than we expected coming into the season. Either way, they’re due for a major reckoning in the offseason, one that will probably see coaches heading elsewhere and players being released. Injury was the reason this team went off the rail in the first place, but it won’t be considered sufficient to explain the performance of this team so late in the season, either internally or externally. Dan Quinn is safe, in all probability, so the team will try to re-build with that in mind.
The return of Deion Jones was welcome and frankly palpable. The Falcons’ defense didn’t exactly play well, but Jones made open field tackles and the unit was far more organized than they were against, say, the Saints. I give Jones credit for a fair amount of that, and it’s a good reminder that Atlanta was really missing him and still misses Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal a lot. The Falcons were able to hold an error-prone Ravens offense to a reasonable amount of points, certainly enough to win the game, but they struggled to get those stops late even so.
Unfortunately, the offense was garbage. There’s really no way to characterize not even getting to 100 yards at home before the fourth quarter as anything else, no matter how good Baltimore is, and it was the fourth straight week where one of the most talented offenses in the NFL looked as anemic as hell. It’s the kind of performance that is going to open eyes about the needs on the offensive line, raises fresh questions about the already-embattled Steve Sarkisian, and is going to lead to a very long offseason for the decision-makers and players like Ridley who are living through miscues alike.
In summary, the Falcons are bad. They played admirably in the wake of their injuries to get to .500, but all their flaws and ailments caught up with them as they dropped the next four, and the last slim hope they had of pushing to the playoffs is gone. In a way it’s for the best, as it allows us to think about what this team might look like in the future instead of what they look like now, which is a series of words that aren’t family friendly. May the 2019 Falcons be nothing like the 2018 Falcons.
Here’s a drive-by-drive look at the game.
The Falcons got the ball first and made the most of it, picking up eight to Austin Hooper, a first down run by Tevin Coleman, an 11 yard scamper for Ito Smith, and an eight yarder to Julio Jones. A small setback followed when Coleman was tackled for a loss, but Julio Jones made a beautiful grab on third down to move the chains. We got a Russell Gage reception and then a stretch run to pick up yet another first down. Matt Ryan and company couldn’t get it going on the first two downs closing in on the end zone, which brought up a crucial 3rd and 9 early. The Falcons whiffed and had to kick a field goal, which Matt Bryant naturally converted from 44 yards out.
Falcons 3 - Ravens 0
Stopping the Ravens wasn’t going to be easy even with Deion Jones on the field, and predictably, it didn’t look easy. Gus Edwards picked up yards at will and Lamar Jackson twice found receivers downfield to get the drive moving, including a Michael Crabtree crisp of Robert Alford. Thankfully, Grady Jarrett forced a fumble and backed the Ravens up even though they recovered, and they found themselves at 3rd and 15 deep in Atlanta territory. Unfortunately, Deion Jones got hit with an illegal use of hands penalty to erase that promising down and distance and give the Ravens a first down. Lamar Jackson ran it in from 13 yards out for a touchdown, and the Ravens had the lead.
Falcons 3 - Ravens 7
The Falcons enjoyed a hilariously bad sequence, with Matt Ryan throwing a brutal deep ball that missed Julio Jones and getting sacked on third down by Terrell Suggs, forcing the Falcons to punt the ball away. The defense actually held the Ravens, getting the ball back to the offense with 1:49 remaining in the first quarter.
Atlanta found itself staring down a third-and-5, and Austin Hooper turned a short pass from Ryan into a 16-yard gain, getting a fresh set of downs and closing the door on the first quarter.
Oh, the drops in this game. Ryan’s first pass of the second quarter was intended for Julio Jones, and it went right through his hands, leaving Atlanta with a second-and-10 on their own 41. Jones was forced to pay defense on the next play, batting away a pass that was intended for hm but was much more likely to be caught by the Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey. Ridley did haul in the third down pass, but Ryan threw it short of the sticks, and the Falcons went for it on fourth-and-1. It went about exactly how you’d expect, with the entire Ravens defensive front busting through Atlanta’s line and stopping Ito Smith in his tracks, forcing Atlanta to turn it over on downs.
The Ravens took over with great field position, but swiftly found themselves on 3rd and 7. Lamar Jackson’s short pass over the middle was dropped and Baltimore had to punt. Or they would have, had they not faked it and passed for a first down, which was embarrassing for a Falcons defense too used to being embarrassed. But they had the last word, nonetheless, as Lamar Jackson was sacked by Grady Jarrett, fumbled, and Vic Beasley scooped up the ball and scored on a huge, long fumble return to give Atlanta the lead. That play was so, so needed, and the only sour note was a (unnecessary) unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Falcons 10 - Ravens 7
Baltimore wanted to answer after that small humiliation, and did so by running, something that they knew worked for them. They picked up a first down and they might have done so again, but Lamar Jackson kept it on third down and had nowhere to go, ultimately fumbling backwards before Baltimore recovered. Punt.
The Falcons got out of deep in their own territory thanks to a couple of solid runs and a Julio Jones catch that was penalized after the Ravens defender lowered his head, even if it was a real borderline call. Atlanta picked up another first down on two quality runs in a row. Then they were backed up by a Wes Schweitzer holding call, but Austin Hooper picked up 18 on first down to get Atlanta close before Tevin Coleman lost yards on the subsequent toss. Calvin Ridley was open and had the ball downfield but was unable to hold on to it as a Raven defender pawed at it, knocking it loose and forcing a punt.
The Ravens didn’t have much luck early on, with Lamar Jackson forced out of bounds by Takk McKinley, then a dropped pass. The Ravens weren’t able to convert on third down and were forced to punt again.
The Falcons weren’t much better, getting two yards on a quick out to Austin Hooper and nothing on a pass to Ito Smith, and then Za’Darius Smith blew into the backfield and sacked Matt Ryan. Punt.
The Ravens got going with time running down. The lowlight was definitely Lamar Jackson getting ten seconds in the pocket and throwing downfield to draw the pass interference from Robert Alford. Then a six yard pass, leaving :40 on the clock. Then a first down pass, beautifully located, to pick up a first down. Then eight yards, with time running down, and eventually the Ravens settled for a field goal by Justin Tucker, who predictably nailed it. Tie game.
Falcons 10 - Ravens 10
The Falcons were on defense to start the third quarter, and it started out about as well as you’ve come to expect from this Falcons defense, with Lamar Jackson finding Mark Andrews for an easy first down. Then Lamar Jackson was able to scramble for another first down. Then Jackson attempted to hit Andrews again downfield, and was rewarded with a pass interference penalty on Sharrod Neasman. First down saw Jackson forced out of bounds for a loss of four and a sack credited to Deion Jones, but he was able to pick that up and then some on the next play. Ronnie Stanley was hurt, however, on the run. Somehow Atlanta managed to keep Baltimore to a field goal inside the red zone, though Baltimore had the lead back as a result.
Falcons 10 - Ravens 13
Atlanta had an opportunity to make some noise and take back the lead, and it didn’t start promisingly with an awful run on first down. Then Mohamed Sanu picked up ten to get them to 3rd and 1, but the next play was a Wildcat with Mohamed Sanu under center, and he wound up overthrowing Julio Jones and the Falcons had to punt again. Remember, that was their play call on 3rd and 1.
Robert Griffin III was in the game next with Lamar Jackson sidelined, and the Ravens decided to run. They picked up four on the first run and more than six on the next for a first down, and then got a first down on a pas to tight end Nick Boyle. Primarily working on the ground from there, the Ravens got across midfield and kept rolling. Atlanta did manage to get the stop to force a fourth down, but John Harbaugh threw a challenge flag because there may have been a 12th Falcon on the field. A review found there was. The next play featured excellent pressure by Desmond Trufant, who honestly may have wound up with a sack had he not hopped to try to avert a pass that wasn’t happening. A second down run to follow picked up one yard, and then withering third down pressure forced a deep pass that didn’t get there. Justin Tucker’s kick predictably went through, however.
Falcons 10 - Ravens 16
The first pass of the drive saw the Falcons pick up a handful to Coleman, but Coleman nearly fumbled it away.
That would set the tone for the rest of the drive, which saw Matt Ryan not hit Julio Jones deep downfield and Calvin Ridley snag a ball that he wasn’t able to turn into a first down. Punt again.
The Ravens’ drive was a blur, featuring as it did a lot of productive running for Baltimore and missed tackles for the Falcons. The Ravens just kept finding ways to move the ball forward, frustratingly, even if they did also get to third down multiple times. They “settled” for a field goal that put them up two scores.
Falcons 10 - Ravens 19
On the very first play of the Falcons’ next drive, the Ravens brought the blitz, completely overwhelmed the Atlanta offensive line, and Ryan was sacked and fumbled. The Ravens recovered and scored.
Falcons 10 - Ravens 26
The Falcons were cooked at this point. Let’s be honest. But they still had to go back out there and try. To their credit, that’s exactly what they did, picking up penalties after Ryan was roughed and smothered and nearly scoring on an insane series of tipped balls that ended up in the hands of Calvin Ridley, but unfortunately it was called back due to a penalty on Ryan Schraeder. A pass interference call picked up by Mohamed Sanu set the Falcons up at the one yard line, and a backpedaling Matt Ryan placed the ball where only Austin Hooper could get it as the Falcons finally got an offensive touchdown. No two point conversion, though.
Falcons 16 - Ravens 26
The Ravens just needed to run the clock out, and that’s exactly what they did. They ran and ran and ran and even ran on fourth down, just to be safe, and were able to run down the clock and end the game with a ten point win.