Heading into Atlanta’s Week 3 matchup with the Indianapolis Colts, we had a lot of questions about the direction of the team. In Week 1, the Falcons got blown off the turf by the Vikings, falling into a 28-0 hole before getting their first points. They looked totally unprepared, sloppy, and outclassed.
In Week 2, the Falcons looked like a totally different team. They came out firing on all cylinders, taking control early against a true NFC contender in the Eagles. It was far from a perfect performance—Matt Ryan’s 3 interceptions certainly made the game a lot closer than it should’ve been—but it was encouraging after the dumpster fire we saw in the first game.
After two games, we’d seen a dumpster fire and a pretty good performance. Who were the real Falcons? Was the team closer to the Week 1 catastrophe, or the Week 2 team that defeated a contender?
Unfortunately, after a 27-24 loss to the Colts which could’ve been much worse, we’re left with far more questions than answers.
It was a tale of two halves for the Falcons in Week 3. The first half was a chilling callback to the opening game, with the Falcons looking utterly toothless on defense and turning the ball over on offense. It was 13-0 before Atlanta scored their first points, and 20-3 before the half. The game had the look of another blowout.
Then, in the third quarter, Matt Ryan and the offense caught fire. Ryan rattled off two touchdown drives, bringing the score to 20-17 and putting the game back in reach. The defense started to tighten up after allowing 16 straight completions to the competent but not elite QB of the Colts, Jacoby Brissett. Things actually looked hopeful for a moment.
Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for Atlanta. The Falcons’ defense gave up a long TD drive to open the fourth quarter—featuring 3 third down conversions, several of which were provided by penalties. Atlanta fell into another 10-point hole that they’d be unable to dig out of, despite another quality TD drive by the offense. Ryan got the Falcons within 3 once more, 27-24, with about 4 minutes left in the game. But the defense—down Keanu Neal, and then Grady Jarrett on the final drive—simply didn’t have any more stops in them. Indianapolis was able to run out the clock.
Now, fans and analysts are in the uncomfortable situation of essentially knowing very little about the Falcons overall direction after three games. We’ve seen six quarters of pretty good football, and six quarters of awful football. I’m sure fans know what that style of play equates to over an NFL season: 8-8. “Football purgatory”, where you aren’t bad enough to get a quality draft pick and you aren’t good enough to compete for a playoff spot.
To be fair to Indianapolis, they’re a good team that could very well end up competing for a playoff spot when the dust clears at the end of the 2019 season. They’ve got an average defense and an offense that’s quietly competent and can beat you with the run or the pass. In an AFC South that features the underwhelming Titans, polarizing Jaguars, and top-heavy Texans, that might be enough to secure a division crown if things break favorably.
But on some level, it wasn’t really the Colts who beat the Falcons. It was the Falcons themselves: namely, the horrid first half and the 16 penalties, several of which extended eventual TD drives for Indianapolis. You can’t commit that many penalties and win games with regularity. You also can’t find yourself in a 17-point hole at halftime and expect to come back—the Falcons have managed that just once in recent memory.
In terms of positives, Matt Ryan and the offense seemed to really find their footing after an early turnover. The running game finally got some traction—Freeman looked like his old self again with 88 yards on 16 carries (5.5 average)—and Julio had a monster game with 8 catches for 128 yards and a TD. But it wasn’t enough. Now the Falcons are 1-2 heading into another AFC showdown (Dan Quinn is a flat-out awful 3-11 against the AFC since 2016), and will be down star SS Keanu Neal for the rest of the season.
This team is talented enough to weather the storm and there are still 13 games to go—they have a habit of playing better football in the second half of the season—but they shouldn’t have to. Atlanta should be playing better football right now. That all starts at the top, and with Dan Quinn firing all three of his coordinators this offseason, only one possible culprit remains. If the Falcons miss the playoffs again this season, Quinn will almost certainly be shown the door.