There appeared to be a collective groan from the fan base and the team also when Panthers safety Juston Burris hauled in a fourth quarter interception. After a promising drive by the Atlanta Falcons got the team into the red zone, the turnover by quarterback Matt Ryan all but slammed the door on a comeback by the Falcons.
Now the team is in unprecedented waters. Equipped with an 0-5 record for the first time since 1997, the Falcons allowed a five-game winning streak over the Carolina Panthers to end and have moved on from their head coach and general manager five games into the season. Right now, there are as many answers to questions surrounding this team as there are wins. With that being said, here are four takeaways from the Falcons 23-16 loss to the Panthers.
Finally, the run game is utilized
I, along with other Falcoholic writers, have extensively highlighted the deficiencies of the rushing element under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. His past history of mediocre ground games speaks volumes, and very often the run game is neglected for no apparent reason.
On Sunday, Koetter decided to incorporate the phase a little more. Running back Todd Gurley posted 121 yards and a touchdown. Backup running back Brian Hill recored 39 yards on six carries. Collectively, the Falcons posted 166 yards on the ground, which is a season-high. While it was successful against a Panthers defense that has trouble stopping it this season, the fact that Gurley only had 14 carries for the game stands out, and even more so when you observe that three of the carries were on their initial drive of the game.
Most times when you average 6.6 yards per carry as a team, you stick with that phase until the opposing defense is pretty much helpless late in the game. When you look back on things, the run game could’ve actually won this game for the Falcons. Even if there were concerns about Gurley’s workload, you would have thought Hill could have taken on more carries.
Defensive woes were visible again
Just pick a defensive issue of the Falcons and it reared its ugly head on Sunday. No sacks recorded and only three quarterback hits registered on Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. No turnovers generated once again, which is their third such game this season. Broken tackles here, communication issues there. As the capper, 16 of the Panthers’ 64 total offensive plays went for 10 yards or more.
A defense that has been very giving in terms of big plays this season was still in a giving mood on Sunday, and this is even after getting a few important defenders back from injury. Finding any positives on the defense at this point in the season is difficult to do.
Such a grim atmosphere in MBS
Fans were allowed to file into Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time but even with their presence, things still seemed tense, which is undoubtedly expected when the team is 0-4 and in search of a sizable miracle. However, while observing the game, I still noticed the lack of energy and the lack of optimism. The absence of that aspect despite playing a Panthers team that they have defeated five games in a row and eight of the previous 10 games prior to Sunday was noteworthy.
Things looked even darker once owner Arthur Blank was on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter as the Falcons were attempting a late comeback. Once the contest was done however, you get the sense that dominoes would likely begin to fall, and many of them did.
Solid bounce back for Calvin Ridley
Going back to their week four encounter with the Green Bay Packers, third year receiver Calvin Ridley was completely shut out, failing to record a single reception. We later learned leading up to the Carolina game that a couple of injuries may have considerably played a part in Ridley not being productive in Green Bay.
He was back to his normal self on Sunday. He was not able to reach the end zone but he did have a season-high 136 receiving yards and averaged 17 yards per catch. A big 2020 campaign was expected from Ridley and those expectations have heightened a bit with Julio Jones nursing a hamstring injury. In a season of bleakness, Ridley has been a bright spot, and he’ll have to continue to be if Atlanta’s going to win any games this year.