Inventing new ways to lose is the raison d’être of the 2020 Atlanta Falcons. We’ve seen massive leads evaporate, and this week we were treated to a game-losing touchdown. Say what you want about the Falcons this season, but they’re anything but predictable.
Read on for this week’s Hat tips & head-scratchers from the Falcons’ collapse against the Lions.
Foye Oluokun (Dude is good)
Calling linebacker Foyesade Oluokun a bright spot amid the muck of 2020 feels like an understatement through seven games. He’s clearly played above his sixth-round draft status, and indeed looks every bit an unexpected Pro Bowler. As has been the case all season long, Oluokun was flying to the football all game long, including a clutch pass break-up on the goal line late in the first quarter.
There’s only a few positives for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020 — Foye Oluokun’s level of play is one of them.
Hayden Hurst’s performance
Turning in his best performance in an Atlanta Falcons uniform — on National Tight End Day, no less — Hayden Hurst was essentially the Falcons’ offense for the entire first half. He finished the afternoon with six catches for 68 yards, including a play where he corralled a ball that had deflected off of two separate sets of feet. His awareness on the play generated a first down that would continue a 79-yard drive capped off by a Todd Gurley touchdown.
The 98-yard offensive drive
Knotted up at 7-7 in the second quarter, the Falcons proceeded to secure a huge defensive goal line stop on 4th & 2. Following that clutch sequence from the defense, the Atlanta offense marched 98-yards downfield — a drive that included yet another highlight reel grab from Calvin Ridley — eventually culminating in a touchdown. The drive took nearly six minutes off of the clock and sent the Falcons into the locker room with a lead.
Roughing the passer penalty on A.J. Terrell
The refs had a terrible afternoon, and it started right here. While Lions quarterback Matt Stafford shuffled around the pocket looking for an open option he was sacked by Falcons corner A.J. Terrell. It looked like a clean, textbook hit by the rookie, but he was inexplicably flagged for a personal foul. This head-scratching call generated a new set of downs for the Lions’ offense which led to a touchdown run by D’Andre Swift.
Miscommunication on Amendola’s long reception
With the Falcons up 7-7 midway through the second quarter, there was a glaring coverage mix-up between between linebacker Deion Jones and cornerback A.J. Terrell on who would cover wide receiver Danny Amendola. Nobody picked him up, and as a result he was wide open for the 36-yard reception.
Without the defense’s subsequent goal line stand it’s a 14-7 game, Lions.
Jake Matthews gives up the sack
Left tackle Jake Matthews is one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the league, but his sloppy play against Detriot defensive end Romeo Okwara directly led to a sack and a fumble, which the Lions would recover.
Detroit would settle for a field goal, but it forced the Falcons into comeback mode — a comeback that they would secure and then immediately blow.
I am not focusing merely on the Falcons electing to run the ball with Todd Gurley instead of kneeling and taking the chip shot field goal for the win, although I do agree that it was a bonehead decision. Looming larger is the defense’s inability to prevent the opposing offense from taking a Ginsu to the unit with a minute on the clock and no timeouts. It was simply inexcusable, and it’s become blindingly apparent that every faction of this franchise, from coaching to on-field personnel, has the yips when a lead is on the line.
They play not to lose, they play scared, and as has been the case all year they inevitably surrender the lead. At this point it feels like a feature not a bug of the Atlanta culture, and in what will be a busy offseason it needs to be addressed.
No more taglines, no more slogans — bury the dagger when you have the lead.