It was a different week but the same story for the Atlanta Falcons. Another game, another second half lead, and another heartbreaking loss.
The nightmare of a season for the Atlanta Falcons continued during Week 15 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in town. If you watched the game in full (or even the highlights), the game mirrored a particular game a few seasons back involving the same opposing quarterback. A 31-27 loss to the Buccaneers leaves the Falcons at 4-10 on the season. Let’s highlight the key takeaways.
Second half sputtering
A football game is a tale of two halves. The Falcons have surely defined that statement tremendously this season and Sunday was a prime example. During the first half, the Falcons were clicking in every phase. The defense held that elite Buccaneers offense to just 61 first half yards, while quarterback Matt Ryan had a pair of touchdown passes. It was one of, if not the best, first halves that the team has played all season.
But once halftime commenced, it was as if two totally different teams exited the locker room. The visiting team looked as if they were a team on a mission while the home Falcons looked dazed and totally confused. Once again, the second half produced another outcome with the Falcons relinquishing a lead and losing the game late in the fourth quarter. The offense was unable to string together productive drives, the defense could not deliver a necessary stop when the team needed it the most. For five consecutive possessions in the second half, the Buccaneers were able to drive the length of the field and slug their way back into the game and eventually take the lead. When it comes to closing out games, the Falcons have mastered the element of failing to close the door.
Run game completely missing
For the game, the Falcons were only able to muster 37 total rushing yards. Amazingly, 16 of those 37 rushing yards came on a scramble by Matt Ryan in the first half. Granted, they were facing a run defense that is ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards per game allowed and first in yards per carry allowed.
However, in the game of football, when a lead is being nursed by a particular team, most times, teams resort to the run game a bit to at the very least milk the clock. For running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill, the two combined for seven carries for -3 yards. Playing against an elite run defense, the expectations should have been tempered a bit. But for the season, the Falcons are 25th in rushing and 30th in yards per carry. That won’t cut it no matter the opponent, especially when your big problem is blowing second half leads.
His normal self
In what has been a poor season for the Falcons, one of the few bright spots has been the play of safety Keanu Neal. Over the course of the season, Neal has quietly gotten back to his normal play as a hard hitting thumper looking to tattoo the opposition. His hits on Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Mike Evans showed that he is without a doubt one of the more menacing defenders in all of football.
The last two seasons, Neal was a victim of season ending injuries that truly placed his future in jeopardy prior to the season. I think with his play this season, he has shown the Falcons brass that he can still be a key cog in the future for Atlanta.