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Falcons – Panthers Takeaways: When it rains it pours

The Atlanta Falcons have reached their rock bottom for the 2023 season

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have reached their rock bottom for the 2023 season, losing 9-7 to the previously 1-11 Panthers. After the Buccaneers and Saints both won Sunday, the Falcons are much closer to playing out the string than sniffing the postseason.

There’s plenty of time to point fingers and lay all of the blame, but the fact that Atlanta had its playoff hopes within its control and let it slip away in back-to-back weeks is the biggest indictment. This was a similar script to the Falcons’ other frustrating losses—a sputtering offense punctuated by gut-wrenching turnovers and a defense that did everything it could only to fade at the exact wrong time.

Atlanta doesn’t deserve a vote of confidence at this point. A lot was riding on everything coming together in Year 3, but it feels much closer to falling apart after this loss.

The offense is held prisoner to Ridder’s inconsistency

Sunday marked the 16th start of Ridder’s career, which used to amount to an entire NFL season and is now only one game shy. And yet, he’s still making a lot of rookie mistakes. Until he cleans those up—if that happens in Atlanta—the Falcons are at the mercy of Ridder. There has been a staggering lack of consistency for Atlanta’s offense this season; from play to play, series to series and game to game.

While a large portion of the fan base is all too eager to lay that inconsistency at the feet of Arthur Smith and the play-calling, Ridder is as culpable as anyone. He misses what should be considered easy throws at a clip that outweighs the tight-window completions he’s also capable of. His scrambling is a positive at times, but he’s also shown the propensity to turn down bigger plays in favor of a less impactful scramble.

And then there are the turnovers, which are by far the biggest flaw with Ridder. Sunday’s interception in the fourth quarter was one of the ugliest turnovers that a quarterback can have. It was a pinpoint pass to a wide-open Panthers defender in the red zone. Ridder has shown progress in some areas, but he largely looks like the same quarterback we saw in Week 1 against Carolina. That’s a huge problem.

Calais Campbell came to play

When the Falcons have needed wins this season, it’s been their veteran newcomers who have delivered. Jessie Bates had two timely turnovers in Atlanta’s first matchup against Carolina, but it was Calais Campbell who wrecked the Panthers’ offense on Sunday. He was a bull coming off the line of scrimmage, moving the offense backward and creating havoc in Carolina’s backfield.

Campbell recorded his fourth sack of the season and 103rd of his career in the first half, moving to 35th on the all-time career sack list. However, even when he wasn’t the one making the play, Campbell’s efforts set up his teammates. Early in the game on a third-and-short, Campbell blew left tackle Ike Ekwonu backward in the blink of an eye to allow Nate Landman a clear shot to prevent the first down.

There’s a reason Atlanta’s defense has changed its stripes this season, and it’s because of players like Campbell.

Snaps are something the Falcons need to figure out

Whether it’s Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil or Desmond Ridder, the Falcons are putting way too many snaps on the turf. As with everything during Sunday’s game, weather was likely a factor here as well, but snap miscues are nothing new for this team. Shotgun snaps that miss the mark are sometimes just going to happen, even in this league, but fumbled snaps from under center shouldn’t.

These are correctable mistakes, so it’s concerning they haven’t been. There were exchange miscues last season as well, so this is an issue that has spanned multiple quarterbacks and multiple centers. For any NFL team, there are way too many priorities and not nearly enough hours in a given week to focus on everything, but this should get extra attention.