Halloween is a day for costumes, but the Atlanta Falcons may have been wearing their disguise the last three weeks.
The Falcons beat a pair of AFC East teams -- the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins -- to move back to the .500 mark entering Week 8. But with an opportunity to possess a record better than .500 for the first time since 2017, the Falcons fell at home, 19-13, to the Carolina Panthers, a team that snapped a four-game losing streak.
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold was benched last week, but he was able to lead the team to its fourth victory of the season. On Sunday against the Falcons, Darnold accounted for 195 total yards before leaving during the fourth quarter with a concussion.
Atlanta lost despite holding a halftime lead for the second straight home game.
That lead was a lone point Sunday, but still, this appears to be who the Falcons are. A team that can't quite get over the hump. No, not the championship hump the Atlanta Braves are trying to climb Sunday night -- the hump to a winning record and out of last place in the NFC South.
To the Falcons credit, they played better defensively. The unit held Darnold to 129 passing yards and only 5.4 yards per attempt. However, Darnold rushed for 66 yards, averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
It was death by 1,000 paper cuts for Atlanta. Panthers kicker Zane Gonzalez went 4 for 4 and made a 57-yard attempt. That was enough for Carolina to lead going into the fourth quarter.
Carolina outgained Atlanta, 332-213. Carolina ran 71 plays versus Atlanta' 50. The Panthers converted 10 of 17 third-down attempts, a lot of which were third-and-manageable. Thanks in large part to those conversions, Carolina wore down the Atlanta defense with a 35:23 time of possession.
Raiders Fire GM Mike Mayock; Is QB Derek Carr Next to Go?
The Las Vegas Raiders are cleaning house, and next on the chopping block could be their eight-year veteran QB.
5 RBs the Falcons Could Target in Free Agency
Cordarrelle Patterson is a free agent, and Mike Davis might not be back. Here's a look at five running backs the Atlanta Falcons could target in free agency.
Saving QB Ryan: NFL Mock Draft Brings Elite O-Lineman to Falcons
The notion of the Falcons protecting Matt Ryan should be at the forefront this offseason.
If anyone was wearing a costume on Sunday it was Matt Ryan. He struggled to the tune of 20 of 27 passing for 146 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Ryan didn't reach the 100-yard mark passing until late in the fourth quarter.
Not only was this Ryan's lowest passing total of the season, it was one of the worst performances of his career. The last time Ryan threw for under 150 yards was three years ago.
The Falcons were approaching the red zone in the final minutes of the second quarter when Ryan threw a pass late across the middle of the field. Shaq Thompson picked off the pass to end the Atlanta scoring threat.
After that, the Falcons didn't get back inside the Carolina 30-yard line until the second play of the fourth quarter.
Ryan's second interception came just after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. That ended any glimmer of hope the Falcons could come back.
Like Ryan, kicker Younghoe Koo wasn't himself. Koo was a perfect 11 for 11 on field-goal attempts entering the fourth quarter but broke that streak, missing badly to the right on a 45-yard attempt that would have given the Falcons the lead back in the fourth quarter.
On their ensuing drive, the Panthers chewed 7:35 off the clock. And finally, they reached the end zone and went ahead by two possessions.
The Falcons will have to beat the New Orleans Saints on the road to have another chance at an above .500 record in two weeks. Atlanta is 1-7 since the start of last season against the NFC South.
But if Sunday is any indication of things to come, the disguise has come off for these Falcons.