After Sunday afternoon, Atlanta Falcons fans have to be feeling a bit like Bill Murray's character in "Groundhog Day."
"I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?"
Unless Falcons fans popped a replay of the 1999 or 2017 NFC Championship Games into the DVD player, they essentially re-lived last week. Some of the situations and characters changed, but the Falcons blew a multiple-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, losing to the Chicago Bears, 30-26.
Let's break down the latest debacle for this franchise:
1. Falcons Offense Completely Shuts Down in Fourth Quarter
As was the case last week, it's easy to blame the blown lead on the defense, but the offense was just as big of a culprit if not a bigger issue in Week 3. The Falcons accumulated zero yards over their first four possessions (Atlanta was in the middle of a drive at the end of the third) of the fourth quarter.
That's not a typo. With sacks and penalties, the Falcons offense technically didn't move the ball at all for more than 13 minutes. During that stretch, Matt Ryan went 0 for 7 with one sack. One of those incompletions was a bad drop from Brian Hill, which would have converted a third down and maybe led to points.
Furthermore, similar to the game against Dallas, the Falcons didn't do enough with their defensive takeaways. Atlanta scored three points off two interceptions.
2. Dirk Koetter Abandons Running Game in Second Half
With Matty Ice ice cold in the fourth quarter, Koetter should have relied more on the running game, but he did not. After taking the 16-point lead following a touchdown to begin the third quarter, the Falcons ran the ball nine times in the next 25 plays over six drives. For all but three of those plays, the Falcons led by two scores.
Todd Gurley II entered the fourth quarter with 76 rushing yards, averaging more than six yards per carry, yet he only touched the ball twice in the fourth quarter. Brian Hill had a 35-yard touchdown run in the first half, but the Falcons still only ran the ball on 36 percent of their plays from the 10:47 mark of the third quarter to the 3:59 mark in the fourth. Again, most of that time, the Falcons led by at least 10.
The Falcons coaching staff has been preaching the ground game since Koetter arrived as the offensive coordinator in 2019. If the Falcons aren't going to run the ball while up 16 in the second half, when will they?
Granted, the Falcons averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per carry on those six possessions during the time frame listed above, but remember, the Falcons also had negative passing yards in that stretch. Moving the ball on the ground was actually more effective despite the low average and would have taken more time off the clock.
In the final 27:22 of the second half, the Falcons possessed the ball for 10 minutes and 40 seconds.
3. Kicking Woes Contribute to 4-Point Loss
Last week, a missed two-point conversion proved costly. This week, it was a missed extra point and a failed 48-yard field goal.
That right there makes up the difference on the final scoreboard. Not a great day to be Younghoe Koo.
4. Defense Fails to Finish Against Nick Foles
The Falcons defense did a lot of good things and then collapsed in the final 10 minutes. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard played well in place of A.J. Terrell, who missed the game after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday. Dennard had two pass defenses and literally ripped the ball away from Allen Robinson to turn a Bears touchdown into an interception.
Grady Jarrett shined with a sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. The Falcons posted eight quarterback hits and held the Bears to 4 of 15 on third down.
But Dennard couldn't defend Jimmy Graham near the goal line on the Bears' first fourth-quarter touchdown. The Falcons red zone defense was not great again, giving up two touchdowns on four Chicago red-zone trips.
Poor tackling from defensive backs Isaiah Oliver and Blidi Wreh-Wilson led to Chicago's second late touchdown, and then Wreh-Wilson appeared to lose Anthony Miller on the game-winning score.
The Bears also converted a fourth-down attempt midway through the fourth quarter. That one play basically spoiled all the good things the Falcons defense did on third downs.
Atlanta also committed all seven of its penalties for 75 yards in the fourth quarter. Falcons defenders committed four of those fouls.
5. Falcons Offensive Weapons Turn in Mixed Bag without Julio Jones
If there's one main positive to take from this 0-3 stretch, it's that Calvin Ridley has been absolutely spectacular. Without Julio Jones, Ridley hauled in five receptions for 110 yards. Although Ryan and Ridley misconnected seven times, one could argue Ryan should have thrown Ridley's way even more.
The rest of the weapons without Jones were a bit of a mixed bag. Hill provided an impressive 35-yard touchdown, but made the aforementioned key fourth-quarter drop. Olamide Zaccheaus and Brandon Powell chipped in 68 yards, but Russell Gage Jr. and Hayden Hurst combined for only three receptions.
Without Jones, that's not enough production from Gage and Hurst. Gage did exit the game with a concussion.
The Falcons will need Jones ready for Week 4 to have a chance at keeping up with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.