The stakes weren't nearly as high as Super Bowl LI, but it felt like it. The Atlanta Falcons suffered another heartbreaking loss in a game in which they led by multiple touchdowns early, including by 19 points in the second half. The Cowboys comeback gave Dallas an improbable 40-39 victory.
With the loss, the Falcons fall to 0-2 in 2020. Breaking down this one wasn't fun, but let's get right to what happened to the Falcons in Week 2.
1. Dan Quinn Might Want to Review the Onside Kick Rules
Putting aside all the mistakes the Falcons committed Sunday, if they recover an onside kick in the final minute of regulation, Dan Quinn's squad would have improved to 1-1. However, that didn't happen.
Maybe because the Falcons are so used to recovering their own onside kicks -- which, by the way, they have very successfully mastered -- they forgot that as the receiving team, they can recover the onside kick at any point. Instead of jumping on the loose ball, several Falcons players watched the ball spin past the 10-yard threshold, giving the Cowboys an opportunity to make a recovery. They did, and the rest is history.
If one player makes a boneheaded decision, it's on them. But this was multiple Falcons players acting as though they believed they were ineligible to make a recovery. That has to fall at least partially on Quinn and the coaching staff for not having the hands team prepared for a simple onside kick.
2. Falcons Had Plenty of Opportunities to Pull Away From Cowboys
It's hard to complain too much about the Falcons offense. But blowing a 20-point lead takes a total team effort, and we'll start with critiquing the better of the two Falcons units.
The Cowboys lost three fumbles and failed to convert a fake fourth-down attempt in the first quarter. That led to the Falcons starting three drives in Dallas territory and another at their own 48-yard line.
Off the first two of those Cowboys mistakes, the Falcons scored two touchdowns, but on the last two, Atlanta settled for two field goals. A third or fourth touchdown on those possessions probably places the game out of reach at the end of the first quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Falcons settled for another field goal inside the Cowboys 10-yard line. Younghoe Koo's fourth make gave the Falcons a 15-point lead, which should have been enough, but a touchdown in that situation turns the contest into a three-possession game.
Moreover, Julio Jones dropped what likely would have been a touchdown pass from Russell Gage on third-and-2 in the third quarter. Instead of at least having the ball inside the 5-yard line, the Falcons punted.
So while it's hard to complain the Falcons scored 39 points, they left plenty on the field in this one-point defeat.
3. Falcons Running Game Comes up Short
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter called 14 running plays in the second half. Considering the Falcons led by 19 at halftime, that's not enough of a ground attack. However, at a certain point, running the ball has to fall on the players and not the coaches.
The Falcons backs and offensive line didn't provide enough confidence for Koetter to run any more time off the clock on the ground than he already did. Todd Gurley II rushed for only 61 yards on 21 carries, averaging 2.9 yards per rush.
As a team, the Falcons averaged 3.3 yards per carry. A better rushing attack could have prevented the Cowboys from having enough time to score 16 points in the final five minutes.
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4. Falcons Defense Implodes in the Second Half
As great as Matt Ryan played -- he threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns -- the offense didn't make enough key plays down the stretch to hold onto the lead. But one thing the offense didn't do was commit a turnover. When an NFL team scores 39 points without a giveaway, they usually win.
Actually, before Sunday, teams in that situation were undefeated.
Without giving the Cowboys short fields via giveaways, the Falcons defense just needed to prevent Dallas from stringing together long touchdown drives. They couldn't do it.
The Cowboys second-half drive chart looked like this: Touchdown, Touchdown, Unsuccessful Fake Punt, Touchdown, Touchdown, Field Goal.
Dallas recorded 570 offensive yards in the victory, 192 of which they posted in the final eight minutes. Furthermore, all four of Dallas' second-half touchdown drives took three minutes or less. This was an epic collapse for the Falcons defense.
5. Two-Point Failure for Falcons
Hindsight is always 20/20, but maybe the biggest single-play blunder the Falcons made was going for a two-point conversion in the second quarter. After scoring a third touchdown to go ahead 26-7, the Falcons went for two and failed to convert. The decision proved pivotal in the one-point loss.
There's an old cliche in football when it comes to two-point conversions -- don't chase points too early. There's too much football left to make it worth the risk of not taking the extra point.
The Falcons chasing that extra point -- or simply failing to convert on that play -- cost them dearly.
6. Injuries Make 0-2 Hole More Difficult
The Falcons played a majority of the second half without safety Ricardo Allen, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and defensive end Takk McKinley. They missed all of them dearly, and there are no concrete updates on their statuses heading into Week 3.
Oluokun forced two fumbles in the first half. Having any of those three players could have made a difference in the outcome.
Right tackle Kaleb McGary also suffered an injury and didn't return. He will receive an MRI on Monday.