Dan Quinn is no longer coach, but the Atlanta Falcons blew another lead in Week 7. Granted, it wasn't a multi-score lead, yet still, the Falcons let another very winnable game slip through their fingers.
Behind a last-second touchdown and a long extra point, the Detroit Lions defeated the Falcons, 23-22, on Sunday. With the loss, the Falcons fell to 1-6 and will need to regroup quickly. The Falcons visit the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.
Here's what we observed from the Week 7 loss:
1. Ultra Aggressive Raheem Morris Costs Falcons
There's playing with nothing to lose and then there's playing recklessly. Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris was on the edge of that Sunday.
With the Falcons ahead 14-13 and facing a fourth-and-5 at the Lions 13-yard line, Morris elected to go for it rather than kicking a field goal. Matt Ryan's pass fell incomplete, and the Falcons turned it over on downs. Those three points would have been nice to have at the end of the game.
On the ensuing Lions possession, Morris challenged a play that was pretty clearly a catch for Kenny Golladay. That decision cost the Falcons a timeout. It may not have hurt Atlanta that badly on Sunday, but this aggressive coaching is something to watch moving forward.
This is an audition for Morris, and he should look to coach more as if each game means something to the Falcons and not as if the team has nothing to lose on every play.
2. Turnover Costs Falcons
The Falcons outgained the Lions but just barely, 388-386. With such a close contest from a yardage perspective, any takeaways were going to be key.
Detroit earned the only takeaway in the game, forcing Ryan to fumble a little past the midway point of the fourth quarter. That pivotal play came just after a missed Matt Prater field goal, but following the fumble, Prater made good on his second chance, making a 49-yard field goal.
The kick gave the Lions a two-point lead just before the three-minute mark. With that field goal, the Lions were still within a touchdown after the Falcons reached the end zone late.
3. Defense Fails to Make Several Pivotal Plays
The Falcons should have had a red zone stop in the first quarter, but cornerback A.J. Terrell committed a roughing the passer penalty on third down to give the Lions a fresh set of downs in a goal-to-go situation. D'Andre Swift scored a play later.
The penalty was a questionable call. Personally, I didn't believe it was a penalty but rather a very nice shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Matthew Stafford. Either way, it was a tough break for the Falcons.
At the end of each halves, however, the Falcons defense played very poorly. They allowed the Lions to drive 43 yards in just five plays over 29 seconds to move into field-goal range.
In the final minute of the fourth quarter, Stafford did it again, going 75 yards in under a minute. It took the Lions just three completions to get to the Falcons 11-yard line. Even still, with three seconds left, Atlanta needed just one more stop to win.
It didn't come, as T.J. Hockenson caught an 11-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. Even after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Prater hit the 48-yard extra point with no time remaining to win.
The ending was obviously tough to swallow for Falcons fans, but if the defense makes any one of these plays, Atlanta wins.
4. Defense Still Improving
With a playoff berth extremely unlikely, the Falcons should look at every week as an opportunity to improve, especially defensively. Despite failing to make a big play to win, the Falcons defense played its best game.
Atlanta held Detroit to 386 total yards, including only 64 rushing yards. The Falcons still have plenty of holes to address in the secondary, but the run defense has become a formidable unit.
The Falcons also recorded two sacks and held the Lions to 3 of 10 on third downs. Linebacker Deion Jones played very well, posting 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack. Safety Keanu Neal turned in his best game as well with a team-leading 11 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and a sack.
5. Poor Field Position Hurt Falcons Offense
On Sunday, the Falcons started one drive outside their own 25-yard line (the possession following the Prater missed field goal). Three of Atlanta's possessions started inside its 15-yard line, including two touchdown drives.
Even in the modern-day NFL with tons of points, field position matters. The Falcons defense didn't get a takeaway to set up the offense in positive territory, and Atlanta received virtually nothing in the return game.
Last year on the road at Carolina, the Falcons special teams unit had a big afternoon. Maybe the same can happen this Thursday.
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