Atlanta Falcons: Painful Losses Are Starting To Hurt
Its been well documented how bad the NFC South is this season: the division leaders are the Atlanta Falcons and Saints, each with their own 5-7 record. The end of the season will be an exciting race between these two teams that could go either way. However, it shouldn’t even be a close race to the finish, the Falcons should have all but locked up this division by now. Missed opportunities and bad losses from earlier in the season could potentially cost the Atlanta Falcons a playoff birth and a home game on wildcard weekend.
After getting off to a good 2-1 start on the season, with division wins against the Buccaneers and Saints, the Falcons just started going downhill with five straight losses. And some of those losses were just bad. Atlanta lost in back to back weeks in Minnesota and New York against a current 5-7 Vikings team, and a current 3-9 Giants team that just lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars this past weekend. The real damage is in the fact that the birds blew a 4th quarter lead against both of these below average teams. If they could have held on in those games, Atlanta would have gotten off to a 4-1 start, as opposed to that putrid 2-3 mark after five weeks.
That embarrassing home loss to the Chicago Bears in week 6 is also looking worse and worse as the weeks go on, but the real heartache comes in when we recall the losses in weeks 8 and 12.
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The game in London against the Lions week 8 should have definitely been a win considering the fact that the birds took a 21-0 lead into the half. However, awful 2nd half execution, and poor play calling saw Atlanta somehow blow the lead, and lose 22-21. The defense collapsed on a 3rd and 25 in the third quarter and gave up a 59 yard touchdown to Golden Tate, which completely swung momentum. Mike Smith’s bad, conservative play calling gave Detroit a chance to win, down 21-19, but none of that should have mattered as it was the refs who completely robbed the Falcons. Matt Prater missed the field goal as time expired, but the officials called delay of game and made them re-kick, Prater made it the second time and won the game; however, Fox rules expert Mike Pereira said the call shouldn’t have been made, as the ball was snapped as the clock was just hitting 0.
Three weeks later, the Atlanta Falcons were coming off of a bye and two games win streak, playing at home against the Cleveland Browns. The Falcons were down 23-21 with less than a minute left on the clock, but were in field goal range. Here is where the Browns normally take a timeout to stop the clock so that they could have time in case Atlanta made the field goal, but it was actually Mike Smith who called a “courtesy” timeout for a reason noone knows. An awful play call on 3rd and 2, going to Devin Hester on a deep route, and an incompletion didn’t move the clock at all and preserved yet another timeout for the Browns. After Matt Bryant hit another clutch field goal, Cleveland marched down the field with the aid of all three of their timeouts, and won the game with a field goal. There’s no reason why Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter should have choked that game away.
If the AtlantaFalcons could have just held on to those two games against the Lions and Browns, their record would currently be 7-5 and they would be more than in the drivers seat in the NFC South with a 2 game lead and the tiebreaker over the Saints.Of these final four games, they would probably only have to only win one to hold on to the South. However, with the easy schedule New Orleans possesses to finish out the season, Atlanta will probably have to go 3-1 down the stretch to hold on; a tough task considering the fact that they have to travel to Green Bay in potentially snowy weather and to New Orleans, while also having home games against a homerun offense in the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a divisional rival in Carolina.
In sports if you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, you’ll get punished for it eventually. If Atlanta just knew how to hold on to 4th quarter leads, they could be 9-3 right now, fighting for homefield advantage and a first round bye. Instead, they’ll be lucky just to get into the playoffs at this point, and might need some help from teams facing the Saints along the way.