A simple mistake can have major consequences for a team and no team has proven that more than the Atlanta Falcons this season.
It can also be called the butterfly effect. If you have never heard of this concept, Merriam-Webster defines it as “a property of chaotic systems by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system”
In simple terms, it is the idea that one small event can lead to big consequences, and it perfectly describes why the Falcons have yet to win a game this season. Let’s go over those instances from each of the first two games thus far.
Terrible mistakes cost the Atlanta Falcons a lead against rivals in week one
The Atlanta Falcons held a 16-point lead in week one against their bitter rivals only to give up 17 unanswered points to lose the game, but it all could have been avoided by not making critical mistakes.
Those mistakes compounded into the Saints having a chance to come back and win the game. Avoid a couple of those mistakes and the game would have ended differently.
The first mistake was following the first touchdown that the Saints scored when Olamide Zaccheaus fumbled following a long gain which gave the Saints a short field. They did not end up scoring any points on that drive due to a missed field goal but you gave a kicker, who was making his first kick in two years, the ability to fix his mechanics on a kick that did not end up mattering.
The second mistake came on the Atlanta Falcons’ second-to-last drive of the first half when they ended up kicking a 50-yard field goal. Kyle Pitts had a third-down conversion in his hands but lost it due to a big hit. Certainly, it would have been a difficult catch but it is one that he needs to make and could have allowed the team to score a touchdown.
Those two mistakes were not as costly as the second-half mistakes, however. The one play that killed this team was following the Falcons’ forced fumble on defense, it was a big play that good teams would have turned into a touchdown.
It was a third and five on the 14-yard line and Marcus Mariota scrambled for the first down but ended up trying to fight for extra yards only to fumble the ball right back. He needs to slide there, no question about it. Quarterbacks have the worst ball security of anyone, so you cannot take that chance.
Mariota admitted that he thought he still needed a few yards for a first down because he did not know where the sticks were, but that is something that just cannot happen. It cost the team at least three points, if not more, in a game that they lost by one point.
The Saints ended up punting following the fumble which gave Atlanta good field position at the 50. They drove to the nine-yard line and had a five-yard run by Cordarrelle Patterson but the next play was a false start by Parker Hesse. It negated a critical down and the next two plays ended up incomplete. The second one ended up being dropped touchdown by Bryan Edwards but they also had a holding penalty on that play, two mistakes in one play.
Saints go on to have an eight-play, 86-yard TD drive out of nowhere that was a result of terrible play by the defense. Saints were then down by two.
The Atlanta Falcons got the ball back hoping to ice the game and they were eventually in a second and four but Mariota loses two yards on a QB run and then they get bailed out on third down where they threw a deep pass, which was a strange call and terrible throw, by way of a defensive holding penalty.
On a third and one, where a first down ends the game, Mariota fumbles an easy, under-center snap that ruined the entire play. On this one, Mariota admitted to rushing the play, which is also inexcusable for an NFL QB.
On the first play of the New Orleans game-winning drive, Casey Hayward plays shallow which allowed a pass to be complete to Jarvis Landry for 40 yards. Not playing deep when the Saints had to drive 45+ yards in 50 seconds is ridiculous.
The Falcons end up giving up an easy completion to get the Saints in field goal range and we know how that ended.
And finally, the Atlanta Falcons had a chance to kick a game-winning field goal but it ends up being blocked. Younghoe Koo was belting field goals all game and had a chance at making a really long field goal but the protection did not hold up. Koo took a split-second longer to kick it because he was trying to garner more power on the kick but you still have to give him a chance to get it off.
The play that hurt the most was the fumble in the red zone by Mariota, but all of these small mistakes ended up turning into a heartbreaking loss.
Early mistakes lead to a failed comeback by the Atlanta Falcons in week two
Now for the near comeback by the Atlanta Falcons against the Los Angeles Rams. It was great to see this team fight late in a game but they could have pulled this off if they did not make those early mistakes.
It all started on the first drive when the Falcons had a long, sustained drive. They had the ball at the Rams’ 14-yard line with a third and six but it turned into a third and 11 on a Chris Lindstrom false start which then turned into a sack which then turned into a missed field goal.
See how that sequence just snowballed for Atlanta? If you don’t have the false start, the Rams are much less likely to record a sack and the Falcons are much more likely to convert, but the two negative plays also resulted in a missed field goal.
Without a doubt, Younghoe Koo should have made the field goal but it just felt like a sequence that can be perfectly described with the phrase “when it rains, it pours.”
On their second drive, they were stuffed on a fourth and one which gave the Rams a short field, although, the way they were moving, short field, long field, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Later on, Atlanta drove the ball down to the eight-yard line, but once again, an offensive holding penalty basically ruined the chance at a touchdown and they ended up kicking a field goal.
Personally, the next sequence is where they really screwed up. The Rams were threatening to score but Casey Hayward made a great interception in the end zone with 50 seconds left in the half.
The Atlanta Falcons, to their credit, were aggressive and ended up forcing a 36-yard pass interference penalty, but then it was followed up by two incompletions, and then the killer, a throw that was intercepted and returned to the nine-yard line.
High throw by Mariota, bobbled pass by Patterson, it doesn’t matter, that cannot happen, at the very least it needs to be incomplete, punt the ball with less than 30 seconds left, and go into halftime down 14-3. Instead, they gave up a touchdown, following a horrendous and confusing “low-block” penalty on A.J. Terrell, which made it 21-3. That interception, at the very least, was a seven-point swing in a game they lost by four — or at least six, assuming that intentional safety never happens for the Rams.
It almost ended up worse when Mariota almost threw a pick-six with five seconds left in the half.
The Falcons in the second half of the game played a much cleaner game but they still messed up in the end.
It was the crucial drive when Atlanta had the chance to take the lead and complete the miraculous comeback. Second down and nine right after the two-minute warning and Arthur Smith calls a read option that results in a loss of four yards. Hindsight is always 20/20, but that was a bad play call by him because you were shredding them in the passing game, so go with the flow and throw the ball.
And then we could talk about their decision to throw the ball over the middle to Bryan Edwards but that could have been avoided if one of these mistakes were not made.
The butterfly effect is the reason the Falcons are winless and they need to stop making these seemingly small mistakes that end up costing them the win. One could argue that if we do not make at least one of those mistakes in each game, we could easily be 2-0. Things need to change ASAP so that we don’t have to have a zero-margin-for-error fourth quarter.