By: David Schiele
At the midpoint of the season, this game perfectly summed up the 2017 Falcons. The inconsistent and undisciplined play led Atlanta to a 20-17 road loss to the Carolina Panthers. This puts the reigning NFC champions at 4-4 and two games back of the division-leading New Orleans Saints.
Atlanta came out swinging with a 34-yard pass to Julio Jones on the very first play of the game. They followed the explosive play with an illegal formation and false start penalties. The Falcons then managed to get just enough yards to allow Matt Bryant to kick a 53-yard field goal and take an early 3-0 lead.
Keanu Neal gave the Falcons more early momentum when he stripped running back Jonathan Stewart and recovered the fumble. The offense took advantage and drove 61 yards for a touchdown, giving Atlanta a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The game completely changed, late in the second quarter. Atlanta decided against another 53-yard field goal attempt due to kicker Matt Bryant’s alleged leg strain and attempted to convert on fourth-and-one. Running back Devonta Freeman was stuffed and the ball went back to Carolina.
With the help of two 15-yard penalties, quarterback Cam Newtown led the Panthers on a touchdown drive that put Carolina within three. Two scrimmage plays later, they had the ball back after safety Mike Adams intercepted Matt Ryan’s pass and returned it deep into Falcons’ territory. The Panthers took the lead four plays later when Newton scrambled for a nine-yard touchdown.
Atlanta found themselves down 14-10 at halftime and never recovered.
Although the Falcons’ defense allowed just six second-half points, the Atlanta offense couldn’t find a rhythm. Four of their five second-half drives ended in a punt or a turnover on downs. The ultimate disappointment happened when Julio Jones dropped a wide-open touchdown pass on fourth-and-seven.
“I just missed it,” said Jones.
“…if there’s a guy you pick on Earth to throw it to, he’d be the one. He’s made tons of plays and he’s going to make tons more,” Head Coach Dan Quinn said.
The Falcons ran the exact same play, earlier in the game, but Matt Ryan overthrew Jones. On the touchdown drop, Ryan’s pass was right on target.
“He has made more plays in this league than probably anybody. Sometimes it happens, I’m not worried one bit about it,” Ryan said.
After a seven-play, 92-yard touchdown drive and a quick defensive stop, it seemed like the Falcons had a chance at pulling off a last-minute victory. However, Atlanta failed to do anything positive as the only completed pass went for -3 yards.
The Falcons finished the game converting only four of their 12 third-down opportunities and failed all three fourth-down attempts.
“We thought in some ways it was a tale of two halves where we had some opportunities to go nail it,” said Coach Quinn. “To miss those opportunities that’s disappointing.”
The Falcons return home next week to face the Dallas Cowboys in a marquee matchup. It’ll be the first home game in nearly a month. It’ll also begin a stretch of home games, as Atlanta will play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium four of the next five weeks.