Just one week after melting down in epic, historic fashion, the Atlanta Falcons held a 16-point lead with a little over 10 minutes remaining Sunday.
There was no way they’d give this one away too, right?
Wrong. Atlanta promptly gave up 146 yards of offense and three touchdowns in less than eight minutes of game clock, snatching another heartbreaking defeat from the ever-enticing but unattainable (in 2020) jaws of victory.
The fashion in which Atlanta surrendered its lead was perhaps even more shocking than the collapse that occurred more than three years ago and still haunts the franchise to this day. Chicago turned the ball over on downs with just 10:46 left to play Sunday, essentially capping an ugly afternoon for the undefeated Bears that involved an in-game quarterback change. All the Falcons had to do was burn some clock on a couple of possessions to take this thing home for their first win of 2020.
Instead, Dan Quinn’s team became aggressive and came up empty-handed, completely backfiring to the tune of six combined yards gained in two straight possessions following the Bears’ turnover on downs. If we added in the third possession, a five-yard penalty would knock that total down to one yard.
One yard of total combined offense on three possessions, while nursing a two-score lead at home, is unacceptable. On Monday, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter attempted to explain his staff’s thinking amid the Falcons’ latest collapse.
“Because we were struggling in all areas, our focus was more on we need to try to flip the field here and score another time,” Koetter said, via the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Not necessarily running out the clock because if you look at the time when you had the ball, there was still too much time and they had all their timeouts. We weren’t really in our four-minute offense mode at that point.”
Quinn was blunt when asked if he felt he needed another touchdown to feel comfortable about his team’s chances — you know, when they were already leading by 16.
“Absolutely,” he said.
The greatest crime committed by Atlanta in the fourth quarter wasn’t being aggressive — it was a complete lack of regard for time remaining. There’s a small space of time in the midst of a meltdown in which it becomes evident that, if nothing goes right on this possession, the avalanche might become unavoidable. That moment arrived when Atlanta regained possession with 4:21 remaining while clinging to a three-point lead, called two passes on first and second down (both incompletions) and was forced to throw on third-and-15 following a false start by Calvin Ridley.
By the time fourth-and-15 arrived, achieving another collapse was only a matter of time, of which Atlanta had burned far too little in the previous possessions.
“On those ones you regret the result, not necessarily the call,” Quinn said. “You complete the screen to Ito [Smith], you move it up the field for a first down. Having those chances to make a catch and move the ball up the field — we certainly trust Matt [Ryan] and the guys. Why wouldn’t you? Make sure you nail them (because) when you don’t, yeah, you don’t like the result.
“We always want to choose the best plays in those spaces. And you want to take the clock off. The catch is, you want to have a good play and a good design that when this play is going to come up, we’re going to nail it. When you don’t, the consequences are big.”
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