Falcons lose to Browns

Stephen Jackson continues to struggle, and the lack of a ground attack hurt the Falcons again.

The Falcons had a monumental failure at the end of the game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. And instead of being handed a victory at home, Atlanta once again lost to a non-NFC South opponent 26-24.

Down 23-21 with 2:42 left in the game, the Falcons drove down the field to set up a game-winning field goal. But after a seven-yard pass to get to the Cleveland 35-yard line, the Falcons called time out to stop the clock with :55 seconds left.

Then on the next play, Matt Ryan’s pass was incomplete to Devin Hester, which further stopped the clock with :49 seconds left. Matt Bryant then hit a 53-yard field goal to give Atlanta the lead.

But that left too much time on the clock for Cleveland. The Browns then made four pass plays for 61 yards to set up Billy Cundiff for a 37-yard field goal as time expired.

If the Falcons had any running game at all, they could have let the clock run down until the very end to set up Bryant for the game-winning field goal as time expired. But Atlanta’s running game was non-existent. The Falcons had 63 rushing yards on 23 attempts, a pathetic 2.7 rushing yards per play average.

The saddest part is the Browns had the third-worst rushing defense in the NFL entering the game, but Atlanta’s anemic running game made Cleveland look much better, even with one of their best defensive players, Karlos Dansby, out with an injury.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith will get crucified on the talk shows this week for the poor clock management, and unfortunately, rightfully so. The Falcons have been so solid through the years in closing games out at the end, but they failed miserably Sunday.

This franchise is basically hanging on by a thread in the NFC South. New Orleans plays Monday at home against the Baltimore Ravens. A loss by the Saints will keep the Falcons in first place in the lousy division.

And with this loss, you have to further wonder about the future of Smith, and for that matter general manager Thomas Dimitroff. This 4-7 season, regardless of the situation in the division, is not what was expected after last year’s disastrous 4-12 campaign.

Sunday the offense was unspectacular, as Ryan had one of his most inconsistent games as a pro. His timing seemed off and there were several pass plays that seemed out of sorts.

But the anemic running game is more of an issue. Steven Jackson had 34 yards on 13 carries. He now has 501 yards on the season, on pace for 729 yards for the entire 16-game schedule.

Meanwhile, former UGA running back Isaiah Crowell had 88 yards on 12 carries with two touchdowns.

Atlanta’s defense bailed the offense out several times Sunday as it had three interceptions off Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer. However, on the last drive, Hoyer looked sharp and the Falcons’ defense looked tired.

Desmond Trufant made a great interception and for the most part kept Josh Gordon in check. Gordon got his yards – 120 on eight catches – but Trufant played well. Safety Kemal Ishmael also had a pick, giving him one in each of his last three games.

The Falcons will try to get back in the win column next Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals come to the Georgia Dome. The Cardinals lost to the Seahawks 19-3 Sunday to move to 9-2 on the season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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