This will be a game that could haunt new Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn for a while. The fans are already barking, and they should.
With the Falcons down by four points and 2:56 left in the game, Quinn decided to go for a field goal as Atlanta was on the San Francisco one-yard line. Matt Bryant made the kick to make it a one-point game, but the Falcons defense could not hold the 49ers and they were able to hold on for the 17-16 win.
The Atlanta offense had been held in check all day, so Quinn was obviously banking on his defense being able to get the team the ball back with around 60 or 90 seconds left. But when you’re one yard away from six points, you can’t just settle for three points with that little time left on the clock.
Quinn messed up. It was a bad call. And now, the Falcons are 6-3 heading into the bye week. After a 5-0 start, Atlanta has now lost three of its last four games. He should have had confidence in his offense to get the one yard to take the lead with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
For the fifth game in a row, the Falcons just did not play particularly well. They scored 34.25 points per game in the first four games, but since they’ve scored just 18.4 points per game in the last five. The offense struggled again, with only 17 rushing yards. Atlanta had averaged 126 rushing yards per game coming into the matchup with San Francisco, good enough for ninth-best in the NFL. But the 49ers, who ironically had the ninth-best rush defense in the league, stopped them cold.
Devonta Freeman, who led the NFL in rushing before Sunday, had just 12 rushing yards on 12 carries. Freeman did catch eight passes for 67 yards. Most of Atlanta’s yards came through the air, with Matt Ryan connecting with Julio Jones on 10 passes for 137 yards. Jacob Tamme continued his solid season with six catches for 61 yards. Roddy White had just one, 20-yard catch.
Atlanta had decent field position, with three drives that started in San Francisco’s territory, but they got no points in those three possessions. Ryan was just not sharp again, completing 30 passes in 45 attempts.
The Falcons were missing several players on defense – linebacker Justin Durant (calf), safety William Moore (groin) and cornerback Robert Alford (groin). Robenson Therezie even hurt his hamstring and had to miss a good chunk of the game, as did defensive end Tyson Jackson (rib injury).
Newcomer Philip Wheeler had to step in and led the team in tackles with 10. There was still no pressure on the opponents’ quarterback, as the Falcons did not register a sack in the game. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who got the start in place of the struggling Colin Kaepernick, was 15-25 for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Phillip Adams and Vic Beasley got the picks for the Falcons.
It was easy to look at the schedule leading up to the bye week and believe Atlanta could be at least 8-1 at this point. They have now lost to three teams who were a combined 5-14 at the time of the games. The Saints were 1-4, while the Bucs were 2-4 and the 49ers were 2-6 coming into Sunday’s game. But instead, the Falcons have floundered into the off week looking very ordinary.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a lot of work to do in the two weeks until the Falcons play again. Perhaps he will at some point realize the White should still be an offensive target, as leaving him out of the game plan doesn’t seem to be working. Plus, Ryan has got to get back on track.
The Falcons will return to action on Sunday, November 22 at the Georgia Dome when the Indianapolis Colts come to Georgia.
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