By Matthew Asher
Any reasonable chance the Falcons faithful had that the 2013 squad might squeak into the playoffs should now be considered dead and buried. After a 34-10 drubbing by NFC South rival Carolina Panthers, the odds of the now 2-6 Atlanta Falcons simply finishing with a winning record is slim and the chances of making the playoffs are all but gone.
Just looking at statistics alone, Atlanta didn’t play a terrible game. They had a much more balanced offensive attack, throwing the ball about 60 percent of the time as opposed to 80 percent against Arizona.
The problem was Atlanta’s lack of possessions. Atlanta had the ball for only 23:35 and ran just 47 offensive plays for only 12 first downs. Carolina held the ball for 36:25 and had 70 offensive plays which resulted in 27 first downs.
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford get A’s
Atlanta’s secondary is definitely young, but the two rookie cornerbacks each had a great day. Coming into today’s game, Cam Newton hadn’t thrown an interception since Week 5 against, the Arizona Cardinals. That was also the last time the Panthers lost a game.
Newton threw the ball more than 80 times without throwing a pick until Trufant was able to come up with his first career interception in the second quarter. This time Newton would only throw the ball 10 more times before Alford recorded his second interception of the season.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they weren’t able to convert either of the two interceptions into points. After the Trufant interception, Atlanta went three-and-out, only able to muster six yards. The second interception came with less than 30 seconds to go in the half. Atlanta’s defense was backed up inside their own red zone and simply took a knee to go into halftime. Alford’s pick did save Atlanta a possible field goal attempt so in that regard something positive came out of that turnover.
Matt Ryan’s interceptions earn him a D-
Matt Ryan completed about 74 percent of his throws for more than 200 yards, but for the second game in a row, Matty Ice was intercepted at least three times. Two of the interceptions resulted in touchdowns with Ryan’s third and final one of the game being a 38-yard pick-six by Carolina’s Drayton Florence to give Carolina a 31-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Atlanta’s inability to win the turnover battle gets a C-
Turnovers are a funny thing in football. Trufant and Alford were able to stop two Carolina drives, but Atlanta couldn’t convert either of those into points. While both of those interceptions took skill, more often than not, it’s simply being in the right place at the right time rather than being the better player which decides who wins the turnover battle.
Case in point: early in the fourth quarter with Carolina leading just 17-10, Newton threw a pass to Brandon LaFell to convert a third and six. LaFell fumbled the ball as he was being tackled inside the red zone but no Falcon was able to fall on the ball.
Guess who ended up with the fumble? That’s right… LaFell. The same person who lost the ball somehow had the loose ball find its way back into his arms before anyone could jump on it. One play later Newton ran for an eight-yard touchdown, giving Carolina a two touchdown lead that essentially put the final nail in the coffin for Atlanta.
Now at their midway point in the season, the Falcons may already be relegated to the spoiler role for other teams with playoff aspirations. They return home for one game against the 8-1 NFC-leading Seattle Seahawks before heading back out on the road.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 pm EST. #RiseUp
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.