By Cedric Williams
Some losses sting. Some losses burn. And some of the worst losses just hurt. But the 17-16 loss the Atlanta Falcons suffered at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday just left the Falcons players feeling like they had a hole in their respective guts.READ MORE: Authorities Have Identified The Suspect Who Attacked Author Salman Rushdie
“I think you always expect something better after you play poorly,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “But we didn’t do that today. We didn’t play up to the way that we are capable.”
And with that loss, Atlanta has almost wasted its thrilling 5-0 start. The Falcons have now lost three of their last four games and will head into their bye week not quite sure what kind of team they are.
“We just have to regroup and re-focus,” starting defensive tackle and team leader Jonathan Babineaux said. “We have a week off to look at the last nine games that we played thus far. There are still seven more games in the season. We just have to keep pressing and get this thing turned around.”
Once again, the numbers don’t look so bad. Ryan completed 30-of-45 passes for 303 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions, and finished the day with a 93.1 passer rating. And Julio Jones had another monster day, with 10 catches for 137 yards, which put him over 1,000 yards for the season.
But the Atlanta offense still seemed to sputter most of the day. Especially with the run game being almost non-existent, with one-time MVP candidate Devonta Freeman going for just 12 yards on 12 carries and the Falcons totaling a mere 17 yards on the ground all day.
“We didn’t move it as well today,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. “There are a lot of things we could have done better offensively. They did a nice job on defense. They have a good defense. People look at records, that stuff doesn’t mean anything in this league. They have a very stout defense. They have had a very good defense for a long time. They played well today.”
During the week, a rumor began to circulate that the reason San Francisco chose this week to bench starter Colin Kaepernick for seldom-used and much-maligned backup Blaine Gabbert was because they wanted Gabbert to play his first game against a “weak” Atlanta defense.
But on Sunday, the Atlanta D kind of lived up to that “weak” comment by allowing the completely undermanned and underwhelming San Francisco offense to move the ball at will.
The 49ers, who were playing a backup quarterback and were without their top running back (Carlos Hyde) or top receiver (Anquan Boldin) still managed to outgain the “high-flying” Falcons, 318 yards to 302. Those same undermanned 49ers picked up more first downs, 18 to 17. And they were better on third down, converting six-of-14 chances to Atlanta’s five-of-15, despite having possession of the ball for almost five minutes less than Atlanta did.
The most glaring mistake came late in the third quarter on a key 3rd down and 4 from the San Francisco 26-yard line. The Niners looked like a team that was just trying to run out the clock, but appeared to completely fake out the entire Atlanta defense with a bootleg play by Gabbert that gained five yards, picked up the first down, and allowed San Francisco to succeed in running out the clock to win the game.READ MORE: Anne Heche's Son Mourns His Mother
Special Teams: A
Atlanta’s specialists were the one part of the team that came to play on Sunday.
Punter Matt Bosher was solid in averaging 43.4 yards on seven punts, including a long one of 57 yards. Kicker Matt Bryant made all his kicks, including going three-for-three on field goals to help keep the Falcons in the game. And return man Eric Weems had his best day of the season, with a sensational day that included a 50 yard kickoff return and a 41 yard punt return.
The only unfortunate thing was that the Falcon offense wasn’t able to capitalize.
For whatever reason, the Falcons again appeared not ready to play when the game began, which seemed to help San Francisco get off to a roaring start.
Atlanta did rally, like they have all season, and that’s a sign of a team that doesn’t quit on itself and won’t quit on its coach.
Unfortunately, head coach Dan Quinn made a questionable decision late that probably cost the Falcons they game, when he decided to kick a field goal on 4th and goal from the San Francisco 1, rather than go for it and try to potentially take the lead late in the game.
Atlanta made the kick but was still behind by a point. And on a day when the defense wasn’t at its best, the Falcons weren’t able to get the ball back for the offense.
“I thought we would get the kick, get the stop defensively, then use our timeouts and go attack on offense,” Quinn said afterward. “We’re a really good two-minute offense… I felt like we were stopping them defensively and could do it again and go win that way.”
Unfortunately, that decision backfired when the former Jacksonville first-round pick bust Gabbert converted that key third down to help San Francisco run out the clock.
At 6-3, Atlanta is still alive in the NFC playoff hunt and with both games left against the now 8-0 Carolina Panthers, the Falcons still have a chance to get back into the NFC South divisional race. But the Falcons have to find themselves quickly. Teams like New York (5-4), St. Louis (4-4), Seattle (4-4), and even New Orleans (4-5) are right behind Atlanta in the standings and might not need much more help for the reeling Falcons to claim one of those coveted NFC playoff spots.MORE NEWS: Trump Lawyer Claimed No Classified Material Was At Mar-A-Lago In Signed Letter To The Justice Department
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a full-time reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the NFL, as well as college and high school sports for the St. Louis American, Patch.com, and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.