By Cedric Williams
What began as a potentially special season, with a high-flying 5-0 start for the Atlanta Falcons, is now quickly fading away as the club suffered its fourth straight loss and fifth in its last six games against the Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota, which found itself playing for first place in the NFC North thanks to Green Bay’s loss to Chicago on Thanksgiving night, looked like a team playing for a division title and gearing up for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Atlanta just looked like a team that couldn’t get into any gear at all, as it fell behind right away, trailed the entire game and found itself down by 17 points heading into the final four minutes of the game.
It’s because of that dismal display that we’ve given the Falcons nothing but low marks for their performance on Sunday.
What in the world has happened to Matt Ryan? At different points in his career, he was one of the league’s top up-and-coming quarterbacks. Then he became one of the guys that could potentially move into that elite class of veteran quarterbacks. Just last year, he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl for the third time in his career.
But this season, Ryan has really fallen off in terms of being one of the NFL’s most elite passers. Especially in the last five weeks, when Ryan has thrown eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. On Sunday, Ryan threw two interceptions; both came on critical possessions and both came when the Falcons had reached Minnesota territory. The second of which was especially a killer, coming on the first possession of the third quarter with Atlanta down just 7-3.
The Falcons had reached the Viking red zone and seemed sure to get at least a field goal, but Ryan forced a throw on third down and his pass was picked off in the end zone.
Tevin Coleman had a 110 yards rushing, but also had another key fumble that hurt in the first half as well.
The Falcon defense wasn’t a whole lot better than the offense was on Sunday. Atlanta gave up 365 total yards, allowed 24 total first downs (11 in the first quarter), produced no quarterback sacks, forced just one turnover, and let Minnesota convert seven-of-12 third downs into first downs. The Falcons No. 1-ranked run defense was also gashed by Minnesota tailback Adrian Peterson for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Special Teams: B
Atlanta’s specialists were actually pretty good on Sunday. New kicker Shayne Graham made his only field goal and PAT and attempts of the day on his first day as a Falcon. Punter Matt Bosher was terrific again, with a 49.0 yards per punt average, and return man Eric Weems broke loose for a 44-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to overcome all the deficiencies everywhere else.
The blame for this four-game losing streak, which has now pushed the Falcons to an outside-looking-in spot in the playoffs, has to fall somewhere. That somewhere has to be directly on rookie head coach Dan Quinn, who was so highly praised when Atlanta was 5-0 and the surprise team of the league, that he has to be held at fault now that the club has lost five of its last six and is 6-5 heading into December.
Quinn dealt with similar up-and-down stretches in his days as defensive coordinator with Seattle, but the rest of these Falcons have not. So it’s going to be up to Quinn to figure out how to bring his team out of it, which might be asking a whole lot of a coach in his first season as head man of an actual NFL team.
The Falcons will get another shot to get back on track next week, when they travel down south to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs handed Atlanta one of its toughest losses of the season, a 23-20 overtime defeat that began this current four-game losing streak back at the Georgia Dome on November 1.
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 email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.