Goober Pyle

Matt Bryant’s miss and officiating aside, Falcons’ primary problems were on display again

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https://theathletic.com/1291024/2019/10/13/matt-bryants-miss-and-officiating-aside-falcons-primary-problems-were-on-display-again/

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The football had barely taken flight when a disgusted look came across Matt Bryant’s face. He knew immediately what happened as his extra-point attempt went awry with only 1:53 to play against the Arizona Cardinals. Bryant’s right foot made contact with the ball, leaning slightly to the right, at a target spot higher than he normally hits. The ball had no other direction but to hook left.

It was a cruel twist of fate for a Falcons team that has relied on Bryant for 11 years. Bryant couldn’t help but place the blame on himself for Atlanta’s 34-33 loss, considering his missed point-after attempt was the difference on the scoreboard.

“The team was working their *** off to get back to that spot, and to miss that kick, it’s just no good for anybody,” Bryant said. “You shouldn’t have to disappoint when you’re depended on. We dug ourselves a hole, and you don’t want to end it like that for what the team did to come back from where we were.”

And that’s what made the miss even more brutal.

Atlanta trailed Arizona 27-10 in the third quarter. The defense couldn’t stop the Cardinals, and the offense was once again inconsistent. But with the Falcons trailing by 17, everything started to click. The defense got three consecutive stops. The offense suddenly couldn’t be stopped. And early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons were able to tie the score at 27.

After Arizona went ahead 34-27, quarterback Matt Ryan drove the offense down the field before finding running back Devonta Freeman on a screen out of the backfield. The play design ran most of the action to the left, with Freeman slipping to the right. He was wide open and ran into the end zone untouched.

Bryant has been in this position numerous times before. He’s as reliable as they come, especially in the fourth quarter.

But with the way the season has gone, it was almost fitting that Bryant miskicked the ball. The Falcons have been a prime example of Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Bryant said the snap and hold were perfect. The operation was smooth. For a team that has had all sorts of problems defensively and hasn’t played a full four quarters of offense, place-kicking seemed the lone aspect no one needed to worry about.

And then Sunday’s miss happened.

“The only thing that matters is how the game ends,” Bryant said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support, but it doesn’t take away from the feelings of being depended on to go out there and do my job and coming up short. It’s disappointing for us to fight back the way we fought back and to not finish it.”

Plenty of Bryant’s teammates would disagree with that. Many players approached Bryant after the game, even immediately after the miss, telling him to keep his head up. Julio Jones told Bryant he was in his corner. After all, Jones said he has dropped passes in big moments before. Ricardo Allen told Bryant that a game never comes down to one play, that there were other plays that should have been made to ensure Atlanta wasn’t in that late-game situation.

But with 1:53 left and two timeouts, the Falcons remained in position to get the ball back with time remaining if the defense was able to get a stop.

In fact, receiver Calvin Ridley told Bryant not to worry about that miss because he was sure he would have another opportunity.

“I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re going to kick this ball again. You’re going to have another chance to help us get this win,’” Ridley said. “It didn’t work out like that. Matt B, I love Matt B. It sucks, but he’s a great player. I don’t know what that was. He doesn’t do that. It was weird.”

The thing is, the Falcons were shockingly close to being able to get the ball back to drive for a winning field-goal attempt.

After stopping two runs on Arizona’s first two plays of the subsequent drive and using their final timeouts, the Falcons lined up to defend the Cardinals on third-and-5. Quarterback Kyler Murray faked the handoff, ran to his right and went out of bounds near the first-down marker. Initially, it was ruled a first down before being paged for an official review.

Replay made it seem a lot closer than what the officials initially called. Of course, spot plays can sometimes be hard to overturn, and the officials decided the call would stand.

Game over.

“It was close,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I felt like the angle, it was going to be tough to overturn, but I know it was close. It was right there.”

Having watched the replay, Murray didn’t seem too sure he got the first down.

“Looking at it now, I probably should’ve stuck the ball out,” he said. “But it’s a good learning lesson for me. I will make sure I get it next time.”

So did he think the first down would be overturned?

“Kind of, when they were taking a long time to review it,” Murray said.

That wasn’t the only call that rubbed Atlanta’s players the wrong way. In the locker room afterward, players could be overheard discussing a second-quarter play that also went against them. Murray hit Damiere Byrd down the deep middle of the field for a 58-yard pickup. While Isaiah Oliver was beaten on the play, he was able to catch up and tackle Byrd at the 2-yard line. As the tackle was being made, it looked like the ball might have popped loose as Byrd rolled over Oliver’s body — before a knee, elbow or any other body part that rules a player down touched the ground.

Or at least that’s how the Falcons felt about it.

“A couple calls out there were not good,” Ridley said. “One of them was a fumble. That’s football. It’s over with. We have to get ready for the next game.”

One angle did show that Byrd’s right shin or calf might have touched the ground before the ball came loose, which could be why the officiating crew ruled that the play would stand. But if that play was ruled a fumble, which Damontae Kazee then recovered in the end zone, the Cardinals would have come away without points on that drive. That, obviously, would have been a huge turn of events in the game’s outcome.

For what it’s worth, Murray seemed to be in agreement with Ridley and the Falcons players.

“Yes, I was already on the sideline,” Murray said. “I thought he fumbled the ball.”

Another call that went against Atlanta occurred after the offense was forced to punt in the fourth quarter with 7:27 to play. Never mind the fact that Atlanta’s fourth punter of the season, Kasey Redfern, saw his punt travel only 35 yards in a key situation. With Pharoh Cooper signaling for a fair catch, Sharrod Neasman appeared to back off the returner so he could catch the ball. Neasman, instead, was flagged for fair-catch interference. Instead of Arizona starting on its own 40-yard line, it was able to start the ensuing drive at the Atlanta 45. Neasman was baffled by the call.

“Honestly, man, I don’t know what is the right call or isn’t,” he said. “I was playing football the way I know how — full speed, running down. I didn’t run into anybody, I didn’t touch anybody. They called what they want to call, I guess, based on where the ball landed and where I was to the ball. I’m not sure. I can’t call it. I don’t know what it was, what it wasn’t.”

Neasman said the officiating crew didn’t explain the reasoning behind the call.

The Cardinals took advantage of the good field position and scored a touchdown to go ahead 34-27. Atlanta then drove down the field, got the touchdown it needed and sent out one of the most reliable place-kickers in the entire NFL to tie the score.

Except he missed.

Murray was then ruled to have picked up a game-clinching first down. Atlanta has now lost five games this season, including four straight.

Now, here’s the thing: The Falcons do have an argument about those crucial officiating decisions. And Murphy’s Law certainly applies to, well, to the state of Georgia sports during the past week.

But the officiating and the missed extra point aren’t why the Falcons lost.

While the team fought valiantly to tie the score in the second half, it once again got into a poor position by being down by 17 points. Before Atlanta got those three consecutive defensive stops, it allowed Arizona to score on its first five possessions. Murray looked like a seasoned veteran, completing 27-of-37 throws for 340 yards and three touchdowns. For the second consecutive game, Atlanta’s defense was unable to record a sack. While the Falcons hit Deshaun Watson once last week, that number dropped to zero against Murray. Arizona has run a quick-game offense for most of the season. It didn’t do anything different Sunday, with Atlanta, at least in the first half, looking like it had never seen such an offense before.

When the score was tied at 27 in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had a chance to drive for a go-ahead score but were forced to punt after Ryan was sacked on third-and-8. In this situation, good teams are able to drive down the field and win the game. While the offense performed admirably to rally, it needed to be the aggressor it has rarely been in that moment.

Everyone has pointed to the little things the team hasn’t been able to do well, which have hindered it from pulling out the victories many assumed it would have before the season started. But through six games, there is no sign that is going to change. And if it doesn’t, head coach Dan Quinn’s time in Atlanta could be coming to an end sooner than he or many of his players would like.

For the past couple of weeks, the bye week has been the buzz of Atlanta as for gauging how hot Quinn’s seat is getting. If the team is 1-7 or 2-6 at the bye, could a change be made?

An NFL Media report surfaced Sunday morning that suggested owner Arthur Blank, who normally isn’t in favor of midseason moves, wouldn’t rule out pulling the trigger on a coaching change at the bye week if Atlanta doesn’t turn things around. That turnaround was to include Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. Up next are the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, much more talented teams. Quinn and the Falcons need wins. Time is running out.

In the end, this loss is a microcosm of the season. While Atlanta hasn’t caught many breaks, sitting at 1-5 after six games has been a collective failure, from the front office, to the coaches and the players.

“I wish we were 6-0,” Ridley said. “It’s not great right now. It’s not good at all.”

 

 

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The officiating has been pretty bad across the board for many years now. That’s not an excuse. Get some pressure on the **** QB and stop playing scared. Our offense might of been inconsistent at times, but at the end of the day they performed just fine. This defense is laughable at best, and even more laughable when DQ unfolds his playcall sheet only to fold it back up and call the same defense over and over expecting different results.

Bigbenright likes this

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Yep, officiating really just gave them extra plays for the defence to screw up on.

Scrap the replays unless common sense can be used.

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"Atlanta trailed Arizona 27-10 in the third quarter. The defense couldn’t stop the Cardinals, and the offense was once again inconsistent. But with the Falcons trailing by 17, everything started to click. The defense got three consecutive stops. The offense suddenly couldn’t be stopped. And early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons were able to tie the score at 27."

All too common a script recently, fall behind by a big margin, get some stops and catch up towards the end, other team pulls its finger out and ends it.

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