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The moments when the Falcons lost the 2020 season: From the notebook - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic 

 

Whenever there’s a big play or a play that sparks a momentum shift, I make note of it in my notebook, usually with a little star beside the play.

On Sunday, as I sat down to write another deflating game story for Falcons fans, I began listing all of the games the Falcons could have won if one play here or there went their way. Atlanta is 4-11 heading into the final week of the regular season, but it could have been 10-5 … easily.

After the 17-14 loss to Kansas City, Matt Ryan said there is a fine line between the season the Falcons had and the season they very well could have had if they only won a few more key moments. These moments are not singular in their properties. A game is won or lost through four full quarters, but for experiment’s sake, what if it was one play? What are the singular plays that lost the Falcons their season?

Let’s take a look:

Week 2 at Dallas: Lost 40-39

The moment: The onside kick

It could be argued that this is still the biggest blunder of the 2020 season. After mounting a fourth-quarter comeback, the Cowboys had to recover the onside kick in order to keep their winning hopes alive. Trailing 39-37 with 1:49 to play, Dallas’ kick slowly rolled to the 50-yard line as four Falcons players watched the ball roll, not diving forward to pick it up. The kicking team (Dallas) had to wait for the ball to roll 10 yards before picking it up, but the receiving team (Atlanta) had no such rule to abide by. And yet, the Falcons, too, let it roll, giving the Cowboys ample time and position to win after they recovered the kick. Dallas made a last-second 46-yard field goal to win.

Week 3 vs. Chicago: Lost 30-26

The moment: The missed tackles

This probably isn’t the play many would have chosen as the defining moment of this loss, but being there at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it was easy to see it was the one that took any remaining wind out of the Falcons’ sails. Many likely would have chosen Ryan’s interception right before the one-minute mark of the fourth quarter, but by that point, the Falcons were already lacking momentum, and it appeared their fate was sealed. The game shifted for good at the 4:32 mark when Chicago was on the Atlanta 37. Trailing 26-16, the Bears were well on their way to a would-be comeback, but the Falcons’ defense looked to be making a stand, perhaps forcing a field goal. But on second-and-6, Nick Foles connected with Allen Robinson. It should have been just a 10-yard pickup and a first down, but Isaiah Oliver missed the initial tackle, then Blidi Wreh-Wilson missed another. Robinson broke free for 25 more yards to the end zone, the Bears were only down by three, and the Falcons offense couldn’t do anything to answer.

Week 7 vs. Detroit: Lost 23-22

The moment: The stumble at the 1

The Lions were barely holding on to a 16-14 lead as Atlanta’s offense marched down the field looking to take the lead and the win. With 1:12 left to play and looking at a first-and-goal situation from the Detroit 10, the Falcons needed to stay out of the end zone, or they needed to make sure they didn’t score with too much time left on the clock. But what happened? They got into the end zone. On a handoff to Todd Gurley, the Lions played softly, wanting him to score. When he had to break a soft tackle to get to the 1, Gurley’s momentum carried him over the goal line. Even as he tried to fall just shy of it, the ball broke the plane. The Falcons scored and gave Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford the chance to put together a game-winning drive. He did, and the Falcons paid for their touchdown with another close loss.

Week 14 at Los Angeles Chargers: Lost 20-17

The moment: The other interception

Ryan already had thrown one interception in the final quarter against the Chargers. That one would have been the momentum-shifting moment it not for the defense answering with an interception of its own, giving the Falcons offense the ball back with 47 seconds to play with solid field position. With the game tied at 17, the Falcons just needed a field goal, and they still had two timeouts remaining. In terms of situations you would want to be in, this was a good one for the Falcons. But on first-and-10 from the Los Angeles 45, Ryan underthrew Calvin Ridley and Michael Davis picked it off. The Chargers won with a 43-yard field goal a handful of plays later.

Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay: Lost 31-27

The moment: The unfortunate mismatch

Tyler Hall didn’t stand a chance when he was forced to line up against Antonio Brown in single-man coverage. Without Ricardo Allen, Isaiah Oliver, Darqueze Dennard or Wreh-Wilson, the Falcons’ secondary was depleted against Tom Brady in the second half of the would-be loss. That was on full display with 6:25 to play. Brady stepped back in the pocket and hit Brown for a 46-yard touchdown connection as Brown blew by Hall. Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said it was a mismatch for sure, and he thought there was some miscommunication by the secondary at that moment. Whatever the case may be, the Bucs took a 31-27 lead and never relinquished it.

Week 16 at Kansas City: Lost 17-14

The moment: The almost interception

A.J. Terrell was so close to making the play of his rookie year Sunday. If it weren’t for the impact of the ground, he said, he would have intercepted Patrick Mahomes in the end zone with two minutes to play. At the time, the Falcons were up 14-10 on the defending Super Bowl champions. From the Falcons’ 25, Mahomes stepped back to shoot for Tyreek Hill in the end zone, but Terrell made a great read on the ball and rocketed up to intercept the pass. It likely would have won the game if Terrell would have kept control of the ball all the way to the ground, but the ball popped out as he connected with the ground. Kansas City scored on the next play, taking the final 17-14 lead. Some probably would have chosen Younghoe Koo’s missed 39-yard field goal as the nail in the coffin of this game, but if Terrell comes down with that interception, you don’t put the game on Koo’s shoulders to begin with.
 

 

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The momentum of the entire season goes back to the onside kick against Dallas.

Dallas had just scored so there had to be at least a TV timeout.  The coaches knew Dallas was going to onside kick and so they called for the hands team (we know this cause Julio was on the field)

Here was ample time to go over the rules of onside kick coverage and that we didnt have to wait for the ball to go 10 yards.  This is the coaches job justto make sure everyone understands because we have a different unit than the normal receiving team on the field.

Now, if the coaches didnt do that, well thats too bad... major screwup.  But when you look at the players reaction to the kick, you cant tell me that each player in knew exactly what NOT to do and its likely that it was because they were told during that tv timeout.  Not sure? Watch the play again.  Watch how the Falcons react.  There is coordinated intention in their "execution"

The team has never recovered.  Raheem sent the first signal when he immediately fired the special teams coordinator, but it was way too late by then.

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Just now, RING OF HONOR said:

So you've beennnnnnnnnnn done....that was a long time ago 

I've watched the games. But just haven't really cared that much. More like I've had them in the background multi tasking while I did other stuff. That Cowboys loss just sealed it for me that I knew this team was not a good football team. The Cowboys looked like THE worst coached team in football that game. Their fake punt attempts were atrocious....going for 2 down by 9. Like they were TRYING to lose that game. And the Falcons were like "nah man....you take it! We couldn't possibly!"

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3 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

I've watched the games. But just haven't really cared that much. More like I've had them in the background multi tasking while I did other stuff. That Cowboys loss just sealed it for me that I knew this team was not a good football team. The Cowboys looked like THE worst coached team in football that game. Their fake punt attempts were atrocious....going for 2 down by 9. Like they were TRYING to lose that game. And the Falcons were like "nah man....you take it! We couldn't possibly!"

Yeah...its been a tough season...embarrassing as well....

I'm hoping we get it together...cause I dont want to die of alcohol poisoning.....

Go 2021 Falcons....and Goooo Liver

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20 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

I've watched the games. But just haven't really cared that much. More like I've had them in the background multi tasking while I did other stuff. That Cowboys loss just sealed it for me that I knew this team was not a good football team. The Cowboys looked like THE worst coached team in football that game. Their fake punt attempts were atrocious....going for 2 down by 9. Like they were TRYING to lose that game. And the Falcons were like "nah man....you take it! We couldn't possibly!"

Man, I was in the same boat.  At one point in the season, I said "it's just funny at this point."

Might as well enjoy it.

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16 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Yep. This entire season was such a joke 

Agreed. Its been boring watching these games, which is disappointing because I really look forward to football season. 

 

Such a disappointing team. I generally have it on in the background but some Sundays I dont even watch. Not sure where they go from here but knowing the Falcons they will promote DK to head coach, rehire Quinn as DC, and pay Ryan and Julio more with new contracts. 

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2 hours ago, revrndzombie said:

Agreed. Its been boring watching these games, which is disappointing because I really look forward to football season. 

 

Such a disappointing team. I generally have it on in the background but some Sundays I dont even watch. Not sure where they go from here but knowing the Falcons they will promote DK to head coach, rehire Quinn as DC, and pay Ryan and Julio more with new contracts. 

Yea...watching Koetter ball is very boring. Very predictable 

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9 hours ago, Herr Doktor said:

What is scary though is that this team is not that far away.  Some key coaching, some culture alteration, a few extra players, and bam we are in it.  Scary really. 

That's the allure of the NFL and why the league goes to such pains to maintain parity. The Falcons definitely qualify as a team with the talent to make a quick turn-around. 

That turn-around won't happen without new coaches. I believe it's going to take a whole new HC, coordinators and coaching staff to finally get past SB LI. 

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