Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened, and why it's notable. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.
TRYING TO RECONCILE -- Sunday's loss to the Bengals was the first time this season I felt like the Falcons were out of a game by the start of the fourth quarter.
There were moments in the six games prior to that of Sunday's where I did feel like things could have gotten out of hand. The Falcons were down by multiple scores to the Rams and Buccaneers at one point or another but they came roaring back in both instances to take both games to the very end.
That never materialized against the Bengals. So, what I'm left attempting to reconcile is the simultaneous feelings I have to either 1) move on without a second glance from this game, or 2) try to learn something from it. The latter will win out, because it's the smarter choice of the two, but I'd be lying if I said the former option wasn't tempting.
Regardless, opening my notebook for you all is one of my favorite writing exercises and I won't miss a Monday doing so simply because a post-mortem look at this game won't resurrect many heartwarming thoughts.
This just isn't a good matchup
I wrote about this topic (extensively) postgame, but I felt the need to reiterate how quickly I felt this way on Sunday.
I think everyone on the outside looking in could tell this matchup was not going to be one that favored the Falcons. Not with their performances against quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady, and neither Stafford nor Brady have Ja'Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. For those reasons, this was never going to be an easy day for the Falcons defense, particularly with Casey Hayward on injured reserve and A.J. Terrell out of the game early.
It was a few seconds into the second quarter when I did ultimately write this, though. Joe Burrow found Chase in the front corner of the endzone for a 32-yard touchdown catch with two Falcons defenders crowding around him.
Prior to that moment, Boyd surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark with a 20-yard, one-handed grab before a 12-yard gain by Higgins ended the first quarter.
Too often, this sequence held true for the Bengals. In fact, only six of Burrow's 21 completed passes in the first half were for less than a 10-yard pick up. How many of those completed passes resulted in a gain of over 20 yards? Six.
So, for every pass Burrow threw for less than 10 yards in the first half, he came right back with an explosive (two of which resulted in touchdowns: The 32-yarder to Chase described above, and a 60-yard touchdown to Boyd in the Bengals first drive).
By halftime, Boyd and Chase had both surpassed 100-receiving yards on the day, and Burrow was 21-of-25 for 345 passing yards. He was averaging 13.8 yards a catch.
And yet, despite all of this, the Falcons were still in it, taking a 28-17 deficit into the locker room at halftime. They were slated to get the ball first in the second half. A quick score would change things for the Falcons. However, that coveted score wouldn't come...
That was your chance
When you look back on the other games in which the Falcons were down by 21 at some point to another opponent, there's always one sequence you can look back on to find the momentum shifter.
Against the Rams, it was Troy Andersen's blocked punt that Lorenzo Carter returned for a touchdown.
Against the Buccaneers, it was a little more subtle: The defense forcing three consecutive three-and-outs in the second half. Two of the three resulting in the Falcons offense going down and scoring a touchdown in response.
Against the Bengals, that momentum shifter moment came when Avery Williams returned a kick 57 yards in the waning seconds of the first half. It set up a Younghoe Koo 43-yard field goal that put the Falcons in a more manageable situation when they would eventually get the ball back at the start of the second half.
Instead of production, though, the offense sputtered coming out of the locker room. What transpired was the difference between the Falcons being in the game late, and not at all.
The offense had two possessions to start the third quarter. Both resulted in a three-and-out.
What's worse is that the defense had a stop sandwiched between those two series, forcing a turnover on downs on the Falcons 27 yard line.
What's more is that the Falcons had three offensive possessions in the third quarter that resulted in no points. In said quarter, Atlanta only had 17 net yards.
The Falcons had an opportunity to get back in that game. Not producing in this moment was one of the reasons they couldn't.
Do teams now have a formula for how to beat the Falcons?
This thought was born from a conversation Scott Bair and I were having in the press box about half way through the final quarter of the game. It's one we talked about briefly in our postgame Falcons Final Whistle podcast.
The thought - in essence - is this: The way to beat this Falcons team is to make the defense defend the pass, but put the offense in obvious situations where it has to pass. When the Falcons have struggled in 2022 this theme has been the common denominator.
And if I know it? You can bet your bottom dollar other teams know it, too.
So, how do the Falcons respond to this?
How they answer this question will be the difference for this team in the next month and a half of games. Fortunately for the Falcons, they do not face a team quite like that of the Bengals during that stretch (and they are still 3-4 after all. All is not lost).
Defensively, they won't face a quarterback quite like that of Burrow, nor receivers quite like that of Chase, Higgins and Boyd. Offensively, Cordarrelle Patterson can make his return from injured reserve in another week's time. Getting him back could add a little mystery back into the offense.
The next slate of games for the Falcons includes Carolina twice, the Chargers and Bears at home and then Washington on the road. All of these teams will have seen what the Bengals did to beat the Falcons this Sunday. How the Falcons respond to that knowledge will be the marker of a team that can evolve.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals during Week 7.