INGLEWOOD, Calif – The Falcons were down 21 points to the defending Super Bowl champs, on the road, with 12 minutes left. That scenario set up dire, seemingly untraversable straits.
The Falcons refused, even at that low point, to tap, tap, tap on the mat.
They would not, and did not, quit.
"Never," inside linebacker Mykal Walker said. "We believe in each other. We believe in this team, our ethos and what we're trying to do here. We're not going to stop until the clock hits zero. That never-say-die mentality is what this team is built on."
It's a foundational trait that can help you can build a sound structure. One Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot are constructing is not complete. Not by any stretch.
The Falcons might be 2-0 if never-say-die was enough. They instead have the opposite record after giving up a late home lead to New Orleans -- they still clawing for a game-deciding field goal attempt after all that went wrong -- and nearly digging out of a three-score hole in a 31-27 loss to the Rams on Sunday here at SoFi Stadium.
A word that weighs heavy in that last sentence: nearly. NFL teams aren't in the business of coming close. This isn't a column giving out As for effort in a zero-sum game.
And make no mistake about it: The Falcons weren't feeling good about themselves after turning Sunday's game on its ear with furious comeback attempt that fell just short. They were as upset as ever after letting an opportunity slip away.
"This is going to sting," said Walker, who had seven tackles, a pass defensed and an interception that set up a Falcons touchdown. "This result is going to hurt everybody because we could've won this one."
Jake Matthews harped on an important point after Sunday's game. These Falcons didn't finish. That can be a four-letter word around this fan base, but that doesn't diminish it's importance or the effort required for this group to close out games right.
Finishing, either a comeback attempt or a dominant showing, is a missing element in the early going. It's one the Falcons have to find or they'll continue ending up on the wrong end of results.
So, Jake, what's the difference between finishing right and what the Falcons have done?
"It's tough to give an exact answer, but it comes down to execution," the left tackle said. "We have to know what to do and get it done. We can't be one guy short [of executing properly] as often as we have been. There's stuff to work on, but we've done some good things and still come up short. Who knows how these last two could've gone. If we would've done better at the end, we could be having some different conversations right now."
Matthews is right about the lack of consistent execution. As Tori McElhaney details in her postgame takeaways, the Falcons didn't capitalize enough in the red zone and on third down. The same could be said about the Saints loss.
They need to improve in those areas to play better situational football. They'll see that learning from this Rams game tape. After roaring back from 21 points down, leadership will also be able to reinforce a valuable point about never saying die.
"Don't give up. Keep grinding. You never know what's going to happen," Matthews said. "This game was a case in point: We had a chance to win it at the end. There's no quit in this team. I'm very proud of that."
These Falcons have put forth relentless effort whether things go well or not. That can't quit as this unit continues to evolve throughout the season. Now it's time to take the next step
"We need to break through," Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said, "but one thing about our guys is that, no matter what had happened [against the Rams], we gave ourselves a chance to go win it. We'll continue to grow. We'll go through these things. It's painful to lose like that by one possession, but we have the right mindset."
The next step in this team's evolution is simple. Apply that mindset to good situations and bad, to play better situational football and, whether it's pretty or hideous or dramatic or boring as heck, be on the right side of the result.
"Do whatever it takes to win," Matthews said. "I don't care if we win 3-0 or 56-55. It doesn't matter. We just have to get that first win and get rolling. We'll keep trying to do the things we're doing well and shore up areas that we need to fix. Hopefully next week we'll come out on top.
"…The game's about executing and who can last longer and finish. We're figuring that out right now."
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams in the second game of 2022.