Skip to main content

Bair: Falcons must find one-score magic, finish better to be legit playoff contender

Buccaneers loss keeps Falcons close in NFC South, even after tough loss to Washington

LANDOVER, Md. – The Falcons play plenty of close games, almost exclusively as a matter of fact.

They have completed 12 contests, with nine decided by one score and most of those coming down to the final possession.

As we all know, the Falcons scratch and claw and battle until the bell rings. Every time. No exceptions.

Their record on the scorecards, if we can take this boxing analogy a step farther, hasn't been overwhelmingly decisive.

The Falcons are 4-5 in one-score games, falling below even in those situations after Sunday's 19-13 loss at Washington. The Falcons were two yards from the goal line on a valiant comeback attempt, but never crossed it.

Marcus Mariota's interception, batted and then picked in the end zone, essentially sealed an unwelcome and possibly pivotal result the grand scheme. The Commanders now sit above them in conference standings, just outside the playoff picture, with a tiebreaker in hand.

In conference and NFC South standings likely decided by the tightest of margins, losses like this hurt. It's fair to say the Falcons could've and maybe should've completed this comeback, but ultimately fell short in a game desperately needed.

That's happening too often for the Falcons to stack wins and surge late into the season, creating the possibility they'll rue some of these outcomes after the new year.

"We are a good team but, in order to be a great team, we've got to finish," wise-beyond-his-years rookie running back Tyler Allgeier said. "You have good teams all over, but those who close games out end up on top. All of our effort is there. We ended up just short this time."

Just short. Like they were against New Orleans and the L.A. Rams and Chargers, and against Tampa Bay. The Falcons had a chance to win each of those – that overtime home win over Carolina admittedly could've gone the other way – and fell short.

Close losses didn't happen much a year ago, when the Falcons were 7-2 in one-score contests. That's how last year's unit won all of their games, consistently scratching one out or being handed a lopsided loss.

This year's team is undoubtedly better and is in most every game. It's often said by football folks smarter than me that one-score results don't travel from year to year. I believe that's true, even with players completely buying in to Arthur Smith's relentless, never-say-die mentality. There's just too much random in these tight games to assume they'll consistently continue to come up roses.

This year's group has real strengths and some pronounced weaknesses, but always plays tough to the end. They did that here at FedEx Field, but ultimately fell just short in one that's going to sting.

"I can't lie and say it's not a missed opportunity because it is, but we've still got life," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "We have goals ahead of us that we can strive for. We felt good about our chances coming into this game, all the way up to the end. For [this game] to go down like it did is definitely disappointing, but we've got to go back to work. We can't sit here and sulk in this for too long.

"This is one of those losses where you want to get back on the field quick. We're going to be excited to play next week."

They'll enter Week 13 play against Pittsburgh appropriately believing, as Jarrett put it, that they've got life. Yeah. In the playoff picture.

I wasn't going to mention the postseason in this column and recommend you refrain from doing so. This team has to be more consistent and stack wins, my message to you would read, before being considered a real playoff contender.

Then Tampa Bay went and lost to Cleveland in overtime a little while after the Falcons went down, keeping the NFC South standings super compact. How can I say don't think postseason when they're a half-game back with five to play?

So let's admit they're in the hunt, in a division ripe for the taking. They only way they'll win, however, if they can start stacking wins and finishing the close games you just know are coming down the pike. Otherwise, they'll just keep on coming close.

"We have the ability. We've proven that," left tackle Jake Matthews said. "We have to control what we can and, when our opportunities come, we have to make plays. It ultimately comes down to execution. We didn't execute well enough today, through the very end. We had our shot and the outcome could've gone differently and we'd be having a much different conversation right now."

Yep. We'd be talking about the first-place Falcons controlling their own destiny down the stretch. Instead, we're talking about need more help and strong finish to achieve their goals.

"We have five more games left and we have to put our best foot forward," Jarrett said. "We put ourselves in this position. It's up to us to get out of it."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders during Week 12.

1125 x 663 (MKT TIle) (2x)

Swaggin' Since 1966

Takin' it back to 1966! Shop the Red Helmet Collection today online or in-store at Atlantic Station.

Related Content