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Bair: Losing turnover battle a troubling trend highlighted in Falcons loss to Commanders

Desmond Ridder threw three interceptions and the defense wasn't able to take the ball away against Washington

ATLANTA – The Falcons haven't created a turnover since Jessie Bates III intercepted a pass in Detroit. That's 15 full quarters played without a takeaway.

The Falcons have turned the ball over nine times since then.

That's a hard way to live in the NFL. It's no surprise, then, that the Falcons have lost three of four since that Bates pick.

Those who lose the turnover battle often lose the game. That was the case on Sunday, when three Desmond Ridder interceptions and zero takeaways by the Falcons defense factored heavily into a 24-16 loss to the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons out-gained Washington by 209 yards. They allowed just two third-down conversions all day. They had five sacks. They did all that and still lost. When you're statistically dominant and get beat, giveaways are normally a culprit.

"It came down to turnovers, the plays they made and the field position they took," Falcon head coach Arthur Smith said. "They took advantage of their opportunities and we didn't. It wasn't good enough."

It nearly was.

The defense provided one fourth-quarter opportunity after another that the Falcons couldn't take advantage of, most notably on two fourth-quarter picks that spoiled a legitimate comeback attempt.

I'm not going to dive headfirst into the intricacies of what went down because Tori McElhaney did so already, so I'll stick with a troubling trend that has time and again put Atlanta in a bind.

The Falcons have a minus-6 turnover differential this season and are minus-9 since that Bates interception. Since we've mentioned Bates, it's also worth noting that he's the only Falcons player to force a turnover this season.

While this defense has played well more often than not and is stingy as heck late in games – they allowed just 32 yards and forced four consecutive punts to close out Sunday's contest – they are not taking the ball away. That's a sticking point not lost on Falcons defenders after this most recent loss.

"We have to find a way to create some more turnovers on defense," Bates said. "It's hard to win when you're 0-for-3 in the turnover battle and you give up a big return on special teams. We're not going to overreact. It's Week 6 and we're 3-3. We have everything we want ahead of us."

Everything the Falcons want can't be achieved playing like this, though. Sunday's game was there for the taking, even after a series of miscues. One big play or avoiding a big mistake could've unearthed a positive result.

The last two turnovers were particularly impactful. Ridder threw a pick in the end zone in a goal-to-go situation with roughly five minutes left. Then, after the defense provided a third chance to orchestrate a game-winning drive, Ridder threw his third interception 34 yards from the end zone. Sunday's game was ultimately an opportunity missed because of those missteps.

"That's tough right there to go out and put up that showing," Ridder said. "When you have plenty of opportunities to go down, put points on the board, plenty of opportunities when you're moving the ball, getting things going and coming up short, obviously that's tough for us."

While there was obvious disappointment in the outcome, it wasn't all doom and gloom in the Falcons locker room. They were focused on improvement and how to play the clean, complementary football required to win consistently in this league.

"Forcing some turnovers; we can be better at that," defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. "We started hot and we have to get back to that. Limiting big plays, too. I think we've been good, but there's another level we can take it to, and that's the encouraging part. That's not something to be a downer about. It's encouraging that we can be better."

They'll need to be, especially in the turnover battle, to come out on the right end of future results.

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders during Week 6.

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