For every step the Atlanta Falcons (1-2) took forward in their efforts to mount a comeback on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts (2-1), they seemed to take two steps back.
The Falcons were penalized 16 times – one shy of the franchise's single-game record – for 128 yards. Nine of Atlanta's penalties were committed by the defense, six by the offense and one came on special teams. Seven of the Falcons' nine defensive penalties resulted in a first down for the Colts, and four of those penalties were committed on third down.
"We've got to control what we can, and to have 16 penalties and be minus-1 in the turnover margin that puts you in a difficult spot," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after the game. "So, that certainly was the case. I think there were six, seven, eight, maybe, first downs on fouls. It's hard to overcome that and a minus-1 turnover margin."
In the second-half, as the Falcons attempted to overcome a 20-3 halftime deficit, the penalties were glaring and impactful. After cutting the Colts' lead to just three with a pair of Austin Hooper touchdowns, Atlanta committed two costly penalties on defense that allowed Indianapolis to sustain a touchdown drive.
After dropping running back Marlon Mack for a 5-yard loss on first down, the Falcons – who had forced a three-and-out on their first defensive series of the second half – had the Colts in a second-and-15 situation at Indianapolis's 31-yard line. Prior to the snap, Grady Jarrett was called for an encroachment foul, giving those 5 yards back to the Colts.
Those 5 yards ultimately proved important, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett gained a first down by just 1 yard on the Colts' ensuing third down, keeping the drive alive.
The Falcons' defense rebounded from that missed opportunity to get off the field and seemingly stopped the Colts on their next third down, but a holding penalty on Damontae Kazee once again provided a fresh set of downs for the offense. That drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Marlon Mack, and Atlanta was once again down by 10 points.
Atlanta's offense took over with 8:35 remaining in the game and 71 yards to cover. Time quickly became a factor, however, as the Falcons committed four penalties on the drive that cost them 35 yards. The penalties weren't drive-killers, as Matt Ryan was extremely sharp and poised in the second half, but they forced the Falcons to cover additional ground which melted more time off the clock.
By the time Ryan connected with Jones on a 10-yard touchdown pass, the game clock stood at 4:17 – enough time to make a stop on defense but an amount that left little room for error.
Penalties are up around the league, with teams averaging 7.85 fouls per game through the first two weeks of the season. The Falcons were penalized nine times Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings and 10 times in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I think everybody is angry with not performing the way we can," Ryan said. "The penalties, turnovers, those kind of things, we've had too much of that in the first couple of weeks of the season. We had too much of that today. Those are things that we've got to clean up to be a better football team.
"A lot of them we can control. The procedural stuff, the pre-snap penalties, that's on us and that comes down to discipline. We've got to be better across the board as players when we get our chances."
Get an inside look at Atlanta Falcons vs. Indianapolis Colts with top photos from the field at Lucas Oil Stadium