Early Bird Report: Falcons focused on learning to finish

The top Falcons headlines from around the country 

The Falcons have a short week this week, and perhaps that's a good thing. Following another fourth-quarter loss, Atlanta will need to shake it off quicker than usual and get focused for its Thursday night game against the Carolina Panthers.

A big emphasis for the Falcons this week will be finishing games. On Monday, interim coach Raheem Morris spoke about the importance of ending the halves with the ball on offense, which would mean either defensive stops were made or the offense possessed the ball for a large amount of time. Whatever the case, if the Falcons are to make strides under Morris, it begins with learning to finish, which Michael Rothstein wrote about for ESPN.com.

"We've got to be better finishers," Morris said. "Our rushers got to get home. You've got to hit the quarterback in those moments. You've got to have the ability to pick up the ball when a guy is scrambling around, throwing it up in the air."

What we learned in Week 7

Fourth quarters continue to be a problem for the Atlanta Falcons, who lost 23-22 to the Detroit Lions on a last-second touchdown pass. Atlanta again looked poised to secure its second win of the season, but a series of late-game mistakes prevented the Falcons from doing so.

In his recap of what happened for NFL.com, Adam Maya detailed how everything went down.

"This one got fun late, as games are wont to do involving the 2020 Falcons," Maya writes. "Atlanta's latest collapse could have probably been avoided had it not scored a go-ahead touchdown. Todd Gurley tried to down the ball at the Lions' 1 to run the clock, but his momentum took him into the end zone, giving the Falcons a 22-16 lead. Matthew Stafford used the remaining 64 seconds to drive Detroit to a game-winning score, hitting T.J. Hockenson from 11 yards out as time expired. Matt Prater, who pushed a 46-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter but connected from 49 yards out soon after, split the uprights on a 48-yard extra-point attempt to end the game. It was all so Falcons."

NFL Week 7 overreactions

Much attention will be paid to Todd Gurley's late-game touchdown run when the Falcons were within chip-shot range and the Lions had no timeouts remaining. He discussed the play after the game, saying he was wrong to score and the team had discussed him stopping short of the end zone to kill the remainder of the clock. In his weekly Monday piece for ESPN, however, Dan Graziano says it's an overreaction to lay blame solely at Gurley's feet.

"I never like the idea of not scoring when you're behind," Graziano writes. "The short field goal is nearly automatic, sure, but it's not actually automatic. What if the snap goes wrong? What if it's blocked? You're behind and you have a chance to take the lead, you do it. Plus, there's nothing in the rules that says the Falcons' defense isn't allowed to stop anybody in a big fourth-quarter situation.

"The Falcons told Gurley not to score there, so yeah, that's a bonehead play by him. But it's tough to rein in a player's instincts (especially one who scores as much as Gurley does) to get to the end zone. And again, they were behind in the game. If they were tied or ahead, I see the logic. But when you're behind and you have a chance to take the lead, I have always thought the right thing was to do it."

The biggest mysteries of Week 7

Graziano wasn't the only ESPN writer to discuss Gurley falling into the end zone. In his piece explaining some of the odder occurrences from Sunday, Bill Barnwell discussed Atlanta's late-game rushing touchdown. Like his colleague, Barnwell also doesn't pin the outcome on Gurley's momentary lapse of judgement.

"To be clear, I don't fault Gurley for scoring," Barnwell writes. "[Dirk] Koetter never should have given Gurley the ball in the first place. In that Packers game two years ago, the Rams only needed to kneel after Gurley's run to wrap up the game. In this game, the Falcons still had to kick a field goal, which has a few moving parts. Once the Falcons gave Gurley the ball while they were trailing, they can't expect him not to run the ball in."

Week 7 NFL grades

At times throughout Sunday's game, the Falcons looked like the team that could and should emerge with a victory. Perhaps that's why John Breech still gave them a respectable grade, despite the loss. Breech had a "B-" grade for Atlanta and acknowledged that it likely should have won.

"The Falcons have found some improbable ways to lose this year, but somehow they might have topped themselves in this game," Breech writes. "A 10-yard TD run by Todd Gurley with 1:04 left to play set the stage for the Lions to win. The problem for Gurley is that he didn't need to score; if he had fallen down at the 1, the Falcons could have run more time off the clock and won the game with a short field goal. The Falcons also made a befuddling decision to go for it on fourth-and-5 from Detroit's 13-yard line while clinging to a 14-13 lead late in the game. Basically, the entire fourth quarter was a comedy of decision-making errors for a Falcons team that probably should have won this game."

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