ATLANTA – The Falcons sat alone atop the NFC South all week. That was a fun spot for this entertaining crew to be a game up in the division entering the second half of this season.
Maintaining it was never going to be easy, and Arthur Smith's crew understood that point. Stacking wins is essential, especially at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Falcons had won three straight home games entering Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, but couldn't make it four after a 20-17 result.
We don't know at the time of publication where the Falcons ultimately sit within the division in Week 10, with Tampa Bay playing later Sunday and New Orleans lacing them up on Monday night.
We do know what the Falcons did well, and not so well, in this contest. Let's take a look at what stood out from Sunday's game:
Yet another tight finish
The Falcons sure play a lot of one-score games that come down to the wire. While it's bad for the heart and the hairline, high-drama has played out time and again in the fourth quarter.
Sometimes the Falcons come out on top. Other times not.
Sunday's game was tied late in the fourth quarter, with the Falcons on their heels following a Cameron Dicker field goal that locked it at 17-17 and a subsequent Falcons three-and-out that gave the Chargers possession with four minutes, 19 seconds left.
The visitors drove deep into field goal range and bled the clock, before Austin Ekeler fumbled. TaQuon Graham picked up the loose ball and returned it a good distance before losing possession himself. The Chargers recovered, now out of field goal range, with 34 seconds left. It took one play to get back in it, on a pass from Justin Herbert to Joshua Palmer.
Dicker put it through from 37 yards out to leave the Falcons with a difficult loss.
Falcons run game in fine form
The Falcons have been running strong all season long and continued that trend against the Chargers. They went over 200 yards rushing yet again, carving through a Chargers defense that has struggled against the run.
Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson both had big days, with both long runs and efficient ones that kept the Falcons on schedule. That was especially true on scoring drives, where everything was clicking well.
Patterson's return off injured reserve was an obvious benefit. So was Allgeier, who looked both comfortable and confident knowing when to make cuts, when to get physical and where to find open space. Caleb Huntley was involved at times, losing some work to Patterson's return, but was also tough running when given the chance.
Falcons come out ahead on bizarre sequence
Cordarrelle Patterson had a long, strong touchdown run negated by penalty. The Falcons were undeterred, driving deep into Chargers territory when Marcus Mariota found Drake London at the 5-yard line. He was pushing for the end zone with Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack came up and took the ball away. Just ripped it out of the rookie's hands and then returned it 44 yards.
The Chargers were in position to expand a halftime lead when Jordan Palmer couldn't corral Justin Herbert's pass. Richie Grant picked it off and set the Falcons up for another score. They converted this time, one a three-yard, grown-man touchdown run by Patterson. It capped a run-heavy series where they eight times for 40 yards.
The Falcons were down at halftime but up a slim third-quarter lead after an odd sequence of turnovers (and penalties) where, overall, the ball broke the Falcons' way.
Solid start sours
The Falcons completely dominated the first quarter of this game. Dom-in-A-ted. The ran seemingly at will and shut the Chargers down while building a 10-point lead.
Their grip on the game loosened at the Chargers surged, leaving with a 14-0 halftime lead. The Falcons suddenly couldn't get off the field on third down and struggled moving the football with the same consistency.
Marcus Mariota missed some gotta-have-it throws, the offensive line let Chargers through at inopportune times and the rushing became inefficient.
That negated a quality start to this game, setting up another close contest ultimately decided in the second half. There were opportunities to score, or prevent opposing scores, that the Falcons didn't capitalize upon that reversed momentum.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Los Angeles Chargers during Week 9.