FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- I woke up on Monday morning with a text from Scott Bair, as I usually do just because Monday mornings after a game are pretty busy. It was a screenshot of a question submitted for his Mailbag. It read:
"My notebook (a tribute to Tori's excellent insights) has only a few words: Seriously? Where's the run defense? Another pick? Thanks for letting me vent."
Well, Will S. from Summerville, Ga., my notebook looked... pretty similar. And if you - dear readers - watched the Falcons loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and if you kept a notebook, I am sure your notes would look pretty much the same, too.
The issues the Falcons had on Sunday where twofold: 1) the defense couldn't get off the field, and 2) the offense couldn't stay on. Sometimes I think we over complicate football. Sometimes I think the reasons why a game doesn't work out can be summarized in a couple simple sentences. I thought that was the case on Sunday night.
Postgame, I really clung to the quote from Matt Ryan about the Falcons needing to be more opportunistic.
"They did a good job on the offensive side of the ball running the football, kind of shrinking the clock," Ryan said of Carolina. "We knew going into it that if that was the case then you have to be opportunistic. You can't worry about what the stats are, you have to find a way to get it done. I thought we had chances, but we didn't make the plays when we needed to."
When I sat down to write up this notebook, I thought it interesting that as I looked back through my notes I had actually drawn little stars beside moments in the game I thought the Falcons would have liked to capitalized on. So, this notebook installation will be a reflection of that. My plan is to pull three of said starred moments, and dissect them and the missed opportunities they ended up being in the loss.
This notebook will look a little different than it normally does, but I think it could be helpful to paint a more complex picture of a game that felt like it maybe didn't have a complex reason for why one team won or lost. When one team stays on the field and the other can't find a way on, well, then you have a game like Sunday's.
The "I wanted more" opening drive
I thought Kris Rhim broke this moment down well in our postgame podcast (shameless plug for the Falcons Final Whistle). Essentially, the Falcons had the best opportunity to put an early exclamation point on the game. Deion Jones forced a fumble on the Panthers very first offensive play of the game and Ade Ogundeji recovered, giving the Falcons offense the ball with great field position.
What came next was a drive that didn't really incapsulate the excitement of the defensive play that started the game. The Falcons went three-and-out and had to settle for a 46-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo. One could say, "Oh, well they at least came away with something," and you absolutely can say that. But the Falcons needed a touchdown there, and instead it was a drive that lost two yards after Ryan was sacked for a loss of four on second down.
I use the phrase "needed a touchdown there" because I think the Falcons would say the same thing. And Ryan basically did postgame. Just take a look at his quote in the very first section. The Falcons knew the Panthers wanted to run the ball, bleed the clock, create a lopsided time of possession. The Falcons knew they weren't going to have very many offensive opportunities. So, to miss out on seven points after a forced fumble on the Panthers first play from scrimmage? Looking back, that hurt.
The "oh, the momentum is swinging" moment
Arthur Smith pointed this moment out postgame as the moment he felt the shift. I know in-game, I even tweeted the same thing as it was unfolding.
It was the back-to-back plays that started the fourth quarter. The Falcons had a chance on third down to get to the 10 yard line. It would have set them up nicely to get into the endzone after Carolina took the 12-10 lead in the final minutes of the third quarter.
Ryan tried to hit Kyle Pitts down the sideline, but the ball ricocheted out of Pitts' hands and the Falcons had to settle for the field goal. And from 45-yards out, Koo's kick sailed wide right and the Falcons came away with no points in a moment where they really needed them.
This moment probably stung the most out of the other three moments on this list, and I think that is so because of a conversation I had with Scott Bair postgame. We agreed this moment stings because we've come to believe Pitts and Koo are automatic. In the last month of the season, they have been. But this was a moment when they weren't, and it reminds us how much of a team sport this really is. The momentum didn't swing Carolina's way just because the offense didn't convert on third down, and it didn't swing just because Koo missed the field goal. It was both of these moments combined. And Ryan agreed postgame when he was asked about this moment in particular.
"It was one of those things that when you're in a tight game like we were (Sunday), your possessions are limited, and as a group we didn't make enough plays," he said.
The "Matt Ryan's hand is bleeding profusely" interception
Here's the thing: I legit can not watch any medical show because of the surgery scenes. So, yeah, that means no Grey's Anatomy for me. Blood? Not my thing. So, when Ryan's hand was stepped on and he was bleeding... a lot... well, I know I was feeling a bit squeamish. So, give credit to Ryan for the drive he put together while his hand was - you know - gushing red (like Black Widow's ledger... but I digress). The issue with the drive though was that it ended with a turnover inside the 30 yard line.
The Falcons were moving down the field. They were looking pretty good. Ryan hit Pitts a couple of times, and Cordarrelle Patterson kept the chains moving on the ground. Mike Davis even picked up an 18-yard gain. And then, Shaq Thompson - on second and eight from the 24 yard line - jumped in front of Ryan's pass intended for Hayden Hurst. Though Carolina didn't come away with points in the offensive drive that followed, it - again - was a moment the Falcons would have liked to have back so they could at least try to get in the endzone. Instead, they went into the locker room at halftime with a one-point lead.
After the game, Ryan said the bleeding left hand wasn't the issue in the interception. It just wasn't the right decision in the moment.
"The fact is that it was a good play (by Shaq Thompson)," Ryan said, "and I've got to be better than that."
The Carolina defense is better with Thompson and Stephon Gilmore in it, and the Falcons saw that play out on Sunday night.
But when all was said and done, these moments all came to matter a great deal when the game came to a close.
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