DETROIT -- Jared Goff took off for a 3-yard run, scurrying into the end zone in the Lions' first drive of the fourth quarter. The veteran quarterback slung his arm back, launching the ball deep into the stands of Ford Field to a raucous Detroit crowd, and with the ball went most of the hope of a Falcons comeback. At the time, Atlanta was down 13-3. Goff's touchdown was the nail in the proverbial coffin, though, sending the score to 20-3 with just under 10 minutes to go in the game.
That touchdown by Goff shouldn't have been the Falcons' final cry in the 20-6 loss, but when an offense is shut out the way the Falcons were on Sunday evening in Detroit, that's exactly what that play was.
In the locker room postgame, offensive players agreed that there was something missing in their rhythm. Something that's been missing for three games now. It's a lack of rhythm that has caused the Falcons' missteps in their first two games of the season, but in those games, those stumbles were later righted. There was only the fall this week as the Falcons failed to get in the end zone at any point in Detroit.
What players - and head coach Arthur Smith - expressed frustration in most postgame was the fact that they were in the game, but could never change the game. And to be honest, they said, any offensive production at all would have changed it.
In the third quarter alone, the Falcons defense gave the offense four consecutive chances to change the game. They forced a pair of three-and-outs, a six-play drive that ended in a punt and a Jessie Bates III interception that put the Falcons at midfield for only the third time all afternoon. The offense -- and special teams, too -- didn't do anything when the ball got back in their hands. Younghoe Koo missed a 47-yard field goal after the first stop. The Falcons were forced to punt in the next two drives. And the drive that followed Bates' interception? It ended with a turnover on downs.
The first time the Falcons got inside the red zone was with 5:30 left in the game. By that point, they were out of time, just playing to keep the offensive shutout at bay. It held when the Falcons were called for a delay of game on second down inside the 10, only to have to settle for a short field goal from Koo two plays later.
In a game where Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder was sacked seven times, the Falcons were held to a 2.2 yards per carry average and were 4-of-14 on third down, these offensive moments were too significant to overcome.
The Falcons talk a lot about playing complementary football, but Sunday was the opposite of complementary.
"We understand we need to be better," Falcons offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom said.
The pressure the Detroit defense put on the Atlanta offense was notable. Pressure came so quickly that, Smith said, the Falcons didn't even get a few plays started before Ridder was on the ground. Smith added that the Falcons accumulated too many negative plays on early downs, which he considered to be the story of the game.
"It was a lot of ugly offensive football," Smith said.
Was the defense perfect in the loss? No. The unit had a tough time keeping pressure on Goff early. He had too much time in the pocket. He was never really uncomfortable as he racked up 188 passing yards and an average of nine yards per catch in the first half. But the defense chipped away at him. They didn't sack him but they hit him, nine times to be exact. They kept applying pressure.
The Falcons defense was better in stopping the run than the unit had been through two games. Detroit was also 4-of-14 on third down. So, by the time Goff celebrated his touchdown in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, no one could say the defense didn't at least give the Falcons a chance. It did.
Players know that, it's why Ridder said after the game the Falcons — particularly the offense — "hasn't even skimmed the surface" of what they're "supposed to be."
"We haven't truly played as a full team yet," Ridder said, "whether it's defense doing what it needs to do and creating turnovers and the offense keeping us in the game. We haven't had a game where the defense is awesome and creating turnovers while the offense is creating explosive plays and putting up points, and special teams is changing the field everywhere.
"I feel like we haven't even played a full team game yet. We've had part of games where we have been great on defense or offense or special teams but, for four quarters, we have to put it all together as a team."
The Falcons got away with it against Carolina and Green Bay. They couldn't in Detroit, and they have a 20-6 loss to show for it.
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