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Tabeek: After jarring loss, Falcons must find answer quickly

The Falcons literally needed just one player to want the ball in their hands with the game on the line


This one was a punch to the gut.

The players felt it. The coaches did. And Atlanta Falcons fans everywhere are probably besides themselves right now, too.

Sunday's game looked like it was over early. Like, in the first quarter. Everything was going right as the Falcons jumped out to commanding 20-point lead over the Dallas Cowboys in the first quarter. Even at halftime they were still up 19 points.

The route was on, and the Falcons were well on their way to picking up that much-needed first win of the year.

Inexplicably, it never happened.

While the reasons are many and will be talked about and dissected in the coming days, weeks and maybe even years, the Falcons ended up falling to the Cowboys, 40-39, as kicker Greg Zuerlein booted a 46-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation.

Game over, and Falcons fans everywhere were left thinking, "What just happened?"

Like any big comeback, you can point to a number of plays. You can have a number of "what if" questions. But it really boils down to this: The Falcons literally needed just one player to want the ball in their hands with the game on the line.

They were that close on the onside kick to a victory today. Instead, a Cowboy found a way to take the ball and the game.

When Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley aren't on the field for the game deciding plays, who is going to make that play? Like I said, there are a lot of plays you could point to this week, last week and in several games going back to last year. But that one onside kick seems like a good analogy for the answer the Falcons need to find: Who is going to take the ball when Ryan and Co. are not on the field?

I mean, the Falcons did not commit a single turnover, forced three Cowboys turnovers, controlled the time possession 33:48 to the Cowboys' 26:12 and were even a perfect 2-for-2 on fourth downs. Ryan, Ridley, Hayden Hurst and Foye Oluokun all played terrific games, too, and yet they still managed to lose.

And by the way, that's never happened before. Before Sunday's game, teams were 440-0 when scoring 39 points with zero turnovers since 1933, when team turnovers were first tracked, according to Elias Sports Bureau (see below).

The Cowboys also made some history of their own.

That hurts.

Despite some of those individual performances, this game will forever be remembered for the Falcons' 20-point collapse. For Falcons fans, it'll be probably mentioned right up there with another collapse in Texas, although this one isn't nearly as damaging.

But I don't want to sugarcoat this one, either. The Falcons have some problems that need to be addressed and, once again, most of them stem from the defensive side of the ball.

Creating four turnovers is great, but you can't allow an opposing quarterback to complete 19 of 28 passes for 312 yards and a touchdown in the second half and expect to win a whole lot of games. Aside from Grady Jarrett (and Foye Oluokun today), who is going to consistently make some plays?

Someone, anyone, please stand up. Or at least jump on a spinning ball to win the game.

Look, I could go deeper into the game here and write about how the game slowly fell apart for the Falcons, but we all saw it. There's no need to do that, the wounds are fresh and it would accomplish nothing.

But I will ask this question: Where do the Falcons go from here?

The answer is painfully obvious. Atlanta (0-2) must beat the Chicago Bears (2-0) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next Sunday. The only thing that will erase the sting of these first two games, is to start stacking up some wins.

And some more playmakers must emerge in the process. And it can't always be Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Grady Jarrett to save the day. If the Falcons are going to be contenders in 2020, it'll take much more than that foursome.

Right now, everyone is going to have to live with the pain of this one.

It caught us all off guard, and the jarring manner in which it unfolded, hurt almost as much as the loss did. Sucker punches usually do.

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