The Atlanta Falcons fell to 0-5 on Sunday, and no NFL team in the modern era has ever made the playoffs after starting the year with five straight losses.
Heading into the 2020 season, the talk around the Falcons centered around whether the defense could keep that second-half momentum from 2019 going.
The defense, if you recall, was at the center of turnaround, as the Falcons went 6-2 down the stretch. While the turnaround was impressive, Falcons owner Arthur Blank made his expectations for 2020 clear following a second straight 7-9 finish.
"We want to find ourselves back in the playoffs this coming year," Blank said. He also said that his "preference certainly would be to start fast and to be able to finish fast as well."
While one can only imagine what Blank was thinking as the Falcons trotted off the field following their 23-16 loss to division rival Carolina (3-2) on Sunday, the question now is, where do the Falcons go from here?
The problem with the Falcons is, there's no one problem to fix.
Everyone wants to point at the head coach, but what ails the Falcons is much deeper, much more extensive than that. And I'll start right where the first five games have been decided – on the field with the players.
As anyone who's read any column I’ve ever written for this site or Straight from the Beek on a regular basis knows I've been a staunch supporter of quarterback Matt Ryan. And he's been the Falcons' most consistent player through the first four games.
But I can't defend the throw Ryan made against the Panthers in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Down 20-13 with 8:55 left, the Falcons had a chance to tie the game or take the lead. On third-and-4 from the Panthers 5-yard line, Ryan threw right into coverage and cornerback Juston Burris made the easiest interception of his five-year career in the back of the end zone.
Ryan also missed a wide-open Hayden Hurst twice in the end zone, the most glaring one coming on a second-and-8 on the Panthers' 13-yard line with 14:57 left. The Falcons eventually settled for 31-yard field goal. Following the game, Ryan ultimately took responsibility for his part in the loss.
It wasn't just Ryan on Sunday who made mistakes. Ryan, who completed 21 of 37 passes for just 226 yards, had a number of well-thrown balls dropped against the Panthers, too, including back-to-back drops by Todd Gurley and Russell Gage that killed a drive in the second quarter when the Falcons were up 7-3.
And every week it's been some_thing_ or some_one_ different that's gone wrong with this team.
In a Week 1 loss to the Seahawks, Russell Wilson was darn-near perfect as he completed 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a 38-25 loss.
In Week 2, the Falcons jumped out to 20-0 lead on the Cowboys after forcing four fumbles and recovering three of them. But the defense wilted in the second half as Dallas scored 30 second-half points. And, even then, Atlanta still had a shot to win but couldn't recover an onside kick.
Someone – anyone – needed to make a play and didn't in the end.
In Week 3 against the Bears, the Falcons led 26-10 heading into the final quarter and still lost. Everyone will point at the defense blowing another big lead, but the offense's inability to make a drive when it mattered most in crunch time hurt just as much. Ryan threw eight straight incompletions over five offensive series in the second half.
Heading into Green Bay, the much-maligned Falcons offensive line had played well. After surrendering 50 sacks in 2019, Ryan had only been sacked five times in three games. Against the Packers, Ryan was under duress a lot – he was hit seven times and sacked four times.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Panthers, the Falcons defense was ranked 31st in yards and points allowed and Atlanta's secondary, depleted by injuries, led the NFL with 13 TD passes allowed.
Atlanta was also without Julio Jones, their best player, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury. The Falcons are now 5-12 without Jones in the lineup.
I could go on but won't. The list is long and there's plenty blame to go around.
And it's definitely not just one problem.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers with top photos from inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 5.