There's no sense in shying away from it. Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers was massive.
There were serious playoff implications for both teams. A win would've put the Falcons in legit playoff position, with a tiebreaker over another wild-card contender. A loss, however, provides a serious setback.
The Falcons couldn't keep up with the 49ers on a 31-13 loss on Sunday at Levi's Stadium, falling into a position where making the postseason seems unrealistic. They got overwhelmed in the second half and never recovered, falling two games below .500 with just three games left to play.
Let's get to it, dissecting what happened and where things went wrong. Here are three gut reactions from Sunday's result:
Falcons struggle in key areas
The Falcons had made significant strides on defense and running the football well. Those trends did not continue against the 49ers, which put the visitors in a difficult position, essentially reliant on big plays to move the ball downfield.
They couldn't get things going on the ground, with a lackluster per carry average. They couldn't stop the run, either, with the 49ers taking yards in chunks on the ground. They had a difficult time with tight end George Kittle, who made one big play after another.
The Falcons defense had given up yards but were tough when it mattered most during recent wins. That wasn't the case on Sunday. They struggled preventing third-down conversions and touchdowns in the red zone.
They played poorly in the red zone, with three turnovers on downs inside the San Francisco 10 yard line.
That played a role in things getting out of control in the second half. The Falcons struggled in a huge game, which produced an unwelcome result that pushed the team way, way back in the playoff race. While they aren't mathematically eliminated, the Falcons are in a spot where playoff talk doesn't hold much weight.
Falcons not at 49ers talent level
The 49ers have some real star power, with Nick Bosa, George Kittle and Fred Warner ranked among the league's best at their positions. They've also got solid depth, with a talent level the Falcons can't match.
That's no shock considering the state of the Falcons, a team in transition working under a new regime while dealing with significant salary-cap issues. They were underdogs in this one and appropriately so, with the team needing to play better than the sum of its parts to contend.
That didn't happen on Sunday in a gotta-have-it contest. The Falcons found themselves down two scores early in the second half, with mistakes they simply couldn't afford to beat a team like the 49ers. Getting down and into obvious passing situation left Matt Ryan vulnerable to an excellent pass rush.
That made a comeback more difficult and left the Falcons in a difficult spot. They haven't been able to beat teams with superior talent levels this season and this was another instance where the team struggled against a quality opponent.
It also shows that the Falcons need talent upgrades at several spots to take the next step. That shouldn't be considered a hot take. The Falcons are a team in transition and have some offseason work to do.
Their offensive and defensive schemes are good. Terry Fontenot has to find more players to execute them well.
Early opportunities missed
This game wasn't won or lost early in the first quarter. Let's get that out of the way first. But it was an impactful stretch.
The Falcons had great field position and good field position on their first two series and came away with just three points. Qadree Ollison forced a fumble on the opening kickoff recovered by Richie Grant, but the Falcons turned it over on downs at the 1-yard line. They had a touchdown overturned upon review and came away with nothing. Then the defense forced a three-and-out and got the ball back in 49ers territory. The offense moved a little bit but ended up taking a 48-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo.
The Falcons should've had 10 points. Could've had more, which would've changed the game's early tone. They ended up tying the game later in the second quarter and entered the second half down one score, but every point matters in a big game. The Falcons needed to come away with more from that early stretch, which could've helped keep the game from going downhill as it did in the second half.
Call for questions
Let's fill up the mailbag with this result fresh in your minds. Submit your questions right here for inclusion in Monday's Bair Mail.
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