INGLEWOOD, CALIF. -- For two weeks in a row, the Falcons have put themselves in the position to win a game. For two weeks in a row, they've lost. And for two weeks in a row, two lines in the stat book played a major factor in said losses.
When the Saints were on the opposite side of the field in Week 1, the Falcons had a 50 percent touchdown conversion rate in the red zone. They were 2-for-4.
Meanwhile, the Saints scored all three times when they got inside the 20-yard line.
"We don't capitalize. We settle for three. Those usually add up," Arthur Smith said after the loss. "You get into the fourth quarter, it comes down and play here and there. I mean, there's a lot of little things that add up."
Red zone inefficiencies "usually come back to hurt you," he continued.
Fast forward a week, and the same song and dance happened in Los Angeles.
This time, the Falcons were on the other end of a fourth quarter comeback, taking a 31-10 lead by the Rams and shrinking it to the - would be - final score of 31-27.
Again, the Falcons went 2-for-4 in the red zone. The Rams - on the other hand - were 4-for-5. The Falcons also had a 30 percent conversion rate on third down, not unlike their 38 percent conversion rate against the Saints. In a game that - once again - came down to a final, long-shot chance in the fourth quarter to win the game, it begs the question if these numbers are discouraging because they were the difference in yet another loss for the Falcons.
Smith is right: When the heat of the fourth quarter is on, it usually comes down to a play here or a play there that decides the victor. But the Falcons lost on Sunday not because they couldn't connect on a Hail Mary throw. They lost because they didn't score a touchdown until well into the third quarter.
After the game, offensive lineman Jake Matthews said the goal of football is to score touchdowns. It's not kick field goals. It's to get in the endzone.
"We're not in the game to kick field goals. We're in it to score touchdowns," Matthews said. "We have to score more points to win, and that's the bottom line."
More so, there's the issue of cleanliness in the red area, too. The Falcons knew going into Sunday's game that they were going to get the reigning Super Bowl champions "best shot." They knew their own best shot had to be one that was clean. There is no room for errors, particularly ones that play a part in taking away points.
Too often the Falcons shot themselves in the foot with an untimely penalty in the red zone. Take the first drive as an example:
The Falcons did a fine job moving the ball downfield, but on third and six inside the red zone, Chris Lindstrom is called for a false start. A play later, Marcus Mariota is sacked. Then, Younghoe Koo misses a 44-yard field goal. So, in essence, you have a productive opening drive that yields no points.
Two series later, another redzone penalty (this time holding on Drew Dalman) put Atlanta in a third and long situation already down by 14. They settled for a short field goal from Koo, but a 14-3 deficit feels very different than a 14-7 deficit. Just like a 31-27 loss feels different than a 32-31 win.
When prompted about how crucial these stat lines are when a game is so closely contested down the stretch, Smith said, "There are things we have to clean up, and we will... Guys made plays late and gave us a shot."
Before this Smith said the Falcons didn't play a perfect game but "need a breakthrough." But as we've seen for two weeks now, one play isn't perhaps the breakthrough the Falcons need.
While a win or a loss doesn't necessarily come down to one singular play, it can come down to a lack of execution when it counts, and every trip to the red zone counts.
After two weeks, two losses and two 50 percent red zone touchdown conversions, that is what the Falcons have to clean up.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams in the second game of 2022.