The Falcons began the day in Miami with an 80-yard march to the end zone, and it looked for all the world as if they would cruise to victory. However, when the dust settled, Atlanta would be heading back home with a 1-2 record after a 27-23 loss.
Matt Ryan engineered that near-flawless opening drive, and he was good (again) in this game. For the day, Ryan finished with 231 yards on 23-for-38 passing, with 2 touchdowns, and 1 interceptions. However, the peak of his day was that opening possession. With that, Ryan, with the help of Tony Gonzalez (who had 4 grabs on the possession) and some quality running game (we’ll come back to this), gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
Following that opening drive, however, it was a see-saw battle between the two teams. The Falcons kicked a field goal on their next possession to grab a 10-0 lead, and with that, continued their sparkling 1st quarter play this season by extending their scoring advantage to 31-0 over the 3 games. The Dolphins fought back with a touchdown drive of their own though, and the two teams exchanged field goals to end the half.
With the regard to the field goal exchange, this one generated a bit of controversy for head coach Mike Smith. It appeared as if Smith was going to send the offense out to go for a 4th-and-1 inside the Dolphins 5-yard line with just over 2 minutes left, but he chose the (rare) safe way out in kicking the field goal prior to the 2-minute warning. Unfortunately, this led to Miami grabbing a bit of momentum back with a quick, field goal drive to cut the lead to 13-10. To be frank, I would’ve gone for it on the 4th down (and said so on Twitter), but it’s tough to fully knock Smith for kicking it. Clock management has failed Smith at times, however, and the result of Atlanta kicking the FG prior to the 2-minute warning was what really burned the Falcons.
Following the halftime break, though, the Falcons responded in a significant way. Osi Umenyiora swung the mojo back toward Atlanta with a crucial sack that caused a fumble by Miami QB Ryan Tannehill, and after Peria Jerry fell on it, the Falcons were set up with tremendous field position. On cue, Ryan took advantage of the fortunate set-up, and found rookie TE Levine Toilolo for his first career touchdown.
The Dolphins would respond, and after a field goal cut the lead to 20-13, the Falcons gave them a window that they were able to walk through. Harry Douglas waved off his teammates from a Miami punt, but elected to field it, and subsequently fumbled it back to the Dolphins on the Atlanta 19-yard line. Then, Tannehill found wide receiver Brian Hartline for a touchdown, and the game was suddenly knotted at 20-20.
Atlanta would follow Miami’s counterpunch with another field goal, but the failure to punch it in to the endzone would cost the Falcons in a decisive way. Tannehill and the Dolphins marched down the field on a 13-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown, and in the process, left Matt Ryan only 38 seconds to go the length of the field. The last-stitch effort from Matty Ice ended in a game-ending interception, and the final, 27-23 result was academic.
This was a brutal way to lose a game, as the Falcons led for the duration of the game until less than 1 minute remained on the clock. In the positive column, the play of the running back duo (Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers) was outstanding, as they combined for 139 yards rushing (on 29 carries) and 65 yards receiving (on 6 catches) to alleviate concern about the absence of Steven Jackson.
Elsewhere, Julio Jones was spectacular again, posting 9 catches for 115 yards, and he was by far the best option for Matt Ryan. Defensively, the pass rush was certainly there at times, as Tannehill went down several times and the defense accounted for 5 sacks. However, pass defense ended up killing Atlanta at an inopportune time, as the pass rush evaporated while the former Texas A&M QB settled in for the game-winning drive.
It’s tough to point to one specific area as the “blame” for the 2nd loss of the season, but either way, the Falcons head home with a sub-.500 record. Next week’s match-up with the Patriots was already big enough, but now, the Birds will be facing the potential of a 1-3 start, and that magnifies next week’s result even more. Stay tuned.