Defense, injuries sink Atlanta Falcons in 41-28 loss


The Atlanta Falcons are trying to win games with a combination of high-flying offense and a lack of exposure for their sub-par defense. On the road in optimal conditions against the Minnesota Vikings, that plan likely wasn’t going to work. Even without the superior talent of Adrian Peterson, and a backup rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings were still able to keep their punter off the field until well into the third quarter. That’s never a good sign for an Atlanta defense that is struggling to be simply average, and in the end, the Vikings were able to steal a 41-28 victory.

Minnesota opened up the scoring with a quick, almost surgical drive down the field in the first quarter for a Matt Asiata rushing touchdown. Down 7-0, Matt Ryan responded by leading a long drive from his own 29, and capped it off with a touchdown throw to Roddy White. Minnesota struck right back with a five play drive that ended again in a Matt Asiata rushing touchdown. After one quarter, the big takeaway for most fans was how badly the Atlanta defense seemed to be at stopping the run. Even without Adrian Peterson. One can only speculate how much of a disaster it would have been with him in the game. I’m guessing pretty bad.

In the second quarter, the Falcons again tied the game on an almost five and a half minute drive that culminated in a wide open touchdown throw to the fullback Patrick DiMarco. It’s not every day you see a fullback catch a pass for a touchdown, and that was a perfect playcall by the Falcons coaching staff. So with the score 14-14, the Falcons probably felt they could breathe a little easier. They’d weathered the early storm and gotten back into the game. However, Teddy Bridgewater had other ideas.

On the next possession, Teddy Bridgewater completed 19 and 21 yard passes for conversions, then ran in a 13 yard scramble for a Vikings touchdown. That would make it 21-14 Vikings. The Falcons offense had an untimely three-and-out in their next series, meaning they had to punt back to Minnesota with 1:25 left in the half. The Vikings looked like they were willing to run out the clock in their own half, so Mike Smith made the confusing decision to call his timeouts. Yet, his defense hadn’t made a stop all day.

That decision would prove to be a mistake. The Vikings converted their first down and got into a groove. Bridgewater completed not one, not two, but three long passes to move the Vikings down into first and goal range. On the next play, they thought they ran the ball in for a touchdown, but the replay official overturned the call. Fortunately for the Falcons, that overturned call led to a Vikings field goal instead of a touchdown, as the clock was going to expire. Going into the half, the Falcons almost felt fortunate to be down by only ten points.

For a Falcons team already feeling the momentum swing away from them in the first half, it was imperative for them to come out and establish their offense in the second half. The Vikings got the ball first, but the Falcons defense held them to just another field goal. Matt Ryan had bigger plans. Flinging the ball all over the field, Matt eventually found Devin Hester on a short pass that the ex-Chicago player busted open for a 36-yard touchdown score. The Falcons defense stepped up again for another stop, and Antone Smith got to be a hero by going 48 yards for a touchdown, and the 28-27 lead.

Would that be good enough to seal the game for the Falcons? With this defense? What are you kidding me? Of course not. Teddy Bridgewater carved up the Falcons defense with two 20+ yard passes in a row, and that set up another Matt Asiata touchdown. If you’re the guy that had Matt Asiata on your fantasy team, you’re probably rubbing yourself down with dollar bills right now. Oh, and the Vikings made a two-point conversion to cap that off, so it was now 35-28 bad guys.

Lost in the shuffle here was how many injuries the Falcons had in this game. Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, and Lamar Holmes all went down from the offensive line. Also, William Moore went down on the defensive side of the ball. The offensive line injuries were the biggest concern since the Falcons already had problems with depth in those positions. As the game wound down, Matt Ryan found himself running for his life simply because the starting blockers weren’t there to bail him out. I promised I wouldn’t blame the GM for lack of depth and injuries, but I’m very close. So close.

With Matt trying not to die on the field, the Falcons didn’t really stand much of a chance. The Vikings got the ball back after a sputtering offensive effort, and they drove down the field just far enough to get a 55-yard field goal by Blair Walsh. The fact it was my old UGA favorite really put the dagger in my heart for this game. I hate to watch losses, but I hate it even more when it’s due to bad defense even after a ton of Falcons breaks. Down ten points, the Falcons had about four minutes left for a last gasp, but Matt Ryan immediately threw an interception so he wouldn’t keep getting hit anymore. That’s your ballgame.

I’m not sure what to say after a game where the Falcons were supposed to win, and on top of that they lost the game and a ton of players to injury. It’s very reminescent to me of the UGA/Tennessee game of 2013 where players just started getting hurt in droves. The difference there was that UGA eventually won. The Falcons weren’t so lucky. The Vikings finished with over 550 yards of offense. I’m struggling to find a game you can win giving up that many yards as a defense. I don’t think it’s possible unless you score 50 points.

Bleeding, blistered, and bruised to both body and ego, the Falcons have to now limp to New York to play the Giants next. They’ll need to find some depth fast in order to survive that trip to the Big Apple. Stay tuned.