The unbeaten Falcons fall in a distressingly familiar way

Just a reminder: This is what it looks like when a running play succeeds. (AP photo)

Just a reminder: This is how it looks when a running play actually succeeds. (AP photo)

New Orleans — First, a spot of perspective. The Falcons are 8-1 and positioned to win their division. Just because they lost an excruciating game to the hated Saints doesn’t override all the good work that came before. That said …

The good work that came before didn’t include much in the way of short-yardage excellence. And when a team that couldn’t convert on fourth-and-1 on three infamous occasions last season loses its first game of another year due to the same failures, a flag gets hoisted. No, not a white one of surrender, but surely a bright red banner of warning.

“I don’t know what situation you’d rather be in,” said Michael Turner, the feature back who managed 15 yards on 13 rushes Sunday. “You’ve got one yard for the lead.”

“You’ve got to punch the ball in,” said Jacquizz Rodgers, the change-of-pace back whose 18-yard burst had pulled the Falcons within sight of that final yard.

“Of course you (think you’re going to get that yard),” said Harry Douglas, the receiver who barely missed scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a slant on first-and-goal from the 10. “That has to be your approach.”

That the Falcons’ first play from the 1 was a Matt Ryan pass for Tony Gonzalez tells us they weren’t convinced they could push the Saints backward even three feet. (Malcolm Jenkins knocked the ball down in the end zone.) That the third-and-goal call was a handoff to Turner that became yet another damp squib — of his 13 carries, seven either gained nothing or lost yardage — drove home the point:

An 8-0 NFL team could not line up and gain a precious yard against the league’s worst rushing defense.

By losing a yard on third-and-goal, the Falcons had no choice but to pass on fourth down, and again Ryan’s pass was flicked away. This time it was Jabari Greer, flashing in front of Roddy White. The Falcons would get the ball one last time, but their chance to stay unbeaten had come and gone.

Not that staying unbeaten was such a big deal. “That’s a distraction out of the way,” free safety Thomas DeCoud said, and he had a point. Trouble is, the the Falcons never want to lose to the opponent that has beaten the Falcons of Mike Smith seven times in nine tries.

DeCoud again: “That’s the one team you don’t want to have your first loss against.”

That Sunday’s game was a carnival ride surprised no one. Ryan threw for 411 yards, a career best, and if not — stop me if you’ve heard this one — for a failure on third-and-1 on the Falcons’ second series they might have seized a 14-0 lead.The Saints, who can play offense if not D, overrode that early deficit and took an 11-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Falcons cut it to four points with a touchdown and an extra point, Smith choosing (oddly and wrongly) not to go for two with 13:27 remaining.

They would draw within one point on a field goal after an incompletion on third-and-2. The Saints pushed the lead back to four, leaving the door ajar. The Falcons were too weak to kick it in.

Said Smith: “We were not getting the surge we needed on running plays … We did not win the line of scrimmage in the running game.”

Said Todd McClure, the center: “Every third-and-1 (not converted), every fourth-and-1 … I’m sure there’ll be a lot written about it tomorrow and we’ll be (seen as) a terrible offensive line. But we didn’t get it done today.”

For all their skill — the Falcons outgained the sleek Saints — the question remains: Is this team forceful enough? And not just along the O-line: The Falcons’ defense yielded 148 yards rushing and mustered one sack. For eight games people had been saying, “There’s going to come a time when the inability to run the ball and/or stop the run is going to bite this team.” That time arrived Sunday.

“We’ve got to address (the issues in the running game),” Turner said. “We’ve got to fix it. That’s what championship teams do. There’s attitude, there’s scheme … everything’s involved.”

The Falcons are 8-1. They did not become a terrible team by losing one game, but they cannot become a great one until they figure a way to gain a yard when a yard is mandatory. Is Turner too slow? Is the line too feeble? And if the answer, as seems likely, is a combination of the two, how do you work around it?

After every game, win or lose, Mike Smith says of any lapse, “We’ll get it fixed.” His Falcons have seven more games before the playoffs commence, which means …

Clock’s ticking, Smitty.

Further reading: Here’s why Mike Smith should have gone for two.

By Mark Bradley

384 comments Add your comment

hiramsaint

November 11th, 2012
6:22 pm

Hillbilly D

November 11th, 2012
6:23 pm

It’s still line play that wins football games.

hiramsaint

November 11th, 2012
6:23 pm

4 rushing yards against the leagues worst run D? really ?

hiramsaint

November 11th, 2012
6:24 pm

my bad – a whole 46

Mark Bradley

November 11th, 2012
6:27 pm

Kudos, hiramsaint.

Seminole Ed

November 11th, 2012
6:32 pm

This loss rests solely on the shoulders of Ashante Samuel. His insistence on showing his butt after his interception took away a probable touchdown and all the momentum he’d help generate. Think we could have used those four points lost at the end?

If Smith doesn’t suspend/fine/or otherwise discipline, I won’t watch another game this year. Samuel is paid a fortune, and he pulls that stunt?

London Jacket

November 11th, 2012
6:33 pm

They pushed our O-Line around and our D struggles to stop a running game. We are not tough enough in the box right now.

But Gonzo is a genius. Ryan was excellent. But a little too much finesse when we need to pound i tin. Sounds obvious I know given their record but I don’t think the Saints are very good. We did not play that well and still found some way to both stay in and then lose this game.

mountainman

November 11th, 2012
6:34 pm

Turner can only gain yardage when the situation does not call for a run. Otherwise he hits the line and goes down in a heap.

stan

November 11th, 2012
6:35 pm

tip toe turner. 2yds .you got to get it

Hurst

November 11th, 2012
6:35 pm

The Packers, the Bears, the 49ers, and the Seahawks are all better than the Fowl-Clowns in the NFC. The Saints are still coming together and will be better than the Fowl-Clowns by the end of the season. A cupcake schedule gives them a 13-3, maybe even 14-2 record, but it won’t matter as they again go SPLAT! again in the playoffs.

Paul

November 11th, 2012
6:36 pm

First of all, I love the Falcons. I’m a season ticket holder. I’m not hating on them or being a fair weather fan. I still think they win the Division, but I want another Super Bowl appearance. So I’m just making an observation.

I’m not upset with Michael Turner. I’m upset with the coaching staff for continuing to call his number in critical situations when everyone—and I mean everyone—knows it’s coming and it’s going to fail.

If they continue to waste precious downs by giving the the ball to Turner in crucial situations, they will continue to lose. Period.

Humphrey

November 11th, 2012
6:39 pm

Where’s our O-line? They aren’t tough enough. Give Ryan and Turner the O-line of let’s say the 49ers and we’re in business.

ALL DOWN HILL FROM HERE

November 11th, 2012
6:40 pm

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

DHO WAT?

back on track

November 11th, 2012
6:42 pm

The O line is feeble and Turner is too slow. You can’t get in 3rd and 1 situations and not be able to get a yard. Thought this was fixed from last year Smitty?? Defense came out good but you got to know when you’re in the stank, bouty scandal, cheatin city they’re gonna call those unsportsmanlike penalties. Funny how NO did they same thing and nothing was called. And Smitty yelling at Asante seemed to suck the life out of the defense. Why not yell at the O line Smitty when they couldn’t get it done… Shake it off and come back strong next week at home…Go FALCONS…Rise up!!!!

kudzu

November 11th, 2012
6:44 pm

Robert Yancy

November 11th, 2012
6:47 pm

The Falcons inability to convert on short yardage, especially within the red zone, suggests a coaching deficiency. Since it is clear that Michael Turner is unlikely to punch it in, why haven’t we designed some alternative plays that are more likely to succeed. I know. We have. But those don’t seem to be working either…so, back to the drawing board!

Jamaaliver

November 11th, 2012
6:47 pm

We talked waaaay too much smack around here al week. This loss needed to happen to refocus us. No more 16-0 talk. Let’s focus on taking our frustrations out on the Cards. Hey have no shot against us.

Mark, is our offense so dependent on Julio that we’re helpless without him?

Eric C.

November 11th, 2012
6:47 pm

I’m not sure how you can say that not going for 2 was wrong…if the Falcons just get one TD out of those two goal line opportunities, they likely win the game.

SameOldSaints

November 11th, 2012
6:48 pm

This changes nothing. This is still the same old Saints team that everyone knows and despises. They are cheaters ran by a bunch of guys that could fit right into the mob. Doesn’t matter how many games we may lose this season, the important thing is that we’re not them.

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 11th, 2012
6:48 pm

Why not Cox?

Eric C.

November 11th, 2012
6:49 pm

Jamaaliver, agreed…the last thing the Falcons need to do is come out flat against AZ. The Bucs are only 3 games back and within one game of controlling their destiny for the division.

Mark Bradley

November 11th, 2012
6:49 pm

The offense put up 454 yards and coulda/shoulda had 34 points with not much from Julio Jones, jamaaliver. Gonzalez and White had big days.

Hawes

November 11th, 2012
6:51 pm

What’s Ovie Mughelli up to these days?

Bobby

November 11th, 2012
6:52 pm

Thank you Samuel for that 15 yard unsportsmanship penalty that gave you 3 points instead of a possible 7.

We Saints fans living in Georgia appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

1990_Champs_GT

November 11th, 2012
6:53 pm

The Falcons beat themselves. We’ll stomp a mud hole in them in the dome. More worried about getting Spoon back and wiping the floor with the Cards next week.

Chris

November 11th, 2012
7:00 pm

Shoulda pulled this thing out but no harm done as long as we get ‘em when they come here. Let’s keep aints out of the playoffs!

JDWJIM

November 11th, 2012
7:04 pm

Put me in the “loss of distraction” is good camp. Now the pressure of undefeated is gone. That said line play is clearly our area of improvement.

Dbo

November 11th, 2012
7:04 pm

Why not have Matt roll out right or left on some of these, create some confusion and open up receivers. Also what happened to getting Jason Snelling the ball. Whenever he gets the ball on a screen he just wills it forward. Would definitely take it in for a td.

ZACK

November 11th, 2012
7:05 pm

I’M SO SICK AND TIRED OF THIS CRAP! GET TURNER’S FAT AZZ OUT OF THERE ASAP! AND HE HAS THE NERVE TO BE DRINKING DURING THE SEASON (DUI!!!) WHICH ONLY ADDS MORE WEIGHT TO HIS FAT AZZ! WHY NOT GO AFTER STEVEN JACKSON!?! OR IVORY FOR THAT MATTER?!?! THEIR 4TH RB IS CLEARLY BETTER THAN THE FALCONS 1ST AND THAT IS INSANE! EVEN INGRAM’S PUNK AZZ RAN WITH MORE HEART THAN TURNER! THEY ARE GOING TO BLOW THEIR BEST CHANCE AT A SUPER BOWL BY BEING LOYAL TO THAT GLORIFIED PIG OF A FULLBACK! AND WHY NOT QB SNEAK IT 4 DAMN TIMES!?!?? I’M SICK!!!

C. Tampa Ironworse

November 11th, 2012
7:05 pm

You know what’s great about the city of New Orleans?

No…really…does somebody know?

Dbo

November 11th, 2012
7:06 pm

Not very imaginative play calling today. At least let turner get a running start, build some momentum, don’t just hand it to him at the line of scrimmage.

Disgusted Fan

November 11th, 2012
7:06 pm

I am happy to be 8-1, but when the Falcons had the opportunity to put a nail in the coffin of their hated rival in their place, they could not get a yard. Let’s also go back to the previous series when they were inside the 10 yard line and had to settle for field goal. Quick pitch to Rodgers and see. That is the difference betwen a good team and a great team. Let’s hope we learn from this before the playoffs start.

Panic fan

November 11th, 2012
7:06 pm

We are still running turner for no gain on most 1st and 10 to start drives thought this issue left with the last off cord well some one has to change this very bad habit there is no rehab for this addiction

Hurst

November 11th, 2012
7:08 pm

C. Tampa Ironworse, why don’t you ask the millions who visit New Orleans every year? Outside of business conventions, how many does Atlanta get? 25? 30?

Falcaints

November 11th, 2012
7:08 pm

Better to start falling apart now and save the fans the heartbreak of thinking the Falcaints are real. Can’t run, can’t pressure the Qb, can’t cover. Yep that about sums it up.

USMC DAWG

November 11th, 2012
7:12 pm

I am sorry, but Michael Turner is not a very good running back.
He always looks a step too slow and he is totally predictable.
I also think Michael Turner is OVERWEIGHT.
We need to run JASON SNELLING more and get a new, harder running back.

Sam

November 11th, 2012
7:12 pm

The way the falcons played in the redzone, there’s no guarantee that they would’ve had scored a touchdown even if Asante didn’t get flagged. Where was the pass rush today? Brees had all day to throw all day

Gman 84

November 11th, 2012
7:13 pm

Falcons have been very clutch up until today. Even after 3 1 yard failures with the game on the line, the desperation pass with 16 seconds left could’ve easily been a TD. Not sure why Roddy was backpedaling for the game winner that was just a few yards beyond his grasp.

I think you have to admit that the Saints have our number and move on. The next time we stop Brees will be the first.

Man....

November 11th, 2012
7:13 pm

I agree with that point about the sneak. Darn it, just shove it with Ryan four damn times at the goal line. Keep pushing darn it.

USMC DAWG

November 11th, 2012
7:14 pm

Where was the OFFENSIVE LINE today??? Is Baker back to his old ways???

1990_Champs_GT

November 11th, 2012
7:15 pm

Turner is what we’ve got. He’s on the back end of his career now, I think that is obvious. More Snelling and Rodgers is what we need.

fish2774

November 11th, 2012
7:16 pm

It’s time to axe Turner and search for a real change of pace running back!

Cdelly

November 11th, 2012
7:16 pm

@C Tampa……. What’s great about my city of New Orleans.?????… YOURE NOT HERE!!!!!

The Hamburgular

November 11th, 2012
7:17 pm

Turner should wear a ski mask when he picks up his paycheck from Arthur Blank. That gelatinous meatball might be the worst RB in the league. Please fire him now! What a pathetic performance – can’t even manage to gain 1 yard in short yardage. He’s an absolutely useless player.

Jackie

November 11th, 2012
7:17 pm

i simply do not understand why they kept pounding it up the middle. why not run wide, or a draw, anything but a play that u know will fail.

Falcaints

November 11th, 2012
7:18 pm

Rodgers is slow

USMC DAWG

November 11th, 2012
7:18 pm

Jason Snelling runs WAY harder than Michael Turner!

Michael Turner is OVERWEIGHT!

Sav FAN

November 11th, 2012
7:19 pm

the last thing the Falcons need to do is come out flat against AZ. The Bucs are only 3 games back and within one game of controlling their destiny for the division.

they will be flat and lose their 2nd in the dome-if Turner stays at feature back

Gene

November 11th, 2012
7:20 pm

It was a great effort. It won’t be fixed until the Falcons get a big running back who is fast. Surely someone is available.

USMC DAWG

November 11th, 2012
7:20 pm

“Rodgers is slow”

LOL! He was awesome today! Jazz is starting to remind me of Barry Sanders because he can stop on a dime and change directions.