Falcons bumbling into final stretch

Posted Dec. 05, 2011 @ 3:44 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

Winning five of six games, with the only loss during the stretch coming in overtime to the Saints, might have led some to believe that the Falcons would surge into the playoffs after faltering early in the season.

However, crucial errors from players the Falcons have made major investments in set the team back in a 17-10 Week 13 loss to the Texans. The mistakes showed a lack of focus and discipline, exposing the underlying issues that have plagued the Falcons for much of the season.

Two defensive touchdowns by Atlanta were negated by penalties, including one where high-paid CB Dunta Robinson and 2010 first-round pick OLB Sean Weatherspoon were each flagged for holding on the same play.

Then, rookie WR Julio Jones made multiple errors on the game's final drive, costing Atlanta as it tried to tie the game. With the clock running and less than a minute to play, Jones took his time getting back to the line of scrimmage before Matt Ryan spiked the ball to kill the clock with 36 seconds left. Jones gained 20 yards on a pass from Ryan on the next play to give Atlanta 1st-and-10 from the Texans' 25-yard-line, and Ryan went to Jones again on the final play of the game. Ryan heaved the ball into the endzone and Jones had a chance to make the catch but dropped it with CB Kareem Jackson defending him, sealing a loss for the 7-5 Falcons, who are still in the lead for a wild-card spot heading into a Week 14 game at Carolina.

The PFW Spin

With the Bears, Lions and Giants all mired in losing streaks and a manageable four games remaining on their schedule (the Saints are the only opponent left for Atlanta with a record above .500), the Falcons still have a great chance to make the postseason for the second consecutive season.

They could be in for a rude awakening if they get there, however. The Falcons' mistakes are correctable, but the fact they are still trying to correct them heading into the final quarter of the season is a concern.

There were warning signs in each of the two games that preceded Sunday's loss. The Falcons won both times, but failed to do so without allowing big leads to be chipped away.

The Falcons won by a comfortable 10 points in Week 12, but their 17-point lead against the Vikings, who were without RB Adrian Peterson, was cut to three in the fourth quarter and Atlanta needed a late touchdown for some breathing room. The Titans, the Falcons' Week 11 opponent, were breaking in Jake Locker at quarterback as they rallied from a 20-point third-quarter deficit and made things interesting in the fourth quarter before ultimately losing to Atlanta, 23-17.

The Falcons are not playing complete games. They didn't get it done against Houston, and that kind of performance certainly isn't going to be enough to do anything significant in the playoffs.

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