These short takes are presented as a companion to the Falcons-Browns game column, which can be found on myajc. The Falcons lost, somehow, 26-24.
1. When did Mike Smith become so bad at managing the clock? Maybe we forget that he called timeout too soon (at 0:13) before Matt Bryant’s winning field goal against Seattle in the playoffs in January 2013 and left the Seahawks time — after a bizzare short kickoff — to throw into the end zone. Maybe the Falcons’ astonishing record in one-score games (29-12) in one-score games over a five-year span masked the flaw. But the Falcons’ coach has butchered time management twice in 28 days. His team stopped the clock for the Lions twice in London on Oct. 26 and did it again for the Browns on Sunday. The Falcons lost both on last-second field goals. If that’s not cause-and-effect, I don’t know what is. It’s also the difference between 6-5 and 4-7.
2. When did the Falcons’ offense become a liability? The team’s purported strength wasn’t so robust against the NFL’s 22nd-ranked defense. The Browns pressured Matt Ryan from the first, sacking him three times and inducing a lost fumble. He completed 27 of 43 passes, but for only 273 yards. Play-action fakes should work against such an aggressive defense, but the Falcons couldn’t run the ball — 63 yards rushing against the league’s third-worst run defense — and play-action without a running threat is an empty promise. Julio Jones scored his first touchdown since Week 3 against Tampa Bay but looks more and more like just another good receiver. (Targeted 13 times, he caught five passes for 68 yards. Cornerback Joe Haden won this battle.) The Falcons even needed a mulligan to kick the go-ahead field goal. After Brian Hoyer’s first interception of the final five minutes, they made one first down before punting. After the second, they moved only 20 yards to Matt Bryant’s 53-yarder — and left 44 seconds for Hoyer.
3. Playoffs? We’re still talking playoffs? Should the Saints lose their Monday-nighter against the Ravens, the Falcons will again be atop the world’s worst division. But here’s all we need to know about their claim, tenuous as it is, to legitimacy. They’re 0-7 against teams outside the NFC South. The Browns tried everything in their power to give away this game, and the Falcons were incapable of taking it. Up next: Arizona, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, none of which are bad teams and none of which are from the NFC South.