What happened in Seattle was as close as the NFL gets to a good loss. What happened Sunday in the Dome was an out-and-out bad loss. Favored for the first time since Sept. 11, the Atlanta Falcons blew a 17-point lead and lost to a 2-4 opponent in overtime. The team that entered the game with an 83.1 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Football Outsiders saw its lead in the NFC South pared to a half-game.
Again we note: Having a bad defense is the football equivalent of forever awaiting the dropping of the other shoe. Here were the Chargers’ possessions Sunday after the Falcons seized a 27-10 lead: Touchdown, punt, field goal, touchdown, field goal, field goal. Six series, five scores. The Falcons punted only twice all game, but having a bad defense means any wobble can assume massive importance. The Falcons’ wobbles — they didn’t score a touchdown in the second half or OT; Matt Ryan threw a fourth-quarter interception — became a very big deal.
Dan Quinn was right to go for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime because a team with the NFL’s best offense is a better bet to gain a yard than a team with a crummy defense– in this case, Quinn’s is the same team — is to stop a hot opponent from kicking a measly field goal. You can say, “The Falcons should have run a better play,” and you’d be right, but no play looks good when it doesn’t work. So you’re basically saying, “They should have run a play that worked.” No duh.
(Oh, and here, written for ESPN, is stat man Brian Burke’s defense, so to speak, of Quinn’s decision on this given Sunday. And here was Burke’s criticism of Quinn’s choice to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal against the 49ers last year.)
In seven games, Falcons opponents have scored 26 or more points six times. The exception came in Denver, when the Broncos were forced to use a rookie backup at quarterback. Only three NFL teams have yielded 200 or more points, and all three — Colts, Browns and 49ers — have losing records. The Falcons have yielded 199. They’re 4-3 because their offense, as good as it is, can’t always outscore their defense.
For all who are saying, “They’ll have no chance against Aaron Rodgers this Sunday,” be advised that the Packers’ offense ranks 21st in total yardage and Rodgers is 20th in passer rating. At least on offense, Green Bay hasn’t been itself this year. Alas, the Falcons’ defense has. Another intriguing Sunday awaits.