There are times when it appears the Atlanta Falcons’ offense cannot be slowed, let alone stopped. These were their first six plays from scrimmage against Kansas City on Sunday: Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones for 11 yards; Ryan-to-Jones for 16; Ryan-to-Jones for 17; Devonta Freeman 9-yard rush; Freeman 5-yard rush and Ryan-to-Freeman for 12. Six plays, five first downs, 70 yards.
The seventh play should have yielded another first down — Ryan-to-Gabriel for 10 to the K.C. 1 — but was nullified on a holding call against Jake Matthews. (Iffy call.) Undeterred, the Falcons scored their touchdown anyway. They wouldn’t score another until they trailed 27-16.
As hard as it is to criticize an offense that has been the best part of this team — the best by far, we stipulate — it would be hard to pin Sunday’s 29-28 loss on the defense. The Chiefs’ offense last scored with 7:05 remaining in the second quarter, at which point the game was tied at 13. Here were K.C.’s possessions thereafter: Punt, touchdown off fake punt, punt, punt, end of game. The Chiefs had 17 first downs; the Falcons had 32.
It’s hard to lose a game when you have 32 first downs. (The Falcons’ previous high was 31 in their victory at Tampa Bay; they had 43 points that night.) But the Falcons failed to score touchdowns in half their six red-zone excursions, and two Ryan interceptions — both by the Atlantan Eric Berry — yielded nine points, including the game-winning deuce on a 2-point conversion try after they’d taken a one-point lead.
The only thing the Falcons’ defense did wrong was fail on third-and-6 with two minutes remaining. (Albert Wilson, who’d scored on the fake punt, beat Ricardo Allen on a slant.) The raging offense rang up 418 more yards but fell one point short. Ryan is discussed at much greater length elsewhere, so for the purposes of this post we’ll leave it at this: Don’t go wishing Matty Ice a Berry Christmas.
The Falcons are now tied for first in the NFC South with the aforementioned Buccaneers, whom we’d all left for dead a month ago. The Falcons do have the softer schedule from here on — Tampa Bay has to play at Dallas — but this is no longer a walk in the park.
The Chiefs entered the game with an even lower-ranked defense (28th) than the Falcons’ (27th). The offenses weren’t even close — Falcons were third, Chiefs 27th. But Andy Reid’s crew keeps inventing ways to win, and this time K.C. prevailed with a fake punt and nine points’ worth of Berry-pickin’. The Falcons, alas, invented a way to lose. Several ways, actually.