PHILADELPHIA — The Atlanta Falcons needed a red zone touchdown. It just didn’t happen.
Throughout the season, there were moments when the Falcons’ high-octane offense just couldn’t punch it into the end zone. That figured to catch up to them at some point, and it certainly did in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff matchup with the Eagles.
The moment was set up for Matt Ryan to respond with one of those signature, game-winning drives that earned him the nickname “Matty Ice.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t find top target Julio Jones on fourth-and-goal from the Eagles’ 2-yard line in the final moments, allowing the Eagles to subsequently run out the clock in a 15-10 triumph.
As Ryan sprinted out right to make the play, Jones slipped to the ground. But Jones was able to get to his feet in time to make an attempt at the ball Ryan sailed toward him, with cornerback Jalen Mills in coverage.
“That’s a play we practice all the time,” Ryan said afterward. “Certainly in those situations you want to go to your best players. You know, obviously rolled to the right and had an opportunity to Julio. It just didn’t work out, and that’s disappointing.”
Rather than a return trip to the Super Bowl following last season’s disappointment against the New England Patriots, now the Falcons go home wondering what could have been.
The defense made tremendous strides under first-year coordinator Marquand Manuel. And while the offense had its moments here and there, much of the scrutiny will fall on first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian for not carrying on the explosive attack former coordinator Kyle Shanahan established over the previous two seasons. The season ended with the Falcons going 0-7 in games where they failed to score 20 points, including the playoffs.
“There’s a lot of things that Sark has brought to our team that we really like,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It would take a long time to go through things that I really like. It’s easy to place blame all on one person; it’s a shared responsibility when we don’t achieve the way we would like to.”
Forcing the Eagles into a couple of turnovers figured to be the Falcons’ recipe for success on Saturday, much like it was in last week’s wild-card victory at the Los Angeles Rams. But the offense just couldn’t take full advantage, as the Falcons went 1-of-3 in the red zone. Had they gone even 2-of-3, they’d be playing in next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
The Falcons managed just 281 total yards of offense. Two more yards on the touchdown attempt from Ryan to Jones would have earned them a victory and a shot at a second consecutive NFC title. And many will wonder why the Falcons didn’t attempt to run the ball on the final drive, particularly considering how their failure to run the ball in Super Bowl LI led to their demise.
Now the Falcons have the offseason to ponder how to get back into title contention. The defense appears to be in good hands with Manuel leading the way. In terms of the offense, change is expected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Sarkisian. In fact, the players seem to fully support their offensive coordinator.
“It was Sark’s first year here with us, and it was great,” Jones said. “It was a great experience. We just have to keep building off of it, at the end of the day. .. It’s just all of us, though. It never was on just Sark. … We’re family here. We’re going to fight for each other.”