10 Plays That Ruined the Atlanta Falcons' 2013 Season
The Atlanta Falcons' 2013 season hasn't been pretty, but one of the beautiful things about professional football is that it is truly a game of inches.
It may sound like coach-speak, but regardless of what the final score says, most NFL matchups are often determined based on what happens in four or five plays during the game.
With that in mind, we looked at the tape and took things a step further by identifying one play from every one of Atlanta's 10 losses this season that we feel did most to determine the outcome each contest.
Are we saying that Atlanta would be 14-0 if these plays had gone differently? No.
However, we are offering evidence to support the conclusion that even though you may be what your record says you are in the NFL, there's still a very thin line between success and failure in this league.
Join us as we review the 10 plays that ruined the Atlanta Falcons' 2013 season.
All statistics are via NFL.com.
Week 1, 2nd Quarter: Julio Jones' Fumble Gives Momentum to Saints
Atlanta jumped out to a 10-0 lead in New Orleans before the Saints got on the board with a field goal to cut the Falcons' lead to 10-3.
Saints safety Roman Harper recovered the fumble and returned the ball to the Atlanta 31-yard line. Two plays later, Drew Brees found Marques Colston in the end zone to tie the game.
New Orleans outscored Atlanta 13-7 from that point on, but you can't help but wonder how the game would have played out if Atlanta hadn't lost its momentum on Jones' second-quarter fumble.
Week 3, 3rd Quarter: Harry Douglas Fumbles Punt Return in Atlanta Territory
Atlanta couldn't seem to get out of its own way against the Miami Dolphins, but the team still held a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter.
Fresh off an impressive sequence by Atlanta's defense that put Miami behind the sticks, the Dolphins were forced to punt to the Falcons and give Atlanta a chance to extend its lead back into double digits.
That's when things went wrong for the Falcons. Then Falcons punt returner Harry Douglas fielded the punt after it had bounced twice on the ground and fumbled after taking a big hit from a Miami defender.
The Dolphins recovered Douglas' fumble and tied the game shortly after that, when quarterback Ryan Tannehill found Brian Hartline in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Falcons went on to lose 27-23.
Prior to Douglas' fumble, you had the feeling that the Falcons would win this game if they got the lead back up to double digits, because they looked like the better team.
Week 4, 4th Quarter: Patriots Convert 3rd-and-19 from Their 12-Yard Line
The script seemed to set up perfectly for the Falcons. They hadn't played their best football, but they were only down 13-10 at home to the Patriots, and New England faced a 3rd-and-19 from its 12-yard line.
With a stop, Atlanta would likely get the ball with great field position and have an opportunity to tie the game with a field goal at the very least.
Instead, three Falcons defenders stopped short of the first-down marker when they dropped into coverage, and Patriots receiver Kenbrell Thompkins slipped behind them to haul in a 26-yard catch from Tom Brady.
After a penalty on Falcons safety William Moore tacked on 15 more yards, Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount burst through Atlanta's defense for a 47-yard touchdown run that put the Pats up 20-10.
Although the Falcons rallied late in the game, this sequence proved to be too much for Atlanta to overcome.
Week 5, 2nd Quarter: Jets Stuff Falcons on 4th-and-Goal
Trailing the Jets 17-7 in the second quarter, the Falcons faced a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line just before the end of the first half.
Although the Jets were set to get the ball first after intermission, the Falcons opted to pass up a short field goal and try to score a touchdown.
The Jets stopped the Falcons on their first attempt, but a penalty on New York gave the Falcons a second chance.
Even after catching that break, Atlanta still chose to go for the touchdown with a Jacquizz Rodgers run behind the right side of Atlanta's line (Falcons fans roll their eyes collectively).
Not surprisingly, Rodgers got stuffed and the Falcons were subsequently booed off their home field as they headed to the locker room.
Atlanta rallied in the second half again, but the Jets came out on top 30-28 thanks to a game-winning field goal by Jets kicker Nick Folk.
Things may have played out a little differently down the stretch in this game if Atlanta had kicked a field goal before the half, but the Jets probably would've found a way to win anyway with the way Atlanta's defense played this game.
This is still the Jets' only road victory of the season and the best statistical performance of Jets quarterback Geno Smith's career.
Week 8, 2nd Quarter: Andre Ellington Breaks Free for 80-Yard Touchdown Run
The Falcons still had a glimmer of hope coming into this game a week after they beat the Buccaneers to pull their record to 2-4.
Cardinals running back Andre Ellington helped that hope fade away when he broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run that turned the tide in what had been a 7-6 game in the second quarter.
Once Arizona went up 14-6 behind Ellington's run, the Cardinals never looked back and ending up winning 27-13.
The Falcons had fought hard to stay within a point of a Cardinals team that has been a difficult matchup for Atlanta lately, but the rout was on once Ellington scored.
Week 9, 4th Quarter: Panthers Recover Their Red-Zone Fumble
This play was probably the best illustration of how Atlanta's season has gone in 2013.
However, Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel was able to strip LaFell of the ball, and Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford appeared to be in perfect position to fall on the fumble.
Instead, the ball fortuitously bounced into LaFell's arms, who was able to recover it himself.
Cam Newton scored a touchdown on an eight-yard run on the next play, and Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence got a pick-six off Matt Ryan two plays into Atlanta's ensuing possession.
In a matter of minutes, the Falcons went from possibly thwarting a Panthers scoring drive and getting the ball back with a chance to tie the game, to being down 31-10.
That's 2013 for you, Atlanta fans.
Week 10, 2nd Quarter: Seahawks Score Touchdown on 43-Yard Flea-Flicker
Seattle controlled this game from the opening kickoff, but Atlanta was able to hang around until this play broke things open.
After a Falcons field goal cut Seattle's lead to 6-3, the Seahawks only needed two plays to score the game's first touchdown and take the lead up to double digits, where it would remain for the rest of the afternoon.
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch powered his way through Atlanta's defense for a 37-yard gain immediately before Seattle dialed up a perfectly executed flea-flicker that ended with Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse catching a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson over Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud.
Seattle went up 13-3 and went on to beat Atlanta soundly 33-10.
Atlanta probably wasn't going to win this game, but it may have been closer if it hadn't allowed Seattle to seize all of the momentum with this play.
Week 11, 2nd Quarter: Bucs Intercept Matt Ryan, Go Up 17-3
Atlanta's Week 11 loss in Tampa Bay got out of hand quickly, and this play definitely helped speed up the process.
Atlanta trailed 10-3 in second quarter, but the Falcons had a little bit of momentum because they had just prevented the Buccaneers from scoring any points after Tampa recovered an onside kick.
Whatever momentum Atlanta had evaporated when Matt Ryan was hit as he threw on Atlanta's next possession, causing his pass to fall short of its target and land in the arms of Bucs linebacker Mason Foster.
Foster returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown to put Tampa up 17-3. The Bucs would take the lead up to 38-6 before Atlanta added a couple of late scores to clean up the final count.
Week 12, 4th Quarter: Darius Johnson Fumbles Away Atlanta's Chances
Bad things always seem to happen to the Falcons when they play the Saints. This time history repeated itself as a fumble by a Falcons receiver turned the tide for New Orleans.
Atlanta trailed 17-13 in the fourth quarter, but the Falcons had put together a nice drive deep into Saints territory, when wide receiver Darius Johnson fumbled the ball around the New Orleans 20-yard line and gave possession back to the Saints.
At the time of Johnson's fumble, Atlanta could have even kicked a field goal and had time to get the ball again to kick another one for the win.
New Orleans held on for the victory and sent the Falcons to their fifth straight loss.
Week 14, 4th Quarter: Packers Sack Matt Ryan, Recover Key Fumble
Even with a lukewarm performance by their offense in the second half, the Falcons still held a 21-16 lead over the Packers in the fourth quarter of this Week 14 game at Lambeau Field.
That changed when Falcons rookie tackle Ryan Schraeder was beaten off the edge by Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal, who sacked Matt Ryan and forced a game-changing fumble deep in Atlanta territory.
Green Bay recovered Ryan's fumble and scored a few plays later, when Matt Flynn hit Andrew Quarless in the end zone to put Green Bay up 22-21.
Atlanta had its chances to win later in this game, but this play was the difference-maker in a Green Bay victory.