For the second consecutive week, the Atlanta Falcons offense took a majority of the game before coming alive.
However, this time it would be too late. The Falcons trailed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the entire game and, despite three first-half turnovers, were able hold Tampa to two field goals and a 13-3 lead at halftime.
Atlanta's defense was even more stout in the second half, capitalizing on a sloppy and slow field to drown out the Buccaneers' running game, but the offense did not do its part until just nine minutes were left on the game clock in the final quarter.
Matt Ryan has proven time and time again that he is a magician when he has control of the offense, but the Falcons lack of effective offense for the majority of game play is what is killing them. Their offensive line especially has been lackluster.
Ryan led the Falcons down to the Tampa Bay red zone, trailing 16-10, with a chance to score a touchdown and give the Falcons the lead.
However, a costly holding penalty negated field position and forced Atlanta to settle for a field goal. Tampa Bay would hold onto the ball the rest of the way and take a 16-13 win, as Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris registered his first victory over the Falcons.
Here are five things we learned from the contest.
The Falcons came into this game with numbers in their favor. Michael Turner was coming off two straight 100-yard rushing games, and Tampa Bay would field a rush defense that ranked 31st in the NFL.
Atlanta only ran the ball 15 times today. Their rushing total: just 30 yards. A solid two yards per carry.
The Falcons rushing attack is fool's gold. Turner breaks big time runs on occasion and somehow finds ways to squeak out 100-yard performances.
But, the Falcons, for the past few seasons, have struggled to dictate tempo with their rushing attack. The past three games have been perfect examples.
This isn't a running game that is imposing. Turner gets hit in the backfield, or at the line of scrimmage, way too often.
The problem is that the offensive line just is not commanding enough, and Atlanta still doesn't have a change-up tailback who can put pressure on the edge of the defense.
Atlanta desperately needs that.
On the flipside, Matt Ryan threw 47 passes against the Buccaneers today.
Forty-seven is way too high of a number. The Falcons need balance.
Nevertheless, Ryan has continued to prove fans wrong during games. As soon as people start to complain about his performance, a light comes on in his head.
Ryan was flawless in the fourth quarter, running the no-huddle and five-wide offense with ease. His understanding of coverages and situations created by a faster tempo is excellent.
Roddy White had a costly drop that could have been the go-ahead touchdown.
Because of that, and a holding penalty on Justin Blalock, fans will quickly forget just how good Ryan was again today.
This guy has led comeback after comeback in these situations, but Atlanta doesn't need to keep putting him in these situations.
The Falcons must find balance in their offense. If they do that, the sky is the limit.
The Falcons have now allowed 13 sacks in just three games.
Matt Ryan has been way too good to deserve the punishment and constant beating he has received.
As well, the running game suffers because more often than not the Falcons are not getting a push or blocking cleanly.
Again, that puts the pressure on Ryan to sling the ball around to win the game. That's what caught up with Atlanta today.
Todd McClure, a veteran and Falcons great, had a muffed snap today. Justin Blalock had the costly holding penatly. On multiple occasions, the line let interior defensive players straight into the backfield.
We know losing Harvey Dahl would hurt some, but the current cast and crew has been abysmal and consistently hindering.
The Falcons defense gave up 30 points and 31 points, respectively, in their first two games this season.
On the road again against a potent offense, the Falcons defense was stout in only allowing 295 total yards and 16 points, with 10 of those points coming off of Atlanta turnovers.
They still are struggling to get the quarterback on the ground, but pressure is improving.
The thing that stuck out the most was the fact the front seven was very good in surrounding the ball carrier on run plays.
Pass coverage, even with a slow pass rush, was good enough to force Freeman to make check downs all day.
This defense is young, fast and talented, and should continue to become a strength. A return of Jonathan Babineaux, who's possibly one of the more underrated players in the league, and Kelvin Hayden could really bolster this group.
On the final drive of the game, Falcons safety William Moore left his feet and led with his helmet and shoulder to hit Josh Freeman during a scramble for a first down.
Moore's facemask met Freeman's, and for some reason we will never know the officials failed to throw a flag.
I was shaking my head with disgust once again.
How would anyone in their right mind lay a hit like that after their fellow teammate, Dunta Robinson, has been guilty of it in the form of fines by the league?
Fox color analyst Brian Billick actually tried to justify the hit, but he must have failed to see that Moore did not show his arms, while simultaneously leaving his feet and trying to induce violent contact.
Freeman was not falling up or down, which is usually the focal point of counter arguments in these situations. As a defender, it's nearly impossible to judge how much a player's head is going to move from the time you begin to tackle and the time you hit them.
But, Freeman was upright and facing Moore. Moore laid a dirty blow and should be fined.
NFL players and teams need to find a way to reevaluate and reteach the art of true football tackling. The new brand of "hitting" is not worth the risk of injury.