The Atlanta Falcons will be heading into their bye week with plenty of time to review the tape on this game. I believe it's safe to say that the Falcons were out coached, out played and just physically beaten in all aspects of the game. In the first half, the two teams looked almost like mirror images of one another. It's what happened around half-time that made the difference.
Tied at 10 with five minutes left in the half, the Falcons systematically drove down field and on 1st-and-10 from the NE 31, running back Michael Turner fumbled the ball. It was recovered by New England and that was the second to last time in the game the Falcons threatened to score the rest of the day.
The Patriots payed special attention to tight end Tony Gonzalez on Sunday. They kept him bracketed all day to avoid being forced to deal with him down the field.
"Every time I play against him (Coach Belichick), it seems like I am going to get bracketed." said Gonzalez who was held to one catch for 16 yards. "It was expected and obviously it is not a good thing for me, although it gets everyone else open."
There is the main problem. The receiving core let Gonzalez down. I can't say all of them, as Michael Jenkins had the game I predicted he would have in my pre-game write-up. The problem was Roddy White. A training camp hold out, White signed his new deal and hasn't played to it's value. He dropped a couple of passes that would have kept the chains moving.
Michael Jenkins had a great game. He had a 36-yard touchdown called back on an offensive pass interference call in the 3rd quarter that would have put the Falcons up 17-16. Some of the officials calls really left me scratching my head yesterday. The Jenkins penalty was merited but so were a couple of others exactly like it that were not called. The NFL rulebook is too vague and generalized and left up to interpretation. It really takes a lot of the fun out of the game. Like professional boxing, the NFL is heading down a slippery slope with the officials/referees.
STAT OF THE DAY
Five and a half minutes. To be exact, 5:33 seconds. That's how long the Falcons possessed the ball in the 2nd half of the game. On their four 2nd half possessions, the Falcons acquired all of two 1st downs.Neither accomplished on 3rd down.
KEEPING IT REAL
Wide Receiver Brian Finneran may have had the best quote of the day. It pretty well sums it all up.
"We made some mistakes. The fumble and penalties cost us." said Finneran. "After the penalty on Jenkins, the momentum shifted. We had an offside after that and before you knew it we were punting the ball."
I hear a lot of team and coach speak after every game. It's refreshing to know someone in the locker room echoes the sentiments of the fan base.That punt signified the end of the Falcons putting up a fight. The play calls were very vanilla and the players just looked outmatched on the field. Coach Smith wants a physical team that wins battles in the trenches. The search continues for that aspect of the Falcons game.
Normally, I wouldn't even mention this topic. The NFL is so hush hush about their men in black and white. But this is becoming a problem. As the game has progressed, so should the officials. I understand the rules have become much more complicated but the officials are just doing a poor job so far this season. Look no further than this game against the Patriots. There were several times both Gonzalez and Abraham were held in the open eyes of officials and never called. I watched the Monday Night game with Dallas and Carolina and I realize it's not limited to just the Falcons. The NFL needs to put these guys on a 365 day a year payroll and ensure that the right calls are made on the field. To date, I've never seen a worse call than what I list below.
MOST IRONIC PLAY OF THE GAME
This was a tough one. As poorly as this game was officiated there were several solid candidates here. The Falcons had to challenge a batted down pass to avoid a fumble call by the officials. Stevie Wonder could see that wasn't a fumble, but not the officials. On most Falcons offensive possessions, the zebras didn't blow the whistle until several seconds after the play was obviously over. However they were quick to blow the whistle when the Patriots had the ball.
The one that floored me was defensive end Jamaal Anderson getting a roughing the passer penalty. First off, it wasn't roughing. Jamaal did what he normally does and gently touched Brady followed by falling to the ground. But, the real kicker was he actually touched Tom Brady! It's almost worth the 15 yards to hear his name and the quarterbacks in the same sentence. Next time Jamaal, make sure you rough the QB if you're going to get flagged for it. Brady shrugged off the contact without thought.
WHO LOOKED GOOD
WR Michael Jenkins—I have been scratching my head the first month of the season about this guy. He's become the best pass catching receiver on the team but gets so little consideration for the ball. I realize with players like White, Turner and Gonzalez he gets overlooked. But, if the Falcons are to succeed they need to get the ball in this guys hands more often. His hands are much more reliable than star Roddy White. he lacks Whites dazzling speed and agility, but he comes down with the ball. And at 6'4" he's a big target.
MLB Curtis Lofton—Anytime you finish with 13 tackles you're doing something right. If the front four could produce more push a LB like Lofton would be a Pro Bowler. More on the front four later.
FS Thomas DeCoud—He is the first player I've ever been so torn about I listed him as both a stud and a dud. He was all over the field and made some nice pass deflections.
LCB Brian Williams—He had the tough task of Randy Moss most of the game. He did a great job overall. Moss will one day be in Canton and keeping him out of the end zone is always a plus.
WHO LOOKED BAD
The entire defensive line—I could list them one by one but what's the point. They all looked terrible. In the first half, they did get some pressure and forced Brady to make a few errant throws. But in the 2nd half they were just physically dominated. The Patriots ran the ball at will and Brady sat comfortably in the pocket all day long. This must be corrected for the Falcons to have a shot at the playoffs.
RB Michael Turner—Is it me, or his he just not in football shape yet? At the start of the season he stated that he works his way into playing shape as the season progresses. He needs to hurry up. Without Norwood backing him up, teams realize they can stack the box without concern of the speedy Norwood coming in on screen plays. So their game plan doesn't have to change.
WR Roddy White—He signs his new contract and reverts to the 2006 version. He can't make the catches anymore and when he does, he can't keep his footing to turn it up field. He averages less than half his 2008 yards per catch totals. He missed a very key 3rd down conversion in the 2nd half where he both fell, and missed the ball. He needs to show he hasn't become lazy with his new paycheck.
WLB Mike Peterson—After two stellar weeks of play, this week he was a non-factor.If anyone can step up and get this defense playing inspired it's the guy that has it mastered. We have a lot of young players going into their first and second years of the defense. Players like Peterson and Brian Williams needs to really enforce the hard nosed defense they once boasted in Jacksonville under Coach Smith.
FS Thomas DeCoud—Last week I made Lofton a goat because he missed an underhand pass from Jake Delhomme for a quick pick six. This week, DeCoud had two passes that he should have picked off. He was in position which is a plus, but even one turnover may have been the momentum change the Falcons needed. Great players make great plays. He needs to show he can be a great player in this league. The greatest defenses in the NFL have a great safety in the back.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
In every loss, there is always a goat. This week we have some pretty good candidates. But the obvious one has to be Coach Mike Smith. He was out coached by Bill Belichick. He made no halftime adjustments, he challenged a fumble without consulting it first with his booth team and he punted on every possession in the 2nd half. In contrast, the Patriots went for three fourth down plays and converted them all. No guts, no glory.
When I asked Rich Gannon last week about the no-huddle offense he stated that we would see it Sunday. And we did! That said, all it takes is one incomplete pass to get the guys back in the huddle. It was hard to believe. In the first half, it was used perfectly. The Falcons drove down the field and scored both times Ryan called the plays at the line. After one incomplete pass, it disappeared.
The Falcons need Jerious Norwood. He may have the best hands on the team. Ryan struggled to get anyone to catch the ball Sunday.
Matt Ryan needs to throw downfield more often. Make defenses respect the deep ball and get the off the line of scrimmage. It's nice to have Gonzalez for the short to intermediate plays, but safeties do not fear the deep ball. It allows them to come down hard on the line and force plays out of their gaps.
Backup receiver and current special teams ace Eric Weems has been the most consistent player on the field. He took his opportunity the way Roddy White should take his paycheck. Make the best of it!
Coach Brian Van Gorder really needs to add something to this defense to make then stand out in the league. Currently, they rarely blitz, stunt or man up on receivers. The defensive line has played poorly the past two games and when that happens, it doesn't matter if you have 10 players covering the field. Give a solid quarterback time and he will make you pay. We will see what adjustments are made after the bye week.
Well, there is the bye week plan. Find a way to run the ball and stop the run. We have been told about the process and lets just hope the process includes more physical play from the entire team.