After spending all week attempting to inject some balance into their offense, the Atlanta Falcons saw their running and passing games bottled up on Sunday in a loss to the Ravens.
Steven Jackson and the Atlanta ground attack were once again stopped in their tracks. SJ turned eight carries into just 22 yards and as a unit the Falcons backs managed just 61 yards on 15 carries. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan was held to a season-low 228 passing yards and one late touchdown in a 29-7 loss in Baltimore.
Afterward Ryan noted that the Falcons, who have now lost four straight games to fall to 2-5 for the season, just have to strive to improve.
"We need to prepare better, practice better and play better," the Atlanta quarterback said. We know what to do, but we haven't done it. I think everybody knows we need to play better, across the board. Everybody on the offense, the lineman, the tight ends, wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks, needs to get better together."
While the Atlanta offense had been scuffling for weeks, those struggles came to a head on Sunday as the stout Baltimore defense shut the Falcons down at every turn. As a team in Sunday's game, Atlanta averaged 4.2 yards per rushing play and 3.8 yards per passing play.
It started out poorly on their first drive of the game. Backed up in their own end, Atlanta came out passing, but Ryan's first throw fell incomplete. On second down, Ryan handed off to SJ39, but he was met in the backfield by an unblocked Ravens defender and taken down for a loss. This put the Falcons in third-and-long and they couldn't convert.
This was the storyline of the day for the Falcons as they could not seem to get anything started on the offensive side of the ball despite the defense coming up with two interceptions on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco was solid early, including on the ensuing drive as he led the Ravens on a five-play march down a short field, aided by two Atlanta penalties, for a touchdown to put Baltimore in front 7-0 just over three minutes into the game.
The Falcons tried to bounce back quickly and went to Steven for two consecutive carries to kick off their next drive. SJ picked up seven yards between his two carries, but a third down pass fell incomplete and another punt followed. The Atlanta defense stepped up from there and forced Baltimore into a three-and-out as well. On the ensuing possession, the Falcons drove into the red zone, but on 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens 17. Ryan was sacked and lost the ball, which was recovered by Baltimore.
The ball wasn't the only thing Atlanta lost on that drive. Center Peter Konz injured his knee on the fourth play of the drive and will miss the rest of the season due to the injury. It was the fourth season-ending injury suffered by a Falcons offensive lineman this year. But Coach Mike Smith refused to use the decimated offensive line as an excuse for the team's struggles on offense.
"There are no excuses. You can talk about losing players, but everybody loses players. It's got to be the 'next man up' mentality. The next guy up has to step in and do the job," he said. We had way too much pressure. Our quarterback was hit and sacked way too much. There were times where we really didn't have a chance to get the play off, and that's very difficult for a quarterback, and we have to do better with our protection."
The Atlanta defense stepped up after the turnover and forced one of their own, the first of two interceptions of Flacco in the game. On the ensuing drive, No. 39 got two more carries but found only five yards between them and the Falcons were forced to punt after picking up only one first down.
After the two teams traded punts, SJ got his sixth carry on the fifth Falcons drive of the afternoon, but that drive ended when Ryan was again sacked on third down.
The Ravens followed with a nine-play touchdown drive to go up 14-0, then forced another Falcons three-and-out and managed to get into range for a field goal to take a 17-0 lead in at halftime. For the half, Atlanta managed just 61 total yards and four first downs, and was 0-for-7 on third down.
"We've just have to keep working. We've got to keep believing," wide receiver Julio Jones said. "It doesn't matter what anyone else says; it's what we do here. We've got to trust each other and trust the process and eventually it will turn around for us."
Baltimore made it an even 20-0 with another field goal at the end of the opening drive of the second half. The ensuing Falcons drive looked promising, but ultimately came undone.
Ryan opened it with a deep pass to Roddy White for a gain of 23 yards and then handed to Steven for a four-yard run on the next play. After a pass to SJ on second down gained three more yards, Ryan found White again for a 15-yard gain and another first down to the Baltimore 35. No. 39 began the next series with a four-yard gain to the Ravens 31.
But after the Ravens bottled up Antone Smith on the next play, Ryan fired incomplete on third down and was sacked again on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs after the team's best drive of the game.
The Falcons finally cracked the scoreboard a few possessions later when Ryan hit White for a four-yard touchdown pass with 7:18 left in the game. But after the Atlanta defense forced a punt the Falcons were pinned deep and on a third down passing attempt, Ryan was sacked in the end zone for a safety. Baltimore followed with a touchdown on the ensuing drive to finish off the Falcons.
Afterward. Steven told reporters that although the Falcons have their backs against the wall, he doesn't plan to stop fighting, nor do his teammates.
"There's only one way to put it back together and that's to stick together," said SJ. "All the men in the locker room – coaches and players – need to stick together, remain positive, and trust that we'll get out of this rut."
Atlanta's next chance to do so began with a flight overseas immediately following Sunday's game. The Falcons (2-5) landed in England early Monday, where they will play the Detroit Lions next Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
Detroit (5-2) has been one of the most impressive teams in the NFL so far this season and enters Week 8 with some momentum after a thrilling 24-23 victory over the Saints last week.
But Atlanta coach Mike Smith said the Falcons can't worry about the status of their opponent and instead need to focus on improving themselves to get back on track.
"We have nine games left and I know every man in that room and every coach in that room will work their [butts] off this week to get prepared to play the Detroit Lions," he said. "I have no doubt what the makeup of these football players and coaches and the organization we have in Atlanta."
Steven will enter the game 34 yards shy of the 11,000-yard mark and only two yards away from passing Warrick Dunn for 19th on the all-time NFL rushing list.
Kickoff from London is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Falcons React to Week 7 Loss to Ravens (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 21, 2014)
- Game Notebook: Falcons at Ravens (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 19, 2014)
- Transcripts: Smith, Ryan Press Conferences (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 19, 2014)
- Falcons must find their once explosive offense (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 19, 2014)
- Falcons lose starting center for season (ESPN, October 19, 2014)