On the Atlanta Falcons' first offensive play on Sunday afternoon, quarterback Matt Ryan handed off to running back Steven Jackson and No. 39 took the carry through a hole in the left side of the line for a gain of 14 yards and the first down near midfield.
It was exactly the type of start the Falcons were looking for as they sought to bounce back from back-to-back losses on the road.
But that was about as good as things would get for Atlanta on Sunday afternoon. The drive led to a field goal that give the Falcons their only lead of the game. Chicago followed with 13 unanswered points to take the lead and though Atlanta tied it in the third, the Bears pulled ahead late in the quarter and the fourth was all Chicago as they cruised to a 27-13 victory.
After his 14-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, SJ got just five more touches the rest of the afternoon and finished with just six carries —the lowest total in a game he played in full since his rookie year— and 25 yards rushing. As a group, Atlanta's running back unit managed just 42 yards on 11 carries.
After the game, coach Mike Smith noted that the struggling Falcons offense put the play callers in position where they could not properly utilize the run, especially once they fell behind in the game.
"I thought that we got into a situation where we got behind. We weren't successful running the football on first and second down. We ended up having five third and ten pluses. We weren't on schedule on first and second down. We weren't efficient in run downs. We've got to be much better in that. We've got to get ourselves on schedule."
Atlanta was on schedule on the opening drive, as SJ39 in particular was running with passion. After his 14-yard run on the first play, SJ got two more carries and picked up three yards on each putting him at 20 for the afternoon, one in which he hoped to close in on a personal milestone while helping his team to victory.
Steven entered Sunday's game just 81 yards shy of becoming the 19th player in NFL history to rush for 11,000 yards in his career. After his three carries on the opening drive, No. 39 was already within 61 of the mark. And his 20 yards on that first drive helped set up a 52-yard Matt Bryant field goal to put the Falcons ahead.
After a Bears punt, the Falcons took over at their own 12 and Ryan handed to SJ39 on the first play of the ensuing drive, but Chicago loaded the box and got a linebacker through the line untouched to contact Steven in the backfield. He got away from that hit, but it slowed him down enough that he could not get anywhere else and was stuffed at the line for no gain.
On the very next play, Ryan targeted SJ wide open over the middle for a screen pass, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and never made its way to No. 39. The Falcons couldn't come up with anything from there on 3rd and long and were forced to punt.
Chicago's ensuing drive carried the game into the second quarter and brought the Bears deep into Atlanta territory. But the Falcons defense stiffened in the red zone, forcing a 25-yard field goal from Robbie Gould that tied the game at 3-3.
Though SJ was on the sidelines for the next drive, the Falcons were able to break into Bears territory on their next drive, but it stalled near the 40 and Ryan was sacked on 3rd & 7 from the Chicago 36, which knocked Atlanta out of field goal range and forced a punt.
The Bears followed with a seven-play, 79-yard drive, culminating in a three-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Josh Morgan to put Chicago in front 10-3.
Steven got his fifth carry of the day on the first play of Atlanta's next drive and fought for four yards to get the Falcons started. However, after Ryan hit Roddy White for a gain of 15 and a first down on the next play, three straight incomplete passes forced a punt.
"We have got to play better, first and foremost, I think across the board," Ryan said after the game. "We've had opportunities really in the past two weeks to make more plays than we have. I don't think we have to reinvent the wheel; we just have to play better. Starting with myself, when there's opportunities to convert and make plays, we've got to do it."
Chicago again drove deep into Atlanta territory on their next drive, but had to settle for a field goal that sent the game to halftime 13-3.
The Falcons did come out strong to start the second half as Ryan engineered a seven-play, 86-yard drive capped by a screen pass that Antone Smith took 41 yards for a touchdown.
After Atlanta forced a punt, Ryan piloted another strong drive. SJ got his last carry of the day during the 10-play trip into Bears territory, a 2nd & 10 run behind left guard that was stopped after just one yard. The drive stalled one series later, but the Falcons were in field goal range and a 54 yarder from Bryant knotted the score at 13.
However, the Bears didn't need much time to answer back. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Cutler found Alshon Jeffrey deep down the field for a 74-yard strike that put the Bears at the Atlanta six. Matt Forte finished it off with a touchdown run on the next play to put Chicago ahead for good.
The Falcons offense went three-and out after the go-ahead score by the Bears and Chicago followed with a 15-play, 87-yard drive that soaked up nearly half of the 18-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game. That trip was also capped by a Forte touchdown to give the Bears a 27-13 lead with 10:07 remaining.
Atlanta had three chances to answer in the fourth, but the Falcons managed just 36 total yards over the three drives. With the run game unable to get going and the offensive line unable to protect Ryan, each drive proved fruitless.
The loss marked Atlanta's third straight, all on the heels of one of the biggest wins in franchise history, a 58-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football. In that game, all three phases of the Falcons were clicking.
Ever since, Atlanta has struggled to find a rhythm in any phase of the game. But the players have pledged to keep on working until they find the formula for success again.
"I know the guys on this team are professionals," Falcons guard Justin Blalock said. "Everyone is going to take a good look at the film and put this one behind us. You have to have a short-term memory in this game and the guys in here will. We'll watch this, put it to bed, and hopefully make the corrections and go out and execute."
Atlanta's next chance to do that comes back out on the road this Sunday as the Falcons (2-4) head to Baltimore to face the Ravens (4-2).
Steven will enter the game now just 56 yards shy of the 11,000-yard mark and 24 away from passing Warrick Dunn for 19th on the all-time NFL rushing list.
Kickoff of Sunday's encounter in Baltimore is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. EDT and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Falcons React, Respond After Loss to Bears (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 13, 2014)
- ‘To-Do' List Set as Falcons Look to Right Ship (AtlantaFalcons.com, October 13, 2014)
- Cutler's aerial attack leads Bears over Falcons (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 12, 2014)
- Falcons' big-name offense misfires amid dropped passes (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 12, 2014)
- Falcons bring losing ways home to Atlanta (Fox Sports South, October 13, 2014)
- Falcons Offense Drops Ball Against Bears (ESPN, October 13, 2014)
- Atlanta looks out of sorts in 27-13 home loss to Chicago (The Falcoholic, October 12, 2014)
- Falcons continue free fall at home (Blogging Dirty, October 12, 2014)