Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons started the 2014-15 season off on a high note, knocking off their division rival New Orleans Saints in an overtime thriller, but as it often does in the National Football League, that jubilation turned to disappointment in Week 2.
On the road, the Falcons simply couldn’t match the big-play Cincinnati Bengals for four quarters, falling 24-10 and to 1-1 on the season. Playing from behind for much of the game, the Falcons were forced to rely on their air attack rather than the ground game.
As a result, quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball 44 times, compared to just 19 rushes for 97 yards the team. More than half of those come from SJax, who carried 11 times for 46 yards to lead the committee of Falcon running backs in rushing yards for the second consecutive game.
While the loss put a damper on the team’s terrific start to the year, Atlanta will have no choice but to forget the defeat and move on, as they have a short prep week ahead of their Thursday night tilt against Tampa Bay.
“They beat us in offense, defense, special teams and coaching,” said head coach Mike Smith. “We’ve got to get back to work as quickly as possible. We have a short week with a division game coming up at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so we’re not going to get an opportunity to make the corrections that we need to address like we would normally do on a seven-day week, but we’ve got to get going and get moving on our next game.”
On the first drive, No. 39 took just two carries for three yards, but a false start penalty caused the drive to stall out after just one first down. After a Matt Bosher punt, Cincinnati manufactured a strong 13-play, 69-yard drive, which was capped off by a 31-yard field goal from Mike Nugent.
The Falcons responded by going to the ground on their next possession. SJ39 and Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 25 rushing yards to put Matt Bryant within field goal range, and with just over a minute left in the first, the Atlanta kicker connected from 46 yards out to tie the game.
The squads then traded a pair of fruitless drives each, until a breakthrough 46-yard reception from Cincy’s Giovani Bernard flipped the field late in the second quarter. The play led directly to the first touchdown of the game—a four-yard run by Bernard to give the Bengals a 10-3 lead.
The Falcons remained down by that touchdown through halftime, but fell behind further early in the second half when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton linked up with receiver Mohamed Sanu on a 76-yard touchdown to double the Cincinnatti lead to 17-3.
As Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said after the game, the Falcons were still very much in the contest at that point. However, consecutive interceptions on the next two drives—and another Cincy touchdown in between—dug the team into a hole heading into the final frame.
“We felt like when we had the opportunities to make a few plays, we needed to make them, and we didn’t do that,” Ryan said. “It was a tough loss, but in this league, it’s about bouncing back and getting on to next week.”
The Falcons bounced back in the fourth quarter by utilizing a balanced attack. SJ39 gave Atlanta life with runs of three and five yards early in the drive to set up a pair of first downs. In all the drive went 77 yards over 10 plays, capped by a 14-yard scoring strike from Ryan to Julio Jones to pull Atlanta back within 14, 24-10.
Though the Falcons provided the final touchdown of the game, they couldn’t muster enough for the comeback. Cincinnati managed to rush for 170 yards and tallied 320 yards through the air, without a turnover, while Atlanta gave the ball up three times.
“It think it’s very obvious that this isn’t the type of performance that you have to have to win a football game,” Smith said. “My hat is off to Cincinnati…They beat us on offense, defense, special teams and coaching. We have to get back to work as quickly as possible.”
For the team in red and black, the game was a lesson learned. It isn’t often that teams are glad to see a short week, but SJ and the Falcons were looking forward for an early opportunity to reverse their fortunes Thursday night.
Rough one today…good thing it’s a short week to get this bad taste out our mouth…
— Steven Jackson (@sj39) September 14, 2014
“We’ll have to look at the film on Tampa,” Ryan explained. “The biggest thing for us right now is getting rest and putting this behind us. We’ll get to the facility tomorrow to watch film and find a way to start fast and play better.”
The Falcons (1-1) will see their second division foe in three weeks Thursday night, when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2).
Atlanta split its season series against the Bucs last year, with a win at home and a loss on the road in Tampa Bay. In the first tilt, SJ was out of the lineup with a hamstring injury, but he returned for Round 2 and tallied 65 all-purpose yards.
Steven has faced the Bucs five times in his career and has a career average of 99.6 yards of total offense per game against Tampa.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:25 EST with live coverage on CBS and the NFL Network.
- Bengals lose Green but beat Falcons 24-10 (AP, Sept. 14, 2014)
- Rapid Reaction: Atlanta Falcons (ESPN, Sept. 14, 2014)
- Bengals Grounded High Flying Falcons (Telegraph-Forum, Sept. 14, 2014)
- Report Card: Ryan had one of his worst games (Atlanta JC, Sept. 15, 2014)
- By the Numbers: Falcons at Bengals (AtlantaFalcons.com, Sept. 14, 2014)
- What they said: Falcons at Bengals (AtlantaFalcons.com, Sept. 15, 2014)