Of­fen­sive fal­ters cost Fal­cons in play­off game against Ea­gles

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - As­so­ci­ated Press Pro Foot­ball Writer By Barry Wil­ner

PHILADEL­PHIA — The At­lanta Fal­cons nearly won a Su­per Bowl a year ago be­hind the NFL’s most po­tent of­fense.

It was that side of the ball that ended their chances to get to the big game again.

At­lanta man­aged only 10 firsthalf points, both com­ing off Philadel­phia turnovers, and lost 15-10 to the Ea­gles on Satur­day. While Philadel­phia ad­vances to the NFC cham­pi­onship game, the Fal­cons (11-7) go home.

“I think that’s cer­tainly some­thing that we have to look at and eval­u­ate this off­sea­son,” Matt Ryan said af­ter con­clud­ing a some­what down sea­son for him in the wake of his 2016 league MVP cam­paign. “There were too many times that we were a lit­tle bit in­con­sis­tent.”

That was ex­em­pli­fied against the Ea­gles (14-3), who like the Fal­cons sput­tered in the red zone. But Philly got three field goals from Jake El­liott and a touch­down run from LeGar­rette Blount.

Most dam­ag­ing for At­lanta was how it came up empty deep in Ea­gles ter­ri­tory on its fi­nal drive. The Fal­cons had first-and-goal at the 9, and got to the 2 on fourth down be­fore Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones soared over his head in the end zone.

“Cer­tainly in those sit­u­a­tions you want to go to your best play­ers,” Ryan ex­plained. “You know, ob­vi­ously rolled to the right and had an op­por­tu­nity to Julio. It just didn’t work out and that’s dis­ap­point­ing.”

At­lanta was the NFL’s high­estscor­ing team last sea­son, but its low­est pro­duc­tion was in a 24-15 de­feat to the Ea­gles. The of­fense wasn’t nearly as pro­duc­tive this sea­son, fall­ing to 15th, from 33.8 points a game to 22.1.

The Fal­cons didn’t come close to their sea­son’s av­er­age, or to the 26 they put on the board in beat­ing the Rams in a wild-card matchup last week­end.

So while the de­fense was vastly im­proved, par­tic­u­larly in the pass rush, the Fal­cons fell flat with the ball far too many times.

“That’s one of the areas we are di­aled in from the be­gin­ning of the sea­son to where how we make sure those aren’t field goals and they turn into touch­downs,” coach Dan Quinn said. “Was there plays that knocked us out? Could we have done bet­ter in the run game down there?

“Those are cer­tainly top­ics we are go­ing to look long and deep into.”

Star re­ceiver Jones had a strong game with nine re­cep­tions for 101 yards. He was tar­geted 16 times. But he couldn’t get free down­field, ex­cept for a 20-yard re­cep­tion on fourth down on the fi­nal drive. For the Fal­cons to be Su­per Bowl threats down the road, Jones must be nearly un­stop­pable.

At­lanta’s run­ning game was spotty against the Ea­gles, too. Sev­eral times, Tevin Cole­man had open lanes and got nice gains. On other plays, he and Devonta Free­man didn’t have an inch to run when Ryan handed off.

Cole­man, usu­ally the backup, had 79 yards on 10 car­ries, with a long of 23. Free­man had only 7 yards on his 10 car­ries.

In con­trast, the Ea­gles ran for 96 yards and had sev­eral big plays on the ground.

Now, the Fal­cons must cope with a much ear­lier and nearly as dra­matic de­feat as what they sus­tained last Fe­bru­ary.

“It’s dif­fi­cult when you get to the play­offs and you’ve put in all the work through­out the year,” Ryan said. “You’re in a com­pet­i­tive game like tonight. There’s a lot of back and forth. It’s dis­ap­point­ing to not get the out­come that you want.

“The fi­nal­ity of it some­times is dif­fi­cult, so we’re dis­ap­pointed for sure.”

Cur­tis Comp­ton / AJC via AP

Philadel­phia Ea­gles de­fen­sive end Bran­don Gra­ham sacks At­lanta Fal­cons quar­ter­back Matt Ryan dur­ing the sec­ond half of the NFC divi­sional play­offs.

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