Atlanta, GA – The seconds were ticking down on the clock. The crowd in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium was roaring, with some members nervously watching the action. There was a feeling of nervous, excited energy surrounding the crowd.
The Atlanta Falcons (3-2) were driving down the field, down 20-17 to the Miami Dolphins (3-2) and with 47 seconds left on the clock and the football on Miami 26-yard line, it appeared that the Falcons would win the game or at worst, kick a short field goal and go into overtime. Then disaster struck. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw a pass down the middle of the field, intended for tight end Austin Hooper but the pass was intercepted by Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, sealing the victory for Miami. Ryan spoke after the game about the interception.
“I mean, it’s always disappointing when you don’t get the result that you want when you fall short,” said Ryan. “I thought we did a nice job of executing to get ourselves down into that situation. I felt like I made the right read in that situation, put it where I wanted to, and that’s how the game goes sometimes. I’m disappointed with it, but we’re going to continue to battle, and I think we’ll be better for it and hopefully more mentally and physically tough as a football team moving forward.”
Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn spoke after the game about the second half collapse and the loss. “We had a tale of two halves. Coming off of our bye, I was pleased with the preparation heading in, and we were hoping to see more energy from our team. I thought we had opportunities today in all three phases, and in the second half we did not own those. This one hurts no doubt, and for us to be the team we know we can be, we’ve got to play more consistently for the whole time.”
By halftime, it looked as if Atlanta would run away with a victory as they were dominating Miami in almost every phase of the game. Atlanta also led by a score of 17-0. In the first half, Atlanta had 233 yards of total offense, intercepted Miami quarterback Jay Cutler and held him to 64 yards passing. They also scored on three of their five offensive possessions in the first half.
The one area that was a cause of concern for Atlanta early on was that Miami was able to seemingly run the ball at will. Running back Jay Ajayi had 11 carries for 71 yards on the ground. This performance on the ground by Ajayi carried into the second half when Miami continue to rely on him, giving him the ball 15 times for 59 yards. Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase spoke after the game about the performance of Ajayi.
“Jay [Ajayi] had some good runs, seeing the holes, breaking tackles, and fought hard for every yard he had,” said Gase. “He makes it really easy to stay with because it is almost like throwing the ball, you know you are going to get some of these 10, 12, and 15-yard runs. He starts hopping around feeling how they are playing him, and he is hard to bring down.”
In the second half, it appeared that Miami had made some major adjustments and were playing with much more intensity and energy than the Falcons did. The Dolphins got off to great start with a 15-play, 75-yard drive that ended in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to wide receiver Kenny Stills that cut the lead to 17-7. Atlanta came out on their first serious and looked a bit out of sorts and went three-and-out. A poor punt by punter Matt Bosher lead to Miami getting the ball on their own 49-yard line. Five plays and 51 yards later, Miami scored another touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Cutler to a wide-open wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
On the next two drives for Atlanta, they were forced to punt and turned the ball over on downs. Conversely for Miami, their next two drives each ended in field goals. Including the game winning 38-yard field goal from Miami kicker Cody Parkey. In the second half, Atlanta seemed out of rhythm, had low energy and was undisciplined as they had four penalties for 53 yards. They seemed to hurt themselves on every offensive drive they had. Ryan spoke about these issues after the game.
“Well, I thought we put ourselves behind schedule,” said Ryan. “You know, the first drive of the second half, I think the first play we got backed up with a sack and did a good job on second and third down, but we were a little bit too far behind the chains to come away with a first down, so that was just an execution standpoint. And then again, on the second drive of the second half, we got into field goal range. We’re down there in field goal range, moving the ball, penalty, and another sack, and we kind of got out of a spot where we could put points on the board. I think that was critical early. I thought we did a nice job at the end of the game getting down into giving ourselves a chance to win that football game, and just a disappointing way that it ended.”
Even though Atlanta lost this game, they are still in the thick off the playoff race. The Carolina Panthers are coming off a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New Orleans Saints have the same record as the Falcons but more importantly, Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers is likely out for the season with a broken collarbone. Without Rodgers, the Packers may struggle to make the playoffs this season. Next week, the Falcons travel to Massachusetts to face off against the formidable New England Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl LI. This will be the first game between these two teams since the Super Bowl.