Falcons flop, lose momentum after ugly 28-16 loss to Browns
CLEVELAND (AP) — Quarterback Matt Ryan packed his belongings, left Atlanta’s subdued locker room and slowly walked down the corridor toward the team bus, pulling his wheeled luggage.
He and the Falcons may have left their playoff hopes behind.
Their three-game winning streak came to a screeching halt Sunday with a 28-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns, who put together one of their best all-around games in years against an Atlanta team that had seemingly turned its season around following a 1-4 start.
But the Falcons (4-5) committed a costly turnover in the second half, gave up a Cleveland-record-breaking 92-yard touchdown run to Georgia native Nick Chubb, and failed to execute on a critical trip to the red zone when the game was still winnable.
Afterward, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn was at a loss to explain his team’s puzzling performance.
“I thought we had made some improvement and some progress, so it’s a setback,” Quinn said. “I like the fight of our guys. I know we’ll come back to fight. When you miss an opportunity, whether it’s a team that people on the outside say you should win or one people think the other way, I go into it and think you can get them all. When you don’t get that done, for sure it stinks.”
It was shocking considering the Falcons were coming off a well-balanced win over Washington last week and had fought their way back into contention in the NFC South.
“It was disappointing,” said Ryan, whose solid stats (38 of 52 for 330 yards and two touchdowns) obscured other offensive issues. “Obviously, you have to give credit to Cleveland. I thought they played really well and made a lot of good plays. We fell short and did not make enough plays when we needed to. We didn’t play up to the standard that we are capable to playing.
“We need to do that as we move forward and get ready for next week. We have got to play better.”
Despite their problems, the Falcons were only down 14-10 at halftime, and with their high-powered offense, a comeback seemed inevitable against the Browns (3-6-1), who had dropped four in a row.
Atlanta got the ball to start the third quarter and got a 23-yard completion from Ryan to Julio Jones on the first play. After an 8-yard loss, Ryan connected on a 4-yard pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who fumbled after a hit by Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie.
Cleveland recovered at Atlanta’s 41 and quickly drove for a touchdown as rookie QB Baker Mayfield hit Duke Johnson for an 11-yard score to give the Browns a 21-10 lead.
Sanu’s fumble had given the momentum right back to the Browns, but while they were shaky, the Falcons still seemed OK when they pinned Cleveland at its 8 after a punt.
The worst was yet to come.
On second down, Chubb found a crease on Atlanta’s right side, cut toward the sideline and outran several Falcons to the end zone on the longest rushing play in Cleveland history — and the longest by any rookie since 1949.
As Chubb raced by, Quinn, Ryan and everyone else dressed in black and red on the Atlanta sideline could only watch helplessly as any thoughts of a comeback completely vanished.
Quinn didn’t want to speculate on what went wrong on the play. Suffice to say, little went right.
Still, the Falcons were hanging around in the fourth quarter when a series of head-scratching plays perhaps best sized up their day.
Atlanta drove to Cleveland’s 6 before a short pass was followed by two runs up the middle that were stopped by the Browns short of the end zone. Then, on fourth down and inches from a TD, Ryan was inexplicably in the shotgun before he threw a pass toward third-string tight end Eric Saubert, who had no chance of making a catch.
Ryan’s choice of targets was peculiar given his other options: Jones, Sanu and tight end Alex Hooper, who caught 10 passes. Even a running play made more sense.
The hard-to-understand performance and loss overshadowed a personal milestone for Jones, who reached 10,000 career yards receiving faster than any player in NFL history.
“It’s always tough when you lose,” said Jones, who had seven catches for 107 yards and one TD. “We can make up stuff here and there, but at the end of the day it’s on us. I’m going to keep saying that we can play better and we can do better, but with opportunities and things like that, we have to do better. That’s it. That’s the bottom line. We just have to get back to work.”