It can't all be for nothing.
That's how the Falcons must feel this morning. The team that was 10 yards away from representing the NFC in last year's Super Bowl was set to be one of the top four teams in the NFC heading into the season. Poised to repeat as division champs, and gun for the NFC title, this Falcons team is so far away from that.
Forget Super Bowl, NFC Championships or even the playoffs. This team can't even win a game against anyone that isn't the St. Louis Rams.
In a game in which the New York Jets' offense had been pretty inconsistent all season, you'd never know that was the case, as rookie Geno Smith made short work of the banged up and and inexperienced Falcons defense.
The first quarter featured only one score and three possessions, two by the Falcons and one by the Jets. Unlike seemingly every week, the Falcons offense was not in a rhythm on their first drive and failed to score any points.
The Jets opened up their night by adding a field goal, before the Falcons offense finally went to work. The Falcons mixed up their play calling and worked their way into their favorite place this season, the red zone (sarcasm). But this time, the Falcons would convert on Dirk Koetter's patented shovel pass to Jason Snelling play the put the Falcons up 7-3 and really got the home crowd into the game.
But on the next drive, Geno Smith began what would be a true assault on the Falcons defense. The rookie had easily the best game of his career against what is turning out to be one of the worst defensive units in the league (in spite of all the injuries, it's still bad).
Smith only had four incompletions, going 16/20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was an outstanding 147.7.
The Falcons secondary left Smith's receivers wide open all night, and even though the Falcons were able to get some pressure on Smith, including sacking him on this drive, it didn't phase him. On third and 11, Smith threw a 20 yard bullet to the end zone, on a night when he was missing top target Santonio Holmes, it didn't seem to matter.
The Jets were up 10-7 at this point.
From there, it was all Jets, even though, just like last week, the Falcons made it interesting.
One drive will be criticized in this town for weeks. After allowing Geno Smith to cut through the defense like a butcher slicing raw meat for another touchdown, taking a 17-7 lead, the Falcons had a chance to answer closing out the half.
The Falcons executed a long drive and got back into the red zone, and once again, it was where everything fell apart. The Jets tried to help out with two bad penalties that extended the Falcons chances to score when it should have been a turn over downs. With time running out, Coach Smith decided to try and go for the touchdown as opposed to kicking a field goal.
On the final play of the half at the one yard line on fourth down, the Falcons went for it and rushed the football. But not with Jason Snelling, who without Steven Jackson, should be the red zone running back. Instead they went with the much smaller Jacquizz Rodgers right up the middle who was immediately stuffed at the goal line.
The Georgia Dome lost its collective mind and booed the Falcons all the way to the locker room for the poor play calling.
But then the Falcons woke up in the third quarter. They destroyed Geno Smith on the Jets' opening drive, including an electrifying sack by Osi Umenyiora to force a three and out.
The Falcons responded by executing a great drive that featured a lot of Tony Gonzalez, and ended with Jacquizz Rodgers sprinting four yards to the outside, not up the middle, for the touchdown.
This made it 17-14 Jets, and unlike every other week this season, the Falcons started off the second half swinging.
The Jets would add on a field goal to go up 20-14 to close out the third quarter.
The Falcons defense though would have no more answers for the Jets offense. On the Jets opening drive of the fourth quarter, they scored on four plays to go up 27-14. These were all rushing plays in which the run defense, which had been the one bright spot of the defense this year, was shredded.
As a team, the Jets rushed for 118 yards. Individually none of the rushers were too effective, but they kept going with the run and on that particular drive, and it most certainly paid off.
Down by two scores, the Falcons did come back and even exercised some more red zone demons by scoring in the red zone on their last drive of the game, something they hadn't been able to do in any of the previous weeks to go up 28-27 with under two minutes left to play. The Falcons offense actually played well in the second half, and Matt Ryan had another good game, going 36/45 for 319 yards for two touchdowns.
Julio Jones also turned in another spectacular performance, including an incredible one handed catch for 46 yards on the Falcons final drive that was instrumental in taking the lead. He had eight catches for 99 yards.
But the Falcons porous defense was the unit that let the team down. On the Jets final drive, they offered little to no resistance, as Smith went 5-5 on the final drive, setting up kicker Nick Folk who banged in a 43 yard field goal as time expired.
Instead of sending pressure, which had forced four sacks against Smith, Mike Nolan chose to play prevent defense with one of the league's worst secondaries on this drive. This killed any chance the Falcons had of stopping Smith and the Jets. Had Nolan decided to send pressure instead, it could have been a different outcome.
Despite some good individual performances from Ryan, Jones and Gonzalez, the Falcons defense is so banged up and so inexperienced that opposing offenses are having field days against them.
The decision to go for it to close out the first half also looms large. Had the Falcons just kicked the field goal, the Jets would have had to score a touchdown to win the game. Instead, all the Jets had to do was get in good position to kick a field goal, and that's exactly what they did.
After another disappointing, close loss, it appears that the Falcons are good enough to play with anyone (at least so far), they're just not good enough to win.
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