PHILADELPHIA — The Atlanta Falcons nearly won a Super Bowl a year ago behind the NFL’s most potent offence.
It was that side of the ball that ended their chances to get to the big game again.
Atlanta managed only 10 first-half 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 off-season,” 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 highest-scoring team last season, but its lowest production was in a 24-15 defeat to the Eagles. The offence 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 defence 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.”