“We’ve got to get our road mentality right,” Quinn said. “This one stinks.”
The Falcons were in an early hole at Indianapolis as receivers ran free through their zone coverages, Matt Ryan tossed another interception and they committed penalties. Man, did they commit penalties: 16 of them for 128 yards.
“That’s like another running back out in the game,” Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said.
Add those penalty yards to the 379 yards of offense for the Colts and it’s a wonder the Falcons were even in it. The Colts gained seven first downs by way of penalty. It happened four times on third downs.
One explanation for all those penalties is that the Falcons lacked focus. That case is supported by five pre-snap penalties and one personal foul (not including Keanu Neal's penalty for understandably slamming his helmet in frustration after he suffered an Achilles injury).
» PHOTOS: Falcons rally in Indy falls short
Another possibility for the excessive flags is that the Falcons grabbed and clutched because they were over-matched. That theory is borne out by the three offensive holds and two defensive holds. That’s not so easy to fix.
Despite their sloppy play, the Falcons still had a chance to win. They slogged through a 16-play, 78-yard touchdown drive to pull within 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. Finally, they’d put pressure on the Colts.
But Indianapolis responded with an 11-play touchdown drive. A second-and-15 early in the 75-yard drive became second-and-10 when Falcons tackle Grady Jarrett jumped offside. A third-and-10 stop near midfield was wiped out by a holding penalty on cornerback Damontae Kazee.
The Falcons came back with another long touchdown drive, capped by an acrobatic touchdown catch by Julio Jones. That drive lasted 10 plays and took 10:49. It would have been shorter and easier if not for four penalties called against the offensive line.
Again, Quinn’s defense couldn’t hold. The final drive started and ended with plays that befuddled the Falcons in the second half: bootleg passes by Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The key play was running Marlon Mack’s 26-yard run off right end.
“This one hurts because we didn’t play well,” Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “Defense, we had a chance to get off (the field) and didn’t’ get off .”
It’s going to be even harder for the Falcons to play good defense if Neal is out for an extended period. Quinn said he didn’t have information on the severity of Neal’s injury. The player’s emotional reaction suggests the news won’t be good. Neal suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2018 opener and the Falcons missed his tackling and physical style of play.
The Falcons are thin at safety without Neal. They signed veteran J.J. Wilcox as a free agent, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first training-camp practice.
“All I can do as the captain of the defense is just lead and make sure that everybody is doing their part and holding up to their standard,” Allen said. “And when they are not, we’ve got to correct it and we’ve got to come together and keep fighting.”
There’s plenty for the Falcons to correct after Sunday. It wasn’t just the defense. The offensive line was having a pretty good day until all those penalties in the fourth quarter. Ryan’s Inexplicable Interception counter is up to at least four on the season. With the Falcons trailing 10-0 he threw late and high to tight end Luke Stocker for a pick near the goal line .
But most of the problems were on Quinn’s side of the ball. His group didn’t look very coordinated in the first half. Quinn twice called timeout twice because players weren’t properly aligned. Colts receivers found a lot of room in the secondary.
The Falcons kicked a field goal 2:13 before halftime to trim the lead to 13-3 They were getting the ball first after it. Stop the Colts and score again and the Falcons be within one score of the lead. Instead, the Colts marched 64 yards in 10 plays for another touchdown while converting two third downs on, of course, Falcons penalties.
One of the flags was for too many Falcons on the field. Quinn got caught trying to substitute when the Colts didn’t huddle. It was another example of the defensive coordinator letting the head coach down. It also was vice versa. No wonder the Falcons are 1-2.