The Falcons thought their offense had the potential to be explosive this season.
Against Chargers, however, the top three weapons -- quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Todd Gurley – were non-factors in the 20-17 loss on Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Ryan tossed three interceptions, Gurley was held to 19 yards rushing and Jones didn’t play because of a hamstring injury. The Chargers converted the final interception into the game-winning field goal at the buzzer.
The Falcons (4-9) are set to host quarterback Tom Brady and Tampa Bay (8-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Matt has been really good with the ball this year and turnovers have not been an issue for us,” Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said on Monday. “But they hurt us in the second half. That was uncharacteristic of this season. He’s been doing a really good job of taking care of the football.”
Ryan has not thrown an interception in five games this season. He hadn’t thrown three in a game since Game 2 of the 2019 season in a 24-20 win over the Eagles.
Koetter is expecting Ryan to rebound.
“We’ll just get back to it,” Koetter said. “I know Matt will be all over his details as he always is.”
Since the bye week, Gurley has played in three games and missed one game with a knee injury. He gained 42 yards in two games against the Saints and only 19 against the Chargers. He missed the win over the Raiders.
Before the bye week, Gurley rushed 159 times for 584 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. In his last three games, he’s rushed 22 times for 61 yards (2.7 yards per carry) and no touchdowns.
“He’s not Number 1,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said of backup Ito Smith. “Todd is number 1, clearly. Ito has definitely been one of our more effective runners in the last couple of weeks. When you’ve seen him get in there and he has the ability to get downhill and get a couple extra yards.”
Koetter said the plan was always to rotate the running backs. Smith has moved past Brian Hill in recent weeks.
“As far as the running back rotation, those numbers you put out, Todd is coming off injury,” Koetter said. “We are going to rotate those guys. We’ll discuss that, like most things, this time of year, a lot of it has to do with health at the position. That’s the same at almost every position.”
Gurley, the former Georgia standout, was signed a free agent this offseason to a one-year contract.
He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three of his first five seasons in the league and helped the Rams reach Super Bowl LII in Atlanta. Gurley was seen as an upgrade over running back Devonta Freeman, who was cut by the Falcons.
“Todd’s history in the NFL speaks for itself,” Koetter said. “He’s been a phenomenal player in this league. His injuries, whatever his situation is there, there is nothing that I can do anything about that….That’s not like common knowledge. I don’t know exactly what his situation is.”
Jones has been in-and-out of the lineup all season. He has missed four games and major parts of two others. Morris didn’t automatically dismiss the notion of shutting down Jones for the season.
Jones has caught 51 passes for 771 yards and three touchdowns. His streak of six straight seasons with at least 1,300 yards receiving is in jeopardy.
With Jones hampered, Calvin Ridley, who went over 1,000 yards receiving against the Chargers, is the team’s leading receiver. He has 67 catches for 1,029 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Falcons’ offense will need to pull things back together quickly. Tampa Bay’s defense, which leads the league in blitzing, is playing well.
“They are a problem on defense there is no doubt about that,” Morris said. “(Jason Pierre-Paul) was a free agent last year and we had the chance to really evaluate him and go through the process to see if we could acquire him on our football team as well. Obviously, the Bucs re-signed him and got him back there. Shaq (Barrett) was tagged last year.”
Barrett had 19.5 sacks last season and has eight this season. Pierre-Paul has nine sacks to lead the Bucs.
“He just jumped off the tape,” Morris said of Barrett. “We had some prior knowledge from a guy who had coached him out in Denver in Richard Smith, talking about him and having a lot of positives to say about Shaq Barrett.
“We know how they are going to play. They are a well-coached unit by Todd Bowles. They’ve got a lot of really good, talented players on that football team.”
The Falcons will embrace the role of playing spoiler in the NFC playoff race.
“When you lose a game like we did, it does nothing but inspire a little bit of fire in all of us,” Morris said. “It puts a little something deep in your belly that you’ve got to go out and compete against the very best. We have that opportunity this week.”
Falcons’ final three games
Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20
Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 27
Falcons at Buccaneers at 1 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 3
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