Falcons’ fades becoming a trend

Surely the Falcons’ recent tendency to race to big leads before fading can’t be simple to explain.

Can’t tell that from listening to lots of fans and media critics, though.

They use terms such as “lack of killer instinct” and scrutinize what they see as timid play-calling. To hear them tell it, finishing strong for the Falcons should be as simple as pushing the right buttons on a video-game controller.

It’s all seemingly more complicated than saying Falcons players and coaches lack the mentality to put teams away.

Then again, is it hard to believe the Falcons are not immune to the human tendency to relax when everything seems to be going great?

“You definitely have to overcome that natural feeling of easing back: ‘OK, we’ve got this,’” Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. “I’d be lying if I said, ‘No, we had our foot on the gas pedal.’”

The Falcons have struggled to hold leads in their past four games, dating to last season’s postseason.

In a divisional playoff game victory against the Seahawks, the Falcons raced to leads of 20-0 and 27-7 before the Seahawks came back to lead in the final minute. In the NFC Championship game loss, the Falcons led 17-0 in the second quarter and 24-14 at halftime before the 49ers came back to gain the lead with eight-plus minutes left.

In this season’s opener, the Falcons led the Saints 10-0 and were outscored 23-7 the rest of the way in a loss. The Falcons led 21-0 and 24-3 against the Rams on Sunday before the Rams quickly scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to make it a game before losing.

It can be a hard thing to pin down exactly why the Falcons lately have started fast before sputtering.

“To really find out what it is, you are dealing with a lot of different personalities and a lot of different people that handle situations differently,” defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “There’s an awful lot. It’s just not a pitcher and a catcher and a batter. I wish it were.”

Coaches and players have all the information, and they often struggle to find answers. To those who see only the final outcome, it can be even more difficult to figure why the Falcons tend to give back leads.

For one, there are times when the Falcons tried to be aggressive, but didn’t make plays. Or it could be they wanted to be aggressive, but had to settle for a safer option because the big-play opportunity wasn’t there. Or maybe they didn’t try to be aggressive because the game situation or their personnel didn’t allow it.

For instance, the Falcons’ passing game was operating efficiently against the Rams early, with quarterback Matt Ryan making quick throws. Later, when the Falcons faced several long down-and-distance situations, breakdowns in protection made it difficult for Ryan to take deep drops and throw down field.

Situations such as those can make it seem as if the Falcons cautiously sat on a lead when really they couldn’t be as aggressive as they might have wanted.

“A lot of times criticism (for not being aggressive) shows up,” Ryan said. “We understand that’s the nature of the industry we are in. From our perspective, knowing what we talked about during the week, I think we did stay aggressive (against the Rams). We just didn’t execute very well.”

The same can be said about the playoff games against the Seahawks and 49ers.

During their comebacks, both opponents took advantage of the Falcons’ conservative zone defense, and the Falcons ran unsuccessfully while trying to hold leads. But the Falcons also had some aggressive plays backfire, including blitzing but failing to tackle quarterbacks and a long pass attempt that was intercepted.

And there were plays against the 49ers that had nothing to do with aggressiveness and defy explanation: Ryan fumbling away a shotgun snap because he took his eyes off the ball and wide receiver Harry Douglas stumbling when he had a chance to score the winning touchdown.

Nolan said he spends a lot of time analyzing — and maybe over-analyzing — the blown leads.

“Sometimes I might even think it’s something it’s not, just trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

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