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Analysis: Falcons have been ‘out-played’ in first quarter of season

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones talks about the team's 1-3 start following loss to Titans in Atlanta. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

Something is deeply wrong with the Atlanta Falcons.

A roster full of top-paid players at their positions, pushed up near the brink of the salary cap has under-performed over the first quarter of the season.

They failed to show up on time for another game and were tossed around Sunday by the Tennessee Titans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he planned to look at "everything" and a perplexed locker room was probing for answers after they fell behind — again — and were defeated, 24-10, by the Titans.

» STEVE HUMMER: 1-3 start brings bad memories of past seasons

The Falcons trailed 24-7 on Sunday at halftime and for the season have trailed 71-20 at the half, which is substantial evidence of a team that’s not prepared to play.

Given the poor starts, it’s fair to ask if the players have tuned out the coaching messages.

“Of course it is,” wide receiver Julio Jones said when asked if the team is still receiving Quinn’s messages. “It’s just that man, hey. It’s just games. I don’t understand.

“We are a high-powered offense, but we scored 10 points (Sunday). I can’t tell you how we only scored 10 points, but I have to go back and look and say what we could have done this better. We could have done that better. That’s the NFL. We’ve got to fix it.”

No one seems to understand what’s wrong with Falcons.

If they don’t find some answers quickly, this season of redemption could be over by the bye week.

Here are five things we learned from the loss to the Titans.

1. Fans are ticked: The Falcons were booed off the field at halftime. Later, the fans left early sensing there would be no dramatic comeback.

"It's deserved," cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "We haven't been playing (like) we are supposed to."

Center Alex Mack left the game with an elbow injury, but returned to basically play with one arm.

“That is not what you want to hear, but we have to play better,” Mack said.

» MATT RYAN: 'Not played up to our standards'

He had a message for the fans, too.

“I would like them to be loud on third downs for the defense,” Mack said. “And of course, on offense, we have to play better.”

Wide receiver Julio Jones said he blocks out the booing.

“I don’t hear that (expletive),” Jones said. “I don’t really care, if they did boo. For me, it’s about between the white lines. Like, I can’t control if they cheer or boo for me, I’m just going to ball. I’m going to do what I need to do for my teammates.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan reacts to Atlanta's 24-10 loss to Tennessee at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

2. Defense not up to par: The Falcons were playing without strong safety Keanu Neal for the first time and couldn't stop Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Derrick Henry and rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown.

The Titans scored on four of their first six possessions in the first half: punt, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal and touchdown.

» DAN  QUINN: 'Nobody more upset than us'

Kemal Ishmael took over for Neal in the base defense. In the nickel, Damontae Kazee went to free safety, Ricardo Allen went to strong safety, rookie Kendall Sheffield played nickel back and Ishmael came out.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant, who had been playing well, was in coverage on Tennessee’s first two touchdowns.

“On a couple plays, I took it on the chin,” Trufant said. “I just have to bounce back.”

The Falcons went 7-9 last season. They were hoping to rebound and be a playoff team in 2019. Now, they just want to get another win.

“We definitely haven’t started the way we wanted to, luckily we have three quarters of football left,” Trufant said. “It’s still a lot for us to do out there. Ready to bounce back. Ready to get back to work. Keep pushing.”

The irony of the defense failing is that Quinn is calling the plays this season. Trufant believes the unit can bounce back in the face of evidence that they can’t stop the run.

“It’s mandatory,” Trufant said. “It’s inside of me. It’s inside of my team, my teammates. We are fighters. It doesn’t go your way sometimes. We are all frustrated. ... We can fight. That’s all we can do.”

In all of their losses the Falcons fell behind and all three teams ran the ball successfully. The Falcons’ defense had problems with Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (111 yards rushing), Indianapolis’ Marlon Mack (74 yards including a big 26-yarder with the game on the line) and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (100 yards).

Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant discusses his and the play of the defense in 24-10 loss to Tennessee in Atlanta. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

3. AFC foes: The Falcons have been getting punched in the mouth by AFC teams. They've dropped six straight and are 1-10 since losing to New England in Super Bowl LI.

They are set to play Houston of the AFC South on Sunday.

“I don’t know,” Trufant said when asked about the troubles against AFC teams. “We don’t even really look at it like that. It’s just that every team has players. Every team has elite players. Guys that work like us. We’ve just been getting out-played.”

» PHOTOS: Falcons stagger against Titans

The Falcons have losses to Indianapolis and Tennessee this season after being swept by the AFC North — Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Baltimore — last season. The Falcons last win over an AFC team was against the New York Jets in the 2017 season.

“I think whoever we play, we have to start playing better,” Mack said. “I think it will come down to 11 guys on the field all at once being detailed and executing one play at a time. That’s all it takes. We need to execute when it’s our chance.”

4. Fourth-down woes: The Falcons' running game remains missing in action.

Falcons rushed 17 times for 58 yards. Again, they couldn’t commit after falling behind. But when they went for it on a fourth-and-1, they got stuffed for a yard loss.

“We had a power play on where we pull one of our guards and try and run behind the pulling guard,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “That's what it comes down to. In this league, in those situations, when they know you're going to run the football and you decide to run it, you've got to get it done.”

Trying to jump start a rally, the Falcons were 1-of-4 on fourth downs.

“We had another fourth-down situation where we had a pass play called, and we didn't execute there either,” Ryan said. “When (Quinn) is aggressive with those fourth-down calls, we've got to make it come to life. We have not done that as players up until this point.”

Falcons center Alex Mack addresses the offense in the loss to Tennessee. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

5. Offense misfiring: The Falcons took some shots down the field early to loosen up the Titans' defense. That didn't work and they shut down the rushing attack.

“They do a lot of things,” Mack said. “We had to make big plays and we didn’t quite do that. “

Ryan threw into double coverage deep to Calvin Ridley early.

“We didn’t have any big plays early and we had to make them hurt when they took shots,” Mack said. “The game got lop-sided and we lost our opportunity to stay multi-dimensional. They knew we were throwing the ball and that’s tough to do.”