The Falcons find themselves in the exact same hole they were in last season after five games.
They were 1-4 and staring at an awful season before they went on a three-game winning streak to pull even.
After getting ran out of NRG Stadium by Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans 53-32 on Sunday, the Falcons had no choice but to look themselves in the mirror and decide if they were throwing in the towel for 2019.
“We’ve got two options, we can either call it quits or keep working,” left tackle Jake Matthew told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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It certainly looked like the defense had given up against the Texans as they amassed 592 yards and scored 46 points on offense.
But Matthews believes the team will not throw in the towel.
“I know the mindset of this team and the people in this locker room, we’re going to work our [butts] off,” Matthews said. “We’re going to keep trying to win every week. That’s what we are expected to do. That’s what we should do with the talent that we have.”
Several Falcons appeared shell-shocked after the defeat.
“We’re disappointed across the board,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “It’s not what we expected. We’ve got a week on the road together. We’ll head out to Arizona and we have to get things corrected in our games together.”
Here are five things we learned from the embarrassing loss to the Texans.
1. Defensive retooling is a failure. The Falcons spent a great deal of their offseason moving away from their 4-3 base defense and installing some 3-4 principles.
They said they were making those changes for all of the mobile quarterbacks they were facing this season, including Watson.
With the defensive ends standing up at times, they could keep better track of Watson and maybe rush better. Watson easily eluded the defense as he rushed nine times for 59 yards, included a key 30-yard run in the third quarter.
He wasn’t sacked as all the Falcons could manage was one quarterback hit.
“I think especially going into the game we thought we had some chances to get after him, to him hit,” Quinn said. “When you don’t get those done. You have look hard at what we are doing and how to do it. The results for us are not coming through like we’d like to on third downs especially in the shorter distances, that’s (one) of the things that we’ll work on this week.”
Also, the Texans receivers repeatedly found the holes in the Falcons’ zone defenses. At times they didn’t pass off players. Other times, they’d back pedal like it was man-to-man and then shift to zone.
The unit appeared to be lost and confused.
Watson took advantage of the wide open throws he was afforded and Will Fuller V had a career day, as he caught 14 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns.
“Accountability,” free safety Ricardo Allen said. “Everybody do our job, we all do our job and you would hope that we’d end up with Ws at the end of the day. We just all have to be accountable for what we do, be accountable for our play. Play hard.”
Allen is one of the defensive captains and he knows the unit must get things turned around if they are going to salvage the season.
“I’m putting my all into this,” Allen said. “I’m barely sleeping. I’m grinding as much as I can. All I can do is my part, try to be the captain and try to lead and try to fight until the end. We just all have to do our jobs. When we do that, better days will come.”
2. Sheffield is pushing Oliver for playing time. Second-year cornerback Isaiah Oliver had another rough outing. He finished with six tackles, but was giving chase on several plays.
Rookie Kendall Sheffield played some outside and some at nickel after Damontae Kazee left the game with 13:22 left in the third quarter with an apparent concussion.
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The Falcons drafted Oliver in the second round of the 2018 draft and released incumbent starter Robert Alford to make room for Oliver. Through five games, Oliver is still finding his way.
Sheffield, a fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft, is coming on and may compete for some playing time.
“He certainly is ready,” Quinn said. “He did play more as we were going through the game. Kazee was also injured so we slid him back inside to the nickel. But he was going into the game, he got some reps.”
3. Fuller untouched for most of game: The Falcons rolled their coverages to Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Well, that kind of worked.
Hopkins caught some passes late to finish with seven catches for 88 yards.
“Going into the game, you better take care of Hopkins as well,” Quinn said. “There were times where we did roll coverage to him.”
But that left Fuller free to roam around the Falcons’ secondary.
“Playing with Hop, like I always say, is easy,” Fuller said. “He gets a lot of coverages thrown his way. And I feel like that’s why they brought me here, to help him out. And it took a while, but I finally had this big game.”
Fuller said he had a 276-yard game in high school.
The Texans felt the Falcons coverages are soft.
“They were really zoning a lot of things off,” Fuller said. “We really had a lot of free (space), we were running into the coverages untouched. That really helped us out a lot.”
4. Winning attitude: The Falcons will be happy to face an NFC team. They have now dropped seven straight to AFC teams and are 1-11 since Super Bowl LI.
“I told the team, this past week, wins don’t happen by accident,” Quinn said. “You’ve got to earn them. You’ve got to do right. When you don’t (you get poor) results. If we have to do less to do right, we will.”
Sounds like Quinn plans on getting back to fundamentals this week.
5. State of the team: Quinn must rally the team after this deflating loss.
“Disappointed for sure,” quarterback Matt Ryan said about the morale of the team. “That was a tough one. To sit here five games in and to be 1-4, it’s difficult for sure, not what we wanted coming into (the season). We are going to have to be the ones to dig ourselves out of it.”
The Falcons are heading to Phoenix instead of returning home. They play the Cardinals (1-3-1) on Sunday.
“I think that when you are in situations like this, I’ve always felt like you’ve got to make the big things little,” Ryan said. “We’ve got to chip away at it tomorrow.”
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