The Falcons continued to sink into the basement of the National Football League on Sunday.
Playing without quarterback Matt Ryan for the first time in nearly a decade, the Falcons were defeated 27-20 by the Seahawks before another sparse crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Ryan’s streak of 163 consecutive starts (154 regular-season games and nine playoff games) was snapped because of a right ankle sprain he suffered last week against the Rams. He was ruled out on Saturday, one day before the Falcons (1-7) suffered their sixth straight loss. Seattle improved to 6-2.
“(We) can't lose the turnover battle zero to three and expect to come out ahead,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn lamented. “For us, we talked to the team. The first half of the season is complete, and we have to come out for the second half of the season much like we came out in the second half today.
“If we do that, we'll be the team that we would like to play like. Losing that turnover margin and digging yourself into a hole at the start, (is a) tough way to get started into a game.”
With the 39-year-old Matt Schaub at the controls, the Falcons couldn’t generate much offense as they fell behind 24-0 in the first half. Kicker Matt Bryant missed two field goal attempts, Schaub tossed an interception and the Falcons failed to cover Seahawks rookie wide receiver DK Metcalfe twice in the end zone.
In the second half, with a chance to make it a one-score game, running back Devonta Freeman had a costly fumble at the Seahawks’ 1-yard line.
“It hurts,” center Alex Mack said. “You don’t want to see fumbles. Those are things that change games.”
Schaub completed 39 of 52 passes for 460 yards and a touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 99.8. He leaned heavily on wide receiver Julio Jones, who had 10 catches for 152 yards.
“I mean, we fell short,” Schaub said. “We had opportunities, ... Our defense played great in the second half holding them to three points and giving us a chance with the football.”
Schaub, who had not started a game since Dec. 6, 2015 when he was with the Ravens, had his fifth career 400-yard passing game.
“He’s seen every single look,” said tight end Austin Hooper, who had six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. “He’s the consummate professional.”
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson completed 14 of 20 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 131.7.
Seahawks built their first-half lead behind the a strong rushing attack that was averaged 6.6 yards per carry after two quarters. They finished with 151 yards on 33 carries for a 4.6 average per carry.
“Just technique issues,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “We have to stay in our gaps. When they get explosive runs, it’s just somebody getting out of their gap. Just a mistake on the defensive side of the ball.”
The Falcons have now been outscored 144 to 50 in the first halves this season. In six of the eight games, they’ve trailed by double digits at halftime. The Falcons only win was over the Eagles in the second week of the season.
The Seahawks took the lead with a 42-yard field goal by Jason Meyers on their opening drive.
After an exchange of punts, the Falcons moved to Seattle’s 33-yard line, but elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1. Bryant’s kick was wide left. For a team that was 1-6, the decision to attempt a field goal was puzzling.
The Seahawks scored a touchdown on their next three possessions to take control of the game.
Metcalfe, who played at Mississippi, caught a 4-yard touchdown when the Falcons left him wide open in the middle of the end zone. Seattle running back Chris Carson, the former Parkview High standout, rushed for a 1-yard touchdown and Melcalfe added a 2-yard touchdown when he broke wide open again in the end zone. Carson rushed 20 times for 90 yards.
After Seattle went up 10-0, Schaub was intercepted by Seahawks linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
After Carson’s touchdown made it 17-0, the Falcons did go for it on a fourth-and-1 from their own 34. In one of the few highlights of the first half, Schaub connected with tight end Jaeden Graham to convert.
The Falcons came out strong in the third quarter. Running back Brian Hill scored on a 23-yard touchdown to cap an seven-play, 75-yard drive to open the period.
The Falcons’ defense forced a stop and Bryant made a 47-yard field goal to make it 24-11.
After the defense forced another stop, Schaub had the Falcons back on the move but Freeman killed the promising drive with his fumble. Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner recovered the loose ball. The play was reviewed and was upheld as a fumble. With a chance to make it a one-score game, why Freeman tried to stretch the ball out made little sense.
On Seattle’s ensuing drive, Meyer added at 54-yard field goal.
Schaub answered with another 75-yard yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper.
The Falcons’ onside kick failed, but the defense got a stop. Schaub had the ball back with 2:41 left to play to work a 10-point football miracle. The Falcons kicked a 37-yard field goal on second down with 1:21 left.
The second onsides-kick, Kasey Redfern’s high bouncer didn’t go 10 yards and went out of bounds with 1:17 to play.
The Falcons’ defense snapped its sack-less streak when Grady Jarrett dropped Wilson with 8:52 left in the third quarter. It was the Falcons first sack since the 9:50 mark of third quarter of the Colts’ game on Sept. 22. Defensive tackle Tyeler Davison added a sack in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons have made it a habit of digging first-half holes this season and they have not been able to come back from any of the deficits. The Falcons were down 21-0 at Minnesota, up 10-6 against the Eagles, down 20-3 to the Colts, down 24-7 to the Titans, up 17-16 against the Texans, down 20-10 against the Cardinals, down 13-3 against the Rams and down 24-0 to the Seahawks.
“We’ve played a lot of good opponents,” center Alex Mack said of the chronic slow starts. “If you don’t make plays, they’ll probably capitalize.”
The Falcons have a bye next week before returning to play at the Saints on Nov. 10.
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