"I was proud of the way the guys fought in the second half," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. "In this league, it's about every snap. We've got to find a way to be better every snap."
» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Dan Quinn failing as coach, coordinator
The Colts improved to 15-2 all-time against the Falcons and 2-1 overall this season. The Falcons dropped to 1-2.
"We told the team it was a tale of two halves in a lot of respects," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We didn't have very many plays early on. We only had about 20 plays and were able to move it, but we came back in the second half and played better."
In Minnesota, the Falcons went on to lose 28-12 after being down 21-0 at halftime. But against the Colts, who were playing their first home open game since quarterback Andrew Luck shocked the football world and retired, the Falcons pulled with three points, 20-17 with 13:51 left and 24-27 with 4:11 left.
However, the defense could not a get stop when it mattered.
“When we have to get the ball back, you usually want to play tight coverage and go man-to-man,” Quinn said. “That’s certainly what we tried to do. But we didn’t executed like we needed to in that moment. That’s really what allowed the first downs in that space.”
The Falcons can look in the mirror and blame themselves for the loss. They committed a whopping 16 penalties, one short of the franchise record, for 128 yards. The Colts had four penalties for 38 yards.
“We have to control what we can, to have 16 penalties and be minus-one in the turnover margin that put you in a difficult spot,” Quinn said.
Overall, the Falcons had five pre-snap penalties. They had four penalties on third down that led directly to first downs to keep Colts’ drives alive.
“We weren’t getting off when we had opportunities,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “They were converting. Just got to keep watching film and pushing — that’s all you can do.”
The Falcons shot themselves in the foot early.
The Colts opened the game with a 49-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri that bounced off the left upright and went through. Defensive tackle Jack Crawford aided the drive with an offsides penalty.
Falcons left guard James Carpenter killed the first offensive drive with a holding penalty on third-and-6 from Indianapolis’ 36. They Falcons couldn’t convert and were knocked out of field goal range.
The Colts went up 10-0 on 18-yard touchdown pass from Jacoby Brissett to Zach Pascal. The Falcons aided the 93-yard drive with two penalties. Free safety Ricardo Allen was called for a unnecessary roughness for a hit on defenseless receiver T.Y. Hilton.
On the Falcons’ second possession, Ryan tossed an interception, his sixth of the season. He had seven all of last season. Ryan killed a promising drive that was down to Indianapolis’ 28-yard with a late and high pass intended to Luke Stocker. It sailed right into the waiting arms of Colts safety Clayton Geathers.
The Colts turned the interception into a 21-yard field goal and wiped 8:20 off the clock. The Falcons assisted with another neutral zone infraction by Crawford and a holding penalty on linebacker DeVondre Campbell as the Colts led 13-0.
The Falcons answered with a 34-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to make it 13-3.
Brissett tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hilton with 13 seconds left in the half, that saw safety Keanu Neal leave the game with an Achilles injury. The drive was aided by three Falcons' penalties. Neal was called for two and there was a too many men on the field call.
The Falcons got two touchdown passes to tight end Austin Hooper to close to 20-17. But the defense gave up another penalty-aided touchdown drive to the Colts, who took a 27-17 lead with 8:40 to play.
The Falcons got a nice 10-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to Julio Jones to make it a game again.
Yet the defense couldn’t stop the Colts and get the ball back. The Colts drove deep into Falcons territory and then ran out the clock after Atlanta used all its timeouts.
Before this woeful showing, the Falcons had committed 19 penalties through two games, which ranked fourth-highest in the NFL. The Falcons had 10 penalties for 58 yards against the Eagles in the season opener. They had nine for 78 yards against the Vikings last week.
The Falcons will look to rebound at home against the Tennessee Titans (1-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“You can either fight or give in,” free safety Ricardo Allen said.