Falcons likely lose Neal for second consecutive season 

After losing 27-24 to Indianapolis on Sunday, the Falcons have dropped to 1-8 over the past three seasons against the conference. 

Last season they were swept by the AFC North teams: Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore. In 2017, they had a win over New York, but loss to Miami, Buffalo and New England from the AFC East.  

» MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM: Dan Quinn failing as coach, coordinator

The Falcons will look to snap their AFC woes against Tennessee at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Following Tennessee, they play at Houston, also of the AFC South. 

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

Neal down: Falcons strong safety Keanu Neal went down with a likely season-ending Achilles injury late in the second quarter. 

Kemal Ishmael took over for Neal. The Falcons lost J.J. Wilcox, a free-agent signee, to a season-ending knee injury in training camp. 

“I don’t have any updates,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said following the game.

But the players knew that Neal likely is out of the season. 

“I said ‘Man just keep fighting,’ ” safety Ricardo Allen said. “I don’t really know the full thing, but in his eyes it didn’t look good.”

Neal missed most of last season after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the opener against the Eagles. Neal and Allen rehabbed together after Allen suffered a torn Achilles in the third game.

“He understands the grind,” Allen said. “He was with me last year. I was with him last year. So we understand what it takes to get back. We understand what this job requires of the body. We just have to keep being a believer, keep being strong and don’t let it bring him down.”

Allen knows it will be tough on Neal. 

“It’s a long life,” Allen said. “You’ve got to keep that mind right.”

The hard-hitting Neal went to the Pro Bowl in 2017 and was considered the team’s enforcer on defense. 

“It’s his second time and he’s a strong dude,” Allen said. “I don’t like seeing my bothers down. I don’t like seeing nobody down. Even the team we are going against, I don’t like seeing their guys go down. We have families at home. We have families outside of this. You want to play as hard as you can. As hard as you can for your team without hurting each other.

“God bless him. I’m going to keep praying for him. I’m going to keep being there for him. If there is anything that he needs he knows I got his back.”

Also, running back Ito Smith suffered a concussion and left the game. Jamon Brown suffered a hand injury and returned. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett suffered a toe injury. Defensive end Takk McKinley left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter, but returned to the game. 

Slow starts: The Falcons got off to a slow start on the road again. They went down 20-3 against the Colts and couldn’t climb out of that hole. 

The Falcons fell behind 21-0 to Minnesota in the season opener. So, that’s 41-3 in first halves on the road this season. 

“We definitely have got to get our road mentality right,” Quinn said. “This week’s example. We have to get some stops. I thought they did a good job of controlling the ball early to create some first downs, but the fouls had something to do with that. We have to get that part under control for sure.”

The defense couldn’t get any stops early nor late when the offense pulled within three, twice in the fourth quarter. Once the Colts scored a touchdown and the second time they picked up first downs and ran out the clock. 

All Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan could do is watch from the sideline as the defense was getting worked over by Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett.  

“That’s part of it, when you are battling to get back in to a game,” Ryan said. “There are plays throughout the game that we’ve got to make in order to come out on the right side of the win column.”

Another pick:  Ryan had his sixth interception of the season early in the second quarter.

His pass from tight end Luke Stocker was late and high. It sailed directly to Colts safety Clayton Geathers for an easy pick.

Ryan is pace to throw 32 interceptions. He had just 26 interceptions over the pass three seasons.

During the three seasons, Dirk Koetter was the offensive coordinator from 2012-14, Ryan had 35 interceptions. He had 14 in 2012 when they went to the NFC championship game. In 2013, he had 17 interceptions and 14 interceptions in 2014.

Ryan, under Mike Mularkey, threw just 26 interceptions over his first three years in the NFL (2008-10).

“Check the football down and understand that we’re in a spot where we’ve got three points on the board with Matt (Bryant) as our kicker – get the football to an outlet, keep moving it,” Ryan said. “We did a nice job of that most of the day. But at this position and in this league, its every snap. You’ve got to make great decisions every snap and that was a poor decision on my part.”

Penalty corner:  The Falcons committed 16 penalties for 128 yards against the Colts and helped them sustain their scoring drives. Through three games, the Falcons have committed 35 penalties for 265 yards. 

 “I don’t know,” wide receiver Julio Jones said when asked about all of the yellow flags. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the penalties were. I wasn’t paying attention. I was just doing my job.”

The Falcons had 10 penalties for 58 yards against the Eagles. They had nine for 78 yards against the Vikings.

“Just more attention to detail and fixing the little things in critical situations,” Falcons running back Devonta Freeman said. “Just trying to be great so when this situation happens, we know how to overcome it and stuff. Just got to go back to the drawing board and do a lot of work.” 

The 12-man on the field penalty late in the second quarter was particularly troubling. 

“Yeah, we definitely changed that for the second half,” Quinn said. “It was difficult to try to match. Usually you get your time to do that, but in this instance doing less was better and that’s what we did in the second half.”

Where’s the pass rush?: Brissett had a relatively clean pocket to work from for most of the day. 

He completed 28 of 37 passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 118.1.

The Falcons had just one sack and five quarterback hits as they couldn’t contain Brissett on his bootlegs and rollouts. He completed passes to nine different receivers. 

“They had a good scheme,” said defensive end Vic Beasley, who shared half of sack with McKinley. “They tried to establish the run. They wanted you to bite on the run and then they threw the play action in there.”

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