The Falcons treated the football like it was a hot potato.
They dropped it. They slung it in the wrong direction. They tossed it to the other team. And then, for good measure, ran into it to cause a fumble.
Couple the shoddy ball-handling with 13 penalties and the Falcons didn’t stand a chance as they went down 34-20 to the Packers before 77,329 fans Sunday at Lambeau Field.
The Falcons scored first and then yielded 34 straight points as they dropped to 4-9 on the season and were essentially eliminated from the playoff race.
“We can’t feel bad for ourselves,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “The only ones who can change this is us.”
The Packers, playing their first game under interim coach Joe Philbin, improved to 5-7-1.
Ryan completed 28 of 42 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and one costly interception that was returned for a touchdown. He finished with a 97.5 passer rating.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn lamented the rash of
“penalties, mistakes and turnovers” that led to the teams’ fifth consecutive loss.
Here are five things we learned from the loss:
1. Tried to lean on Jones: The Falcons leaned heavily on wide receiver Julio Jones during their opening drive.
The Falcons marched 75 yards over seven plays. Jones caught three passes for 63 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown.
After the opening drive, the Packers elected to double-team Jones. He was held to one catch for six yards for the rest of the first half.
Packers rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander shadowed Jones.
The Packers answered with a 10-play, 75-yard drive. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams.
The Falcons missed a 53-yard field goal attempt by Matt Bryant into the 10 miles per hour wind. The drive stalled after Ryan had a miss-throw for a 16-yard loss that was recovered by running back Tevin Coleman.
Until the blunder, the Falcons were driving to take the lead.
“I was trying to pull the ball back and it slipped out of my hand,” Ryan said. “It went backwards. It’s a mistake that you can’t make. It costs us points. Certainly, put our kicking unit in a tough spot.”
After an exchange of punts, Packers kicker Mason Crosby added a 50-yard field goal to put the Packers up 10-7 in the second quarter.
Jones, on his fifth catch of the game in the third quarter, became the first NFL player with five straight seasons of 1,400 yards receiving.
Jones caught eight passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Pick six: The Falcons were backed up after Marvin Hall fumbled on a kickoff return. On third down-and-4 from the 14, Ryan was blitzed from the left.
The Falcons picked up the blitz. Ryan looked to his left, but came back to his right to tight end Austin Hooper.
Packers cornerback Bashaud Breeland broke on the pass, made the interception and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 17-7 lead.
“Well, I think it was on me,” said Ryan when asked if Hooper ran the right route. “I have to make a better throw in that situation. I have to throw it farther to the sideline and give him a better opportunity to make a play on the ball. Put it in a spot where they can’t make a play on the ball.”
3. Run game shows signs of life: Before falling behind, the Falcons had a rushing attack. The Falcons rushed 14 times for 62 yards in the first half.
Ito Smith had a 17-yard gain and Coleman had a 13-yard run.
After Green Bay scored on the opening drive of the third quarter to mount a 27-7 lead, the Falcons had to abandon the run.
Smith rushed 11 times for 60 yards and Coleman had 10 runs for 45 yards. It was just the third time this season the Falcons rushed for more than 100 yards in a game.
The Falcons rushed for 107 yards on 24 carries.
The Falcons rushed for 170 yards against Carolina on Sept. 16 and for 154 yards against Washington on Nov. 4.
4. Sambrailo at right tackle: Offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo started at right tackle.
Ryan Schraeder, who struggled at times against speed rushers this season, was benched. On the third play from scrimmage, Sambrailo was called for offsides. He settled down and played well.
Sambrailo was normally the backup swing tackle and played some as an extra tight end in blocking situations. Ben Garland was used as the blocking tight end against the Packers.
In September of 2017, the Falcons traded their 2018 fifth-round draft pick to the Broncos for Sambrailo, who was a second-round pick in 2015.
Sambrailo, 26, has provided some depth behind starting tackles Jake Matthews and Schraeder. He’s played in 28 games and made just his third start.
In the 26-16 loss to the Ravens, the Falcons started veteran Zane Beadles in place of Garland at right guard.
After the 31-17 loss to the Saints on Thanksgiving, Quinn singled out the play of the offensive line and said the team would look to Beadles and Sambrailo for help.
The Falcons entered Week 13 last in the league in rushing at 79 yards per game.
On the third defensive series, the Falcons yanked cornerback Robert Alford and played rookie Isaiah Oliver. Alford returned to the lineup in the third quarter.
5. Penalties and bad ball handling: Penalties by left guard Wes Schweitzer, left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack all wiped out big gains by the offense.
Schweitzer’s penalty was key and helped to start the big slide for the Falcons.
Down 17-7 and looking to score late in the second quarter, Jones caught a pass and picked up 32 yards to move down to Green Bay’s 13-yard line. However, Schweitzer was called for holding. Instead of first-and-10 from the 13, Falcons had second-and-16 from their 45. Three plays later, the Falcons were forced to punt.
The Falcons bobbled the ball again late in the game when Mack’s center snap hit wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who was in motion. The Packers recovered.
The defense committed eight penalties and couldn’t contain Rodgers, who scrambled three times for 44 yards.
“He escaped from us a couple of times,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “We weren’t able to put a full game together to get the win.”
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