Throwback performance: Falcons blow 27-10 lead and lose

They had to have one of these games just to remind everybody: Don’t get comfortable.

Silly penalties. Dreadful defense, especially on third down. A late-game turnover. A debatable fourth-down decision by the head coach backfires.

A 27-10 lead … blown to bits.

“This stinks for our team,” Dan Quinn said.

So. There goes that mojo.

After a 4-2 start that included a narrow, we-got-jobbed defeat in Seattle, a start that had everybody thinking good things about the 2016 Falcons, the team wore throwback uniforms Sunday against San Diego. On cue, they were thrown back to ugly reminders of their past.

The Falcons’ defense allowed San Diego to drive for a touchdown and a field goal in the final six minutes of regulation and the offense then failed to convert a fourth-and-1 in overtime, effectively setting up — and/or handing — the Chargers the game-deciding field goal. The Falcons, in the rare position of favorites this season, lost 33-30 at the Georgia Dome.

Maybe everybody should go back to doubting them. They seem to function better that way.

“It’s all about finishing for us and we didn’t do that,” Tyson Jackson said. “Not after halftime. Not in the fourth quarter. Not in overtime.”

“It hurts. We had this one in the bag,” Adrian Clayborn said.

After winning four straight, the Falcons have lost consecutive games late to fall to 4-3 with Green Bay coming to town next week.

Oh, they’ll never win.

(I just wanted to be first out of the gate.)

This really was a reminder of collapses past. The Falcons led 27-10 in the third quarter after a sack/strip by Vic Beasley Jr. against Phillip Rivers forced a fumble that was picked up by Clayborn and returned 5 yards for a touchdown. But the Chargers drove to a touchdown just before the half and suddenly the rout was not a rout.

Rivers shredded the Falcons’ defense with short passes the entire game, throwing for 348 yards of the Chargers’ 428 total. That included the fourth quarter, when San Diego converted four straight third-down situations — they were nine of 16 in the game — and drove 75 yards for a touchdown to close to 30-27 with 5:49 remaining.

Then the roof caved in. The Falcons had the ball at the Chargers’ 40 on the ensuing possession but consecutive false starts made it first and 20, and then Matt Ryan threw an awful pass to a double-covered Julio Jones and it was intercepted. The Chargers responded with the tying field goal with 18 seconds left.

The Falcons drove far enough to give Matt Bryant a 58-yard field goal but the attempt just failed, sending the game to overtime.

And then this: On the first possession of the OT, it was fourth-and-1 from the Falcons’ 45 when Quinn decided to go for it. That decision could be debate either way. Pro: Stay aggressive, try to win. Con: Punt and make the Chargers drive.

“I had a real belief we were going to make it. Keep the drive going. Just a gut feeling,” Quinn said.

Did he go back and forth in his mind?

“Definitely. I just wanted to stay aggressive. I wanted to get that message sent to the team.”

More debatable was the play call: a slow-developing running play to the left by Devonta Freeman, who was buried by linebacker Denzel Perryman for a 2-yard loss. Freeman couldn’t be faulted. Left tackle Jake Matthews got tangled up and the offensive line got no push.

Every Falcons’ player interviewed predictably backed Quinn’s decision.

“I love that decision. It shouldn’t come down to that,” Julio Jones said.

“We had a good play, we just didn’t execute it,” Freeman said. “Denzel Perryman just made a great play.”

Some call these trap games.

The Falcons were coming off a loss but still somewhat riding a wave. They had four straight wins before losing in Seattle, in part because of a blatant non-interference call in Seattle. They had converted skeptics with three road wins (Oakland, New Orleans, Denver) and pounding Carolina at home. But now they were back home after an atypical 10-day trip, playing an opponent they were expected to beat and, well, those tend to be dangerous games.

So when San Diego drove 75 yards to a touchdown on the game’s first possession, there was the thought: Here we go. But they didn’t go — at least not right away. They built a 27-10 lead to tease the masses.

Then came the throw-back performance.

First came a San Diego touchdown. Then Robensen Therezie drilled punt returner Dexter McCluster before he caught ball. That led to a field goal. The collapse was on.

It all looked too familiar.

Don’t get comfortable. Don’t ever get comfortable.