Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson was nearly perfect against his former employers.
Watson, of Gainesville and a former Falcons' ballboy, led a dazzling offensive onslaught as the Texans amassed nearly 600 yards and posted a 53-32 victory Sunday at NRG Stadium, the site of the Falcons' infamous Super Bowl LI collapse.
“No doubt, that our backs are against the wall,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after dropping to 1-4 on the season. “It’s gut-check time for us. All across the board, it was disappointing.”
Watson tossed five touchdown passes. The offensive fireworks featured wide receiver Will Fuller V, tight end Darren Fells and some timely running by Watson and running back Carlos Hyde.
After opening the game with a three-and-out, the Falcons’ defense gave up scores on eight of the next nine Houston possessions: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, halftime, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown and touchdown as the Texans improved to 3-2.
“It’s frustrating,” Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews said. “We’ve got two options, we can either call it quits or keep working.”
Matthews suspects the team will keep working, but the 592 yards of total offense suggests otherwise.
“I know the mindset of this team and the people in this locker room, we’re going to work our [butts] off,” Matthews said. “We’re going to keep trying to win every week. That’s what we are expected to do. That’s what we should do with the talent that we have.”
Fuller, a first-round pick (21st overall) from Notre Dame in 2016, had a career-high in receptions (14) and yards (217) to go with three touchdowns.
Interestingly, the Falcons prepared for Fuller.
“If you watched the film and you studied them deep, everything they did was exactly what you would have known they were doing before the game,” safety Ricardo Allen said. “This was the same stuff that our coaches gave us in practice. That’s the sad thing about it all.”
After a muffed punt, the Falcons pulled within one score, 33-25 with 11:21 left in the fourth quarter, but the defense couldn’t come up with a stop. The Texans marched 81 yards in nine plays, with Watson hitting Fells for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
The Falcons answered with another touchdown, a 29-yard pass to wide receiver Calvin Ridley to make it 40-32 with 3:22 to play.
The defense gave up another Houston touchdown, as Fuller beat cornerback Desmond Trufant on a 44-yard touchdown pass.
The Texans capped out the scoring when safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. returned a Matt Ryan interception 79 yards for a touchdown with 24 seconds to play.
“Disappointed for sure,” Ryan said when asked about the team’s morale. “That was a tough one. To sit here five games in and to be 1-4, it’s difficult for sure, not what we wanted coming into (the season). We are going to have to be the ones to dig ourselves out of it.”
Ryan completed 32-of-46 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 102.6.
Watson shredded the Falcons’ defense for 426 yards passes as he completed 28 of 33 passes. He had a perfect passer rating of 158.3. The Texans rushed for 166 yards on 34 carries.
Watson became just the third quarterback since 1950 to have 400 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
“We left a lot of plays on the field, missed a couple touchdowns with Will,” Watson said. “So it could have even been better. So there’s always room to improve but, yeah, that stat is pretty crazy.”
The Falcons were competitive early and held the halftime lead, but the defense was unable to stop Watson.
After an exchange of punts to open the game, the Falcons were nearly off the field on a third-and-7 when defensive tackle Grady Jarrett flushed Watson out of the pocket. Defensive end Vic Beasley missed him and collided with defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
The nifty Watson escaped, fumbled and then scooped his own fumble before running 15 yards for the first down.
Five plays later, Watson found Fuller open in the corner of the end zone. Trufant was passing off Fuller, but Allen was out of position and tried to scramble back and break up the pass.
“Cover Two is what we were playing it was a zone, it’s a help call there,” Quinn said.
“It was just one of many breakdowns in the secondary.
“We’ll have a full report on what took place. There was missed communications and if there are changes to be made from a personnel side, we’ll look into everything. In terms of how we played, there is no excuse.”
The Falcons added a 35-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. On the kickoff, Wile kicked the ball out of bounds, which gave the Texans the ball at the 40-yard line.
The Texans took advantage of the gift yardage. Watson zipped the Texans down the field in six plays, capped with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Fuller. The Texans led 13-10 after kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed the extra point wide left.
After the Falcons’ next drive stalled, Fairbairn added a 50-yard field goal to make it 16-10.
The Falcons answered with a touchdown drive, as Ryan tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman. The Falcons took a 17-16 halftime lead after the Texans ran out the final 22 seconds.
In the third quarter, the Texans used two big plays to help add a touchdown and a field goal to take control of the game.
Wide receiver Keke Coutee broke free up the seam of the Falcons’ defense for a 51-yard gain, four plays later Hyde scored on a 1-yard touchdown.
After a Falcons’ three-and-out, Watson broke loose for a 30-yard scramble to help set up Fairbairn for a 26-yard field goal to make it 26-17.
For the Falcons, it’s going to be pretty hard to win while giving up nearly 600 yards.
“We started off faster, but we just weren’t good,” Allen said. “We weren’t good at all.”
The Falcons (1-4) will face the Arizona Cardinals (1-3-1) at 4:05 p.m. Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.