Down 27-14 in the fourth quarter, the Falcons scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:54 remaining. They spent those 114 seconds figuring out ways not to stop the Jets, who moved 55 yards in eight plays, only one of which was a third down. It was a suitable conclusion to an altogether sobering night.
“There were some opportunities to make some tackles,” said Smith, speaking of the Jets’ winning drive. “We were defending against a field goal.”
For the home side, the first half couldn’t have gone worse if Eric Gregg (mixing sports metaphors this October night) were calling balls and strikes. They made Smith, who’d thrown eight interceptions in four NFL starts, look like Broadway Joe Namath in his bell-bottomed prime.
Smith completed eight of nine first-half passes – the incompletion was simply a poor throw and not a function of any defense, not that the Falcons were playing any defense – in leading the Jets to 17 points. (The New Yorkers arrived averaging 17 per game.)
The Jets scored every time they had the ball. The Falcons scored one time in four, and the big gain on that series was Julio Jones’ recovery of a Roddy White fumble. The Falcons had a punt blocked and saw yet another opposing tight end – the Jets’ Jeff Cumberland, going where the Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the Seahawks’ Zach Miller and the 49ers’ Vernon Davis have recently gone before – prove indefensible and, to close this motley half, saw Smith blow yet another short-yardage decision.
On fourth-and-goal from the Jets’ 1 and his team trailing 17-7, Smith chose to run a play. The same Smith had kicked on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 2 only two weeks ago but had gone for it on fourth-and-2 from the New England 7 last week. Matt Ryan dropped to throw and found nobody open but was saved by an interference call against Tony Gonzalez. So now it was first-and-goal from even closer, but with one second left in the half.
Again Smith gambled. Again he went bust. (If you’re headed for Vegas, Smitty wouldn’t seem the ideal wingman.) Jacquizz Rodgers, not exactly a power back, took an inside handoff and was halted by Sheldon Richardson. The Falcons exited the field to a torrent of – hey, let’s admit it – deserved boos.
Smith: “We thought we needed seven points (at the end of the half). We were playing against an explosive team.”
Really? The 17-points-a-game Jets?
At the half, we weren’t just wondering if the Falcons could rally to win; we were wondering if this wasn’t the most overrated team in the history of football. They haven’t defended much, and even the star-spangled offense hasn’t performed at anywhere near capacity. And, for all Smith’s assurances that his team would Get This Corrected, where were the corrections?
Available on demand, perhaps? The Falcons stopped the explosive Jets twice to begin the second half, and a Rodgers touchdown run – hey, maybe he is a power back! – cut the deficit to a field goal. But Matt Ryan fumbled while being sacked by Muhammad Wilkerson, who was only partially engaged by the Tampa-Bay-castoff-turned-starting-tackle Jeremy Trueblood, and the Jets had a chance to reclaim their 10-point lead.
They couldn’t. Corey Peters sacked Smith to force a field goal. The third quarter ended with the Falcons within six points but still not ahead of an opponent on which they figured to take out a month’s worth of frustration. Alas, more frustration was on the way. White was called for offensive interference, quashing a drive. Jeremy Kerley returned Matt Bosher’s punt 24 yards and the Jets were given 15 more when Bosher was called for a horse-collar takedown.
When your punter is making tackles, you know you’re in trouble. Soon the Falcons were in even deeper duress. The Jets scored to make it 27-14, another tight end — Kellen Winslow, whose Hall of Fame dad is 55 and could surely go out and catch passes against these Falcons – shaking free for the touchdown. This had officially gotten serious.
Fighting against the Jets, the clock and embarrassment, the Falcons scored twice to take the lead. But they left too much time after nosing ahead, which is the reverse of how the Falcons have played under Smith and Ryan. Those close games they used to win almost always? They’re 1-4 in them this season.
“That’s the nature of this game,” Ryan said. “You’re not always going to win those games. You’re not always going to have the ball at the end of the game.”
As difficult as it is to make the playoffs from 1-3, making the postseason after 1-4 is harder still. “I’m not going to throw up my hands and say the season’s over,” Tony Gonzalez said. Then this: “I’ve got to believe we can do this. Whether that’s realistic is up to you to decide.”
It’s not realistic. It’s possible, but not realistic. The Falcons are 1-4 because, in their weakened-by-injury 2013 manifestation, they’re not a very good team. For the first time, they’ve lost three in a row under Smith. The way they’re playing, it might not be the last.