Now even Falcons’ own touchdowns are turning against them

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley and Raheem Morris address the touchdown with one minute left on the clock before the Lions’ comeback win.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Never underestimate the Falcons imagination when it comes to finding exciting new ways to lose. Stephen King will run out of words and Green Giant will be down to its last niblet before this team stops inventing bizarre methods of defeat.

Behold the world’s most interesting 1-6 team – in a perverse, quirky way.

Sunday’s new riff off an old beat was particularly fascinating: The Falcons lost — 23-22 to Detroit — because they just couldn’t stop themselves from scoring.

Now, even their own touchdowns are toxic.

There was so much more to this defeat than this one weird turn, but Todd Gurley’s stumble into a bad blind date of a touchdown is significant in one important way. It marked the precise moment this Falcons season crossed the thin line from tragic to comic. And ironic is closing in fast.

Gurley has rushed for 65 touchdowns in his distinguished NFL career. The 65th drew this reaction from its author: “I was as mad as hell.”

ExploreTodd Gurley: ‘I shouldn’t have scored’

Setting the scene: One minute, 12 seconds left, with the Falcons trailing by 2, first-and-goal at the Detroit 10-yard line. The Lions had expended all their time outs. The only way Lions quarterback Matt Stafford was going to get his mitts back on the ball was if the Falcons scored early. The Falcons knew it well, too. They had discussed not scoring, bleeding the clock to nothing, kicking the winning field goal and going home with a second straight win.

What they apparently never discussed was quarterback Matt Ryan just taking a knee a couple times and taking all the variables out of the end-game equation. Word of that safest option never made it from coaching staff to quarterback — “Not through my helmet, no,” Ryan said.

Gurley has experience in not scoring for the greater good. Back in 2018 as a Ram, he allowed himself to be tackled short of a virtual walk-in touchdown against Green Bay. In that situation, Los Angeles ran out the clock with a two-point lead and should have convinced all the gamblers who had the Rams minus-7.5 to consider life in a monastery.

And, honestly, he had every intention of not scoring when he took that last hand-off Sunday. As Gurley broke through a Lions line offering no resistance, he tried to take a hard right turn at the goal line. But he stumbled and momentum did the rest, as he just barely broke the plane.

This left Stafford with just over a minute to do something ridiculous. “Yeah, the defense has to stop them but, it’s my job just going down, not putting the matter in no one else’s hands,” Gurley said.

Falcons cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield (20) and A.J. Terrell (24) are unable to block the attempt by Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5), who watches his extra-point try sail through uprights, to beat the Falcons 23-22 Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield (20) and A.J. Terrell (24) are unable to block the attempt by Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5), who watches his extra-point try sail through uprights, to beat the Falcons 23-22 Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The defense did not stop them, nor did it get any benefit of good fortune. One killer 29-yard pass play that set up the Lions at the Falcons 11 with three seconds left was reviewed for signs of bobbling but none were discovered. “I thought he bobbled it a little bit,” Falcons safety Keanu Neal said. “I’m not the ref so I can’t make that call.” And as time expired, Stafford evaded the Falcons rush and completed a sidearm sling to tight end T.J. Hockerson in the end zone. An extra point from extra distance — the Lions were unsportsmanlike after the touchdown — cemented the Falcons a 23-22 loss.

For those keeping count, that would be the Falcons second one-point loss of the season, and third by four points or less. There are still nine games left on the schedule, including a quick turnaround game against Carolina Thursday night. The mind reels as to what might be in store for those.

The thing about Sunday’s game is that there was a little something for everybody.

For those who still want to see the Falcons rise up and make something of themselves under interim coach Raheem Morris there were some truly inspirational signs.

Like a second quarter goal-line stand, marked by a rare difference-making Dante Fowler tackle. The Falcons then turned that around and went on a 98-yard touchdown drive to put them up 14-7.

And for those who wish the Falcons to lose their way to the best possible draft position, there was far more than Gurley’s unintended TD to note.

Like a ludicrous roughing penalty on Neal when all he did was make a form tackle on Stafford. Better in today’s game to wait until the quarterback tires and just falls down on his own. The Lions were ready to kick a field goal, but that call kept alive a drive that resulted in a touchdown.

Or like Morris’ decision to go for it on fourth-and-5 on the Detroit 13 rather than taking a field goal when three points would have looked awfully good later in the afternoon. If there’s an analytical chart somewhere that says go for it in that situation, burn it. It obviously was compiled by Mickey Rourke. Anyone else tethered to the rational would say kick it.

“Obviously, looking back you wish you’d taken the 3, but we didn’t,” said Morris. “Trying to be aggressive. Got to get these guys to have a scoring mentality, force our will on our opponent.” It really had more of a what-the-hell-we’re-1-and-5-at-this-point strategic feel to it.

And look as well to a Falcons defense that gave up a 43-yard field drive in the final 30 seconds of the first half and, of course, the 75-yard drive in the final 64 seconds of the game.

They found plenty of ways to lose Sunday, some of them even conventional. Thankfully, they supplied one new twist, or else what would there be to write about at this point?

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