Eric Berry intercepted Atlanta’s two-point conversion attempt and returned it for two points as the Chiefs beat the Falcons, 28-27. The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter reports from the Georgia Dome.
FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons must move on from this gut-wrenching 29-28 loss to a crafty Kansas City Chiefs team, which has found a way to win 19 of their past 22 games with Alex Smith at quarterback.
Just when the Falcons had battled back from 11-point deficit, they gave the lead back away with an unwarranted throw by their fearless leader quarterback Matt Ryan. The dynamic Eric Berry’s pick-two zapped all of the life out of the Georgia Dome.
At the end of the day, the Falcons (7-5) found themselves tied for first-place with the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5) but still in control of their own destiny.
If both the Falcons and Buccaneers win out to finish 11-5, the Falcons would win the NFC South by virtue of a tiebreaker.
Here are the grades:
Game ball: Kicker Matt Bryant for making that 59-yard field goal. (We normally don’t hand them out in a loss, but he’s old that was a heck of kick!)
Quarterbacks, D. Still trying to figure out why Matt Ryan threw the first interception right before the half. There was no reason to be that aggressive. He had to know Berry was lurking. The Chiefs entered the game leading the league in turnover differential. The last interception was inexcusable, too. They Chiefs had thoroughly scouted the Falcons and were running their plays better than them at times. In addition to the two interceptions that led to nine points, Ryan also had two drives that stalled at the 4-yard line. Ryan completed 22 of 34 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown pass. He had a passer rating of 90 and completed passes to seven different receivers. Ryan didn’t like the interceptions, but seemed to be more troubled by being stopped at the 4-yard line twice in the first half. The Falcons had to settle for two 22-yard field goals. “They did a good job in the tight red zone, inside the 10,” Ryan said. “They did a pretty good job all day against us. Credit to them. I thought they played well. We just didn’t make plays when we needed to down there.”
Running backs, C-minus. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined to rush 27 times for 105 yards (3.9 per carry) and two touchdowns by Freeman. Overall, the Falcons rushed 30 times for 128 yards (4.3 yards per carry). The Falcons inability to run inside the red zone against the Chiefs helped to stall two promising early drives. The Falcons had to get cute with outside swing passes, bootlegs and tosses and the Chiefs were all over those plays.
Wide receivers/tight ends, C. This game will revive the ‘Why can’t the Falcons get the ball to Julio Jones in the red zone?’ line of questioning. He gets it all day in between the 20s, but when it’s time to score touchdowns, they can seem to find him. Justin Hardy, ostensibly the fourth receiver, got two targets in the red zone. The Falcons opened the game by throwing three consecutive passes to All-Pro Jones. Jones caught four passes for 52 yards as the Falcons’ drive. The Chiefs’ became determined to hold Jones in check and used a safety to help cornerback Marcus Peters. Jones didn’t catch another pass until 10:30 was left in the third quarter after the Chiefs had built a 27-16 lead. Jones ended up with seven catches for 113 yards and no touchdowns before leaving the game with an apparent ankle injury that was called a “lower body” injury. Taylor Gabriel had five catches for 44 yards and had a touchdown called back because of holding penalty on Jake Matthews. Mohamed Sanu, who left the game with a groin injury, had two catches for 26 yards. Tight end Levine Toilolo had a big 42-yard gainer, while Austin Hooper, the target on the pick-two, was shut out.
Offensive line, C. The line wasn’t built to power the ball inside the tight red zone so it’s hard to down grade them for the struggles inside the 10. The running game averaged 4.3 yards per carry and Ryan generally had time in the pocket. The unit gave up two sacks and nine quarterback hits, who can be attributed to the Chiefs tight coverage. Matthews left the game in the second quarter with a left knee sprain and did not return. Tom Compton came on and was solid over 41 of the 74 offensive snaps (55 percent). Matthews’ knee was examined behind the team’s bench by the team doctor. After the exam, a sleeve was removed from the knee and Matthews tested the knee out by running on the sideline. They put the sleeve back on and he ran around some more before being taken into the locker room right before halftime. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder talked to Matthews. “He’s really positive,” Schraeder said. “Jake is a tough guy. He’s going to recover and he’s going to be just fine.” Compton was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft out of South Dakota by Washington. He’s in his first season with the Falcons. Compton has played in 44 games with 11 NFL starts.
Defensive line, D. The Vic Beasley and Dwight Freeney pass rushing combo came alive on the Chiefs’ second possession. On third-and-3 from Atlanta’s 39, Beasley arrived first low from left defensive end, followed by Freeney high from the right. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith tried to slide up, but Beasley got up and kept attacking. He came up with the sack strip to the put the offense in business at the 43 after Grady Jarrett recovered the loose ball. Beasley with the No. 8 overall pick in 2015 draft, the former Clemson pass rusher boldly predicted he would have at least 10 sacks as a rookie. Beasley had a solid first season as a pro he didn’t come close to reaching that goal. He only needed 12 games to reach that mark in what’s shaping up to be a standout second season. Beasley’s sack of the Chiefs’ Alex Smith on Sunday gave him 10.5 for the season. He also forced a fumble on the play, his fifth of the season. Beasley has a chance to finish the season with the NFL lead in sacks and forced fumbles. Entering Week 13, Beasley’s 9.5 sacks ranked third behind Von Miller (12.5) and three players tied with 10 and his four forced fumbles were tied for most in the NFL with teammate Keanu Neal and three other defenders. Beasley is the first Falcons player with at least 10 sacks since John Abraham had 10 in 2012. That was about the only highlight from this unit.
Linebackers, C: Deion Jones (seven) and De’Vondre Campbell (five) combined for 12 tackles, but no impact plays. Philip Wheeler and LaRoy Reynolds had one tackle each.
Defensive backs, D. Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal was drafted, in part, to help the defense improve its pass coverage against tight ends. Neal, who was selected with the 17th overall pick, learned some tough lessons against Kansas City’s Travis Kelce in the 29-28 loss on Sunday. “He’s a technician,” Neal said. “He’s smart with his routes. He knows how to play the game. He’s a great tight end. I don’t know what to say. He’s a great route runner. He can play ball. That’s why he’s a pro bowler.” Kelce caught eight passes for 140 yards against the Falcons. He caught a 35-yarder with Neal in coverage on the team’s opening drive. With the Falcons trying to stop the Chiefs and get the ball back to the offense, Kelce ran another smooth route to get open on Neal in the fourth quarter. “We were pumped,” Neal said about the opportunity to get a stop late. “We embraced the challenge. We knew that they needed a first down. We wanted to stop them.” On second-and-10 from Kansas City’s 8, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith tossed a 14-yard pass to Kelce to keep the game-clinching drive moving. “There was this one whip route that Kelce had when I was covering him that I didn’t execute on it,” Neal said. “I’m going to evaluate that and move on from there. There were a lot of opportunities out there that we had and we didn’t execute on, especially me personally.” Cornerbacks Robert Alford and Jalen Collins held up in mostly zone coverage. Free safety Ricardo Allen led the team in tackles with eight.
Special teams, F. Kicker Matt Bryant made three field goals, including a 59-yarder. Ra’Shede Hageman blocked an extra point. The punt coverage team gave up a 55-yard touchdown run right up the middle. Bosher, who was back after missing a game with a hamstring injury, was not able to boom his kickoffs deep into the end zone. Bosher had just one touchback on six kickoffs. Chiefs returner D’Anthony Thomas had six returns for 130 yards (21.7 per return).
Coaching, D-minus. The team fights through adversity and never gives up. The coaching staff must be commended for the spirit of the team, but they need to get the defense better prepared to play and the offense has to find some answers in the red zone. Chiefs coach Andy Reid, and co-offensive coordinators Brad Childress and Matt Nagy, the former Georgia Force Arena Football League quarterback, had their way with the Falcons’ defense. Taking out the three kneel downs for minus 3 yards, the Chiefs ran 45 plays and amassed 392 yards for an average of 8.7 yards per play. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan needs to find a jumbo package to run from in the red zone and has to move Julio Jones around to get him free. The special teams touchdown right up the middle of the coverage unit was absolutely unacceptable.
NEXT UP: The Falcons (7-5) are set to play running back Todd Gurley and the Los Angeles Rams (4-8) at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Falcons have to pick up the pieces after this tough loss!
GAME 12: Chiefs 29, Falcons 28
GAME 11: Falcons 38, Cardinals 19
GAME 10: Eagles 24, Falcons 15
GAME SEVEN: Chargers 33, Falcons 30 in OT
GAME SIX: Seahawks 26, Falcons 24
GAME FIVE: Falcons 23, Broncos 16
GAME FOUR: Falcons 48, Panthers 33
GAME THREE: Falcons 45, Saints 32
GAME TWO: Falcons 35, Raiders 28
GAME ONE: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 24