Falcons fall short in season finale


When it comes to moving the football, the Falcons never had an issue of that this season. In fact, they averaged 345 yards per game which put them in the upper half of the NFL. But sustaining drives has been the issue this season, and it was the case when the Falcons fell to the Carolina Panthers 21-20 in the season finale at the Georgia Dome.

“Whether you lose by one or you lose by 20, you lose,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “We do not like to lose.”

The one series that summed up the season was the final drive of the game for the Falcons. Being down by one with 1:20 left, the Falcons started at their own 12-yard line and were able to get to their own 43-yard line in four plays. On the next play, Joe Hawley snapped the ball while Ryan was making calls, which led to a fumble and the Falcons recovered at their own 27-yard line.

“It was a miscue,” Smith said. “We were identifying the front and the ball was snapped.”

The Falcons started the game on fire, jumping to a 7-0 lead on the opening series. The scoring drive ended with a Matt Ryan 9-yard touchdown pass to Jason Selling. Ryan was 7-of-7 on the drive and Tony Gonzalez caught two of those passes for 28 yards.

The Panthers could get nothing going on offense. Cam Newton was 1-of-4 passing and they only rushed for four yards on five carries.

It was the same story in the second quarter. On the opening series for the Panthers, Newton threw an interception to William Moore and that led to a Matt Bryant field goal to put the Falcons up by 10.

The Panthers looked to right the ship on the ensuing series as Newton threw a screen pass to DeAngelo Williams and went 56 yards. But as he was going down Robert Alford striped the ball from him and Desmond Trufant recovered.

However, the Falcons could not do anything with the turnover. On the second play from scrimmage Ryan threw a pass intended for Harry Douglas but it fell into the hands of Melvin White and returned it eight yards for the score. The Panthers took the lead at the end of the second quarter when Newton threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr.

The Falcons took back the lead early in the third quarter when Ryan threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. But the Panthers answered on the ensuing drive when Newton threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olson. The Falcons cut the Panthers lead to one early in the fourth quarter with a Matt Bryant field goal.

If there was another thing that killed the Falcons, it was the sacks on Ryan. The Panthers defensive front got after Ryan, sacking him nine times, two consecutive times late in the fourth quarter when the Falcons were trying to take the lead.

“We have not done a good job protecting our quarterback throughout the season,” Smith said. “We have to a better job and it’s not always the offensive line. There are other people that are involved in the protection as well.”

For all the sacks Ryan took, he finished the day 28-of-40 with 280 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of 95.8.

But the story of the game was Tony Gonzalez as he played his final NFL game on Sunday. Gonzalez finished with four catches for 56 yards, but will go down as the most productive tight end in NFL history.

And despite losing the final game of the year and the team not winning as much as they have been used to, Gonzalez has no regrets.

“My career it’s turned out to be something more than I ever thought and more than I ever dreamed,” Gonzalez said.  “It’s been an unbelievable ride. It’s amazing. I’m still looking back and saying; I can’t believe this happened to me, honestly.”

The Falcons finished the season with a 4-12 mark, which puts them in last place in the NFC South. The next move for the team is exit interviews, cleaning of the lockers and preparing for the NFL Draft which is in May.

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