Sunday Julio Jones became the fastest receiver to gain 10,000 yards. It was bittersweet as his Falcons fell flat – very flat as they fell hard to the Cleveland Browns 28-16.
Jones led all receivers with 107 receiving yards on seven grabs and found the end zone once again but it was all in vain. Even Matt Ryan’s MVP caliber performance was for naught as his counterpart Baker Mayfield completed 17-of-20 passes, completing his first 13, throwing for three scores as the Atlanta defense that we bragged on last week were too busy reading their praise from last week to get involved with the game. Nick Chubb, Cleveland’s rookie RB out of Georgia rushed for 176 yards, 92 coming on one play that broke the game wide open in the third, setting a franchise record for the longest rushing touchdown. Browns’ icon Jim Brown’s longest was only 80 yards by comparison. Chubb accounted for over 200 yards in total offense and two touchdowns also scoring on a Mayfield pass as the first half was coming to an end that gave them the lead, which they never relinquished.
The Falcons came out almost nonchalant, almost as they expected to win this one easy. Going into the game it looked that way. The Browns have already fired their head coach and offensive coordinator and had suffered through a stretch of four games of double-digit losses. The Falcons ran into a buzz saw. The Cleveland offense was nothing to brag about other than Chubb and Mayfield’s accuracy. That being said, the rookie QB threw safe passes and the Falcons’ secondary played more of a zone than putting pressure on receivers – plus they forgot how to tackle again. Besides injuries, the biggest problem with the Atlanta offense is tackling. The Chubb 92-yard run alone proved that.
After falling behind in the first on Mayfield’s 28-yard TD pass to Rashard Higgins, the Falcons started moving the ball again. The offense fell back into their old ways circa last year and 2013-15 as they were able to move the ball but once again had trouble in the red zone. Also returning was their third quarter troubles from years past where they would go in at half with a lead and either lose it or see it shrink tremendously in the second half.
The Falcons got on the board early in the second quarter as they found themselves with a first and 10 at the Cleveland 24 but got no further. Ryan, under extreme duress looking for Jones downfield was forced out of the pocket and started to run. The ball was knocked loose and Alex Mack picked it up and tried to run with it with Ryan recovering that fumble. Another incomplete pass and a completion to Mohamed Sanu left the Falcons settling for a Giorgio Tavecchio 40-yard field goal.
Things got interesting as the Browns started moving the ball again and tried to get cute. On a trick play that seems to be getting used a lot this season, Dontrell Hilliard took the ball with Mayfield being the intended receiver. Damontae Kazee stepped in, intercepting the pass returning the ball 33 yards to the Cleveland 45.
Ryan proceeded to hit Jones for 30 yards and mixed runs by Tevin Coleman and passes to Austin Hooper and Logan Paulsen. On third and goal at the one Ryan hit Jones for the lead.
The lead didn’t last long as the Browns took the kickoff marching back down to take the lead with under a minute left in the half as part of a 21-0 run that saw Dan Quinn, Rayan and the rest of the team sand there with their collective mouths agape. The Dawg Pound went crazy as early in the fourth Mayfield hit Duke Johnson Jr. for his third TD pass and only two minutes later Chubb broke off his historic run.
All the while the Atlanta offense move the ball even getting down to the Cleveland one but were unable to punch the ball in and turned the ball over on downs. Sound familiar? The Falcons were given plenty of opportunities but could not score until the 4:24 mark as Ryan hit Hooper from three yards out in a drive that exemplified their futility on offense and coaching. Two minutes earlier Ryan hit Hooper on a nine-yard pass at the goal line for an apparent touchdown. The refs ruled him down just short. Despite replays showing he was definitely in the end zone, Quinn didn’t bother to challenge. There things got surreal as it took a fourth down conversion – in reality a desperation pass Ryan lobbed towards the goal line that Hooper caught as a jump ball, stumbling into the end zone.
The Falcons got the ball back one last time and managed to march downfield inside the Cleveland 40 only to lose the ball on a Ryan fumble as he was stripped of the ball by Jamie Collins ending whatever futile rally the Falcons were attempting leaving the final score 28-16.
The step back in both offense and defense stuck out like a sore thumb. The Falcons actually lost the turnover battle. Besides Ryan’s turnover at the end of the game, Sanu also fumbled in the second quarter trying to extend a catch and run and for some reason that he rarely does, didn’t protect the ball and it came loose on the way down to the ground. Mayfield had all day in the pocket as for the first time in weeks the Falcons did not record a sack. And what ever happened to Vic Beasley? In the last three games he’s had only one tackle and that lone tackle (not a sack) was two weeks ago against the Giants.
The Falcons return home Sunday to try and get back on a winning streak and try to climb back to .500 as they host the Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff is 1pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal