BALTIMORE (AP) — In a season filled with narrow losses, the Atlanta Falcons saw their slim playoff hopes end by virtue of a chilling defeat that featured a familiar slow start and ended with coach Arthur Smith again talking about the team's need to show progress.
In between the opening kickoff and final whistle of their 17-9 setback against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday, the Falcons were plagued by untimely penalties, a costly turnover and poor execution in the red zone.
The loss eliminated Atlanta (5-10) from playoff contention, a fate that seemed inevitable after the team nosedived following a 3-3 start. Sure, the Falcons have dropped eight games by eight points or fewer, but that hasn't made their current four-game skid any easier to take.
“Ultimately, it’s about winning,” Smith said. “You can look at the progress that’s being made. But we’ve got to find ways to play with a lead. We’ve got to find a way to get over that hump.”
With rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder making his second NFL start, the Falcons went three-and-out on each of their first two possessions and had only 12 yards in offense during a first quarter played in frosty 17-degree weather. Baltimore built a 14-3 lead at halftime and cruised to the finish while keeping Atlanta out of the end zone.
The refs didn't help. In the final minute of the first half, an intentional grounding call against Ridder while he was seemingly being hit turned a first-and-goal at the 1 into a hasty field goal as time expired.
Smith furiously objected to the call from the sideline, but afterward opted to keep his comments — and potential fine money for criticizing the officials — to himself.
“I'd rather give that money to people in Atlanta,” Smith said. “If they’re going to fine me a lot of money, I’d rather give it to people who need it.”
Atlanta was also burned by a holding call on a third-quarter touchdown run that would have cut the deficit to 14-9, pending the conversion. And there was a fumble by star receiver Drake London in the second quarter, which turned out to be the only turnover of the game.
Overall, the Falcons converted only five of 14 third-down tried, went 0 for 4 on fourth down and failed to score a touchdown during four trips to the red zone.
“Situation football,” Ridder said. “At the end of the day, we go back and look at red zone, third down and turnovers, making sure we win all those things. Obviously, situational football wasn’t our best today. That’s something we’ll look at and try to get better at.”
Afterward, Smith talked about looking to show improvement in the final two weeks at home against Arizona and Tampa Bay.
“We're looking to win and progress. Then, I’ll stop coming up here and sounding like a broken record,” he said. “We need to win at home, win for our fans and finish this thing out right.”
Ridder, who went 22 for 33 for 218 yards, knows exactly how his coach feels.
“We’ve been on a bumpy road up and down this entire year,” the rookie said. “We wanted to get over that hump today. Obviously we didn’t. Now it’s about going to get the next one.”
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