There was no miracle. No comeback. It was just dreadful for the Atlanta Falcons.
The defending NFC Champions were stifled by the New England Patriots 23-7 Sunday at Gillette Stadium. It was supposed to be the rematch, a chance for the Falcons to make a statement against the team that overcame a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl LI last February.
No statement was made by the Falcons. Instead, it was horrifying: missed field goals, puzzling fourth down conversions, including one on the 1-yard line that resulted in a turnover on downs, and an offense that was the best in the league last year that couldn't put up points for three quarters. Oh, and the fog.
Head coach Dan Quinn said simply missed opportunities were the demise of his team.
"We missed field goal and blocked field goals," he said. "Third down on both sides of the ball I thought cost us. The red zone is certainly a factor in tonight’s score."
Neither Quinn or quarterback Matt Ryan would even entertain the thought that their struggles extended back to the last time they played the Patriots in February. They were trying not to think about it, but there were 28-3 reminders everywhere.
"I’m not going to keep looking back into last year," Quinn said.
"I don’t think it’s a let down," Ryan said. "The want-to is there. We just have to find out why we’re not executing the way we’re capable of."
After a penalty-filled first quarter that ended without a score, the Patriots went up to a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard touch pass from Tom Brady to Brandin Cooks. Two plays earlier, Robert Alford picked off Brady, but Adrian Clayborn was called for roughing the passing. It's the second time in as many games the Falcons lost an interception due to that penalty.
After three straight pass plays and a three-and-out from the Falcons, the Patriots put together a long drive but had to settle for a 29-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.
The Patriots were able to score again before halftime because the Falcons went for it on a 4th-and-6 near midfield. They converted a fourth down on their second drive, as well, and Matt Ryan scrambled for the first down. But it led to a blocked field goal by Cassius Marsh.
This time, Ryan threw to Mohamed Sanu, who stopped on his route and tried to jump up and get it, but it was incomplete. The play call left everyone dumbfounded.
"We were clear in how we wanted to go and attack," Quinn said. "We did take some chances on some fourth down ops, we felt that was the right thing to do...continue to give our guys chances."
The Patriots marched 53 yards down field in 1:34, and Brady threw 2 yards to James White to get up 17-0.
The Falcons offense had no answer. The play calling was puzzling, and even in the fourth quarter when the Falcons were able to get to the 1-yard line thanks to targets to Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman pushing the ball downfield, the Falcons couldn't score.
Ryan's throw to Jones on 3rd-and-goal from the 1 was incomplete, and the Falcons ran a sweep to the right on fourth down, but Trey Flowers sniffed it out and tackled Taylor Gabriel for a loss.
"We took a shot to get the ball out on the perimeter, but they made a better play than we did. I thought that was our chance. We thought it was the right thing to do to get back in the game," he said.
From there, the cries on social media to fire new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian only grew louder. It began trending in Atlanta. Sarkisian has been facing criticism from fans in his first season.
The defense was never put in a position to succeed. The Patriots had short fields and a balanced attack. They were 6-for-11 on third downs. The Falcons were 2-for-9.
Tom Brady threw for 249 yards, and the ground game rushed for 165 yards, the most the Falcons have allowed this season. Chris Hogan led the Patriots' receiving corps with 71 yards and four receptions.
Ryan threw 23 passes on 33 attempts for 233 yards. He finally connected with Jones in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter. Malcolm Butler nearly intercepted the pass, but Jones ripped it out of his hands for his first touchdown of the season.
Jones had nine catches for 99 yards in the game.
Ryan said what frustrates him is not being able to capitalize on opportunities. He blames himself and others on the offense.
"We’re not the team I think we’re going to be yet," Ryan said. We’ve got the right mindset and the right guys that are willing to work towards that."
The Falcons have lost three in a row to fall to 3-3.