The Atlanta Falcons nearly won a Super Bowl a year ago behind the NFL’s most potent offense.
It was that side of the ball that ended their chances to get to the big game again.
Atlanta managed only 10 first-half points [url=http://www.lionscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-tracy-walker-jersey]Tracy Walker Jersey[/url] , both coming off Philadelphia turnovers, and lost 15-10 to the Eagles on Saturday. While Philadelphia advances to the NFC championship game, the Falcons (11-7) go home.
”I think that’s certainly something that we have to look at and evaluate this offseason,” Matt Ryan said after concluding a somewhat down season for him in the wake of his 2016 league MVP campaign. ”There were too many times that we were a little bit inconsistent.”
That was exemplified against the Eagles (14-3), who like the Falcons sputtered in the red zone. But Philly got three field goals from Jake Elliott and a touchdown run from LeGarrette Blount.
Most damaging for Atlanta was how it came up empty deep in Eagles territory on its final drive. The Falcons had first-and-goal at the 9, and got to the 2 on fourth down before Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones soared over his head in the end zone.
”Certainly in those situations you want to go to your best players,” Ryan explained. ”You know, obviously rolled to the right and had an opportunity to Julio. It just didn’t work out and that’s disappointing.”
Atlanta was the NFL’s highest-scoring team last season, but its lowest production was in a 24-15 defeat to the Eagles. The offense wasn’t nearly as productive this season, falling to 15th, from 33.8 points a game to 22.1.
The Falcons didn’t come close to their season’s average, or to the 26 they put on the board in beating the Rams in a wild-card matchup last weekend.
So while the defense was vastly improved, particularly in the pass rush, the Falcons fell flat with the ball far too many times.
”That’s one of the areas we are dialed in from the beginning of the season to where how we make sure those aren’t field goals and they turn into touchdowns,” coach Dan Quinn said. ”Was there plays that knocked us out? Could we have done better in the run game down there?
”Those are certainly topics we are going to look long and deep into.”
Star receiver Jones had a strong game with nine receptions for 101 yards. He was targeted 16 times.
But he couldn’t get free downfield, except for a 20-yard reception on fourth down on the final drive. For the Falcons to be Super Bowl threats down the road, Jones must be nearly unstoppable.
Atlanta’s running game was spotty against the Eagles, too. Several times [url=http://www.billscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-kelvin-benjamin-jersey]Kelvin Benjamin Jersey[/url] , Tevin Coleman had open lanes and got nice gains. On other plays, he and Devonta Freeman didn’t have an inch to run when Ryan handed off.
Coleman, usually the backup, had 79 yards on 10 carries, with a long of 23. Freeman had only 7 yards on his 10 carries.
In contrast, the Eagles ran for 96 yards and had several big plays on the ground.
Now, the Falcons must cope with a much earlier and nearly as dramatic defeat as what they sustained last February.
”It’s difficult when you get to the playoffs and you’ve put in all the work throughout the year,” Ryan said. ”You’re in a competitive game like tonight. There’s a lot of back and forth. It’s disappointing to not get the outcome that you want.
”The finality of it sometimes is difficult, so we’re disappointed for sure.”
Asked how the Atlanta Braves have surprised many experts by establishing a three-game lead in the National League East at the season’s halfway point, catcher Kurt Suzuki didn’t hesitate.
“This team has no fear,” he said Saturday night after an 11-4 victory in St. Louis. “We have a lot of young guys but we also have some veterans. We approach every game the same way.”
Atlanta’s consistency has been too much for the Cardinals this weekend. Behind solid starting pitching and an explosive offense, the Braves (47-34) have outscored St. Louis 16-5 in winning the series’ first two games. They go for a sweep on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (5-4, 2.14 ERA) will try to match what Julio Teheran and Max Fried have done in the series. Neither allowed a run in a combined 12 2/3 innings, with Fried enjoying the best outing of his short big league career Saturday night.
The former first-round pick of the San Diego Padres allowed only four hits and three walks in 6 2/3 innings, recording 11 strikeouts against the whiff-prone Cardinals. The hard-throwing Foltynewicz made his return from the 10-day disabled list Monday night, allowing one hit and one run in five innings while walking four and fanning four against Cincinnati in a no-decision.
“The arm was just kind of heavy,” he said to mlb.com. “You can’t really practice these situations when you’re out there with your adrenaline running, but just a couple of times I just couldn’t really extend too far. But adrenaline pushed me through.”
Foltynewicz has faced St. Louis three times in his career [url=http://www.billscheapshop.com/cheap-authentic-patrick-dimarco-jersey]Patrick DiMarco Jersey[/url] , going 1-2 with a 9.95 ERA and yielding a whopping 22 hits over 12 2/3 innings.
In an attempt to avoid a fourth straight loss, the Cardinals (42-39) will turn to former Atlanta prospect John Gant (2-2, 3.48). Gant, replacing the disabled Michael Wacha in the rotation, pitched the best game of his career Monday night, limiting Cleveland to an infield single by Yan Gomes over seven innings in a 5-0 victory.
Gant walked five and fanned four, but his off-speed pitches kept the Indians off-balance all game and enabled him to post his first win as a starter.
“We’re lucky the third base bag got in the way of Gomes’ (grounder) or we wouldn’t have had anything,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said to mlb.com of Gant’s performance.
Before plating four runs in the ninth inning Saturday night, St. Louis managed two runs in its previous 26 innings. Its offense has been primarily singles and homers, as it’s on pace for the fewest doubles and triples in the majors.
Help may be on the way when the Cardinals start a nine-game road trip Monday night against Arizona. Shortstop Paul DeJong may be activated off the disabled list after a weekend rehab stint for Triple-A Memphis.
That could result in the move of first baseman Jose Martinez, who’s on a 100-RBI pace but has been poor afield, to his natural outfield position. In fact, Martinez played the last three innings Saturday night in right field.
“Jose Martinez has earned a spot in the lineup every day, so we have to figure out a spot to play him,” general manager Michael Girsch said to mlb.com.
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