Atlanta came into Sunday’s game with a terrific opportunity to strengthen their grip on an NFC wild card spot. They began the day with strong with an interception by Paul Warrilow in Colts territory on the first possession of the game, but the Falcons offensive struggles were highlighted early. A three and out was followed by Matt Bryant’s fourth missed field goal of the season from 47 yards. Atlanta came up big with another turnover on the next possession, forcing a Frank Gore fumble. The Falcons quickly moved the ball to the redzone where they have had their fare share of struggles in recent weeks. Matt Ryan threw a pass that was tipped and intercepted in the endzone. The call was reviewed and upheld, even though the ball clearly looked to hit the turf and move.
Atlanta was able to bounce back after the blown call and put up two touchdowns on their next two possessions. Both touchdowns came on catches by the unlikely Patrick Dimarco, who has been a terrific blocking fullback all season long. The Colts were able to answer just before the end of the half to cut the lead to 14-7 heading into the locker room.
Atlanta came out on the opening possession looking like a team ready to put a beat Colts team out of their misery. They went on 10 play, 80 yard drive capped off by a Leanord Hankerson touchdown catch to go up 21-7. However, the offense was nonexistent from here on out.
The Colts answered just before the end of the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-14, and then the Falcons offensive mistake began to pop up again. On the final play of the third quarter, Tevin Coleman fumbled in Falcons territory and set the Colts up with a terrific opportunity to tie the game. The Falcons defense was able to come up huge against and intercept Matt Hassleback for the second time to prevent the Colts from cutting into the lead. But the defense could not bail the team out when Matt Ryan was intercepted throwing from his own endzone. The pass was returned for a touchdown and just like that the lead had vanished.
Atlanta’s offense was not ever able to get going again despite being given numerous opportunities due to multiple stops by their defense. The Colts were finally able to put a drive together, as it was capped off by a 43-yard field goal with under a minute to go by the legendary Adam Vinetari. Atlanta was unable to answer in the final seconds and fell at home, 24-21.
The loss by Atlanta makes the NFC wild card picture a lot more interesting with six more games to go for all teams. The Falcons held a two game lead for the final wild card spot over a bevy of teams. Two teams: Seattle and Tampa Bay were able to take advantage of the Atlanta loss and close the gap to just one game. Even at 5-5, the defending champions look like a playoff team and are fully capable of stringing multiple wins together. The Buccaneers also look like a team on the rise, as they have won three of four. Atlanta has a crucial matchup with Tampa Bay on December 6th. There are also still a load of teams sitting just two games out and capable of catching up if Atlanta cannot figure out their recent struggles. The Falcons have a critical home game next week against the Minnesota Vikings, who are currently just one game ahead of them for the 5th wild card spot, which could be the difference between playing Green Bay or New York. If Atlanta is serious about making the playoffs, they must win at home against the Vikings.