The Atlanta Falcons’ rollercoaster of a season came to an unfortunate end in the Georgia Dome on Sunday afternoon. Atlanta opened up the regular season looking like a dominant force in the NFC on their way to a 5-0 start, but somewhere along the way they lost their identity. New Orleans handed the Falcons their first loss of the season in week 6 and sent the Falcons into a downward spiral that seemingly never ended. A six game losing streak not only put Atlanta outside the playoff picture, but gave them the opportunity to become the first team in NFL history to finish a season in which they had a five-game win streak with a losing record.
However, Atlanta would have none of that. The Falcons narrowly escaped Jacksonville with a win to stop the bleeding and headed into a matchup at 7-7 with the undefeated Carolina Panthers. Not many people gave Atlanta a shot, but the Falcons showed glimpses of why they started out the season 5-0. They played terrific defense against one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses, and Matt Ryan led the way with a stellar performance passing the football on the way to a 20-13 victory. The win kept the Falcons playoff hopes alive briefly, but they were eliminated when the Vikings beat the Giants later that day.
Despite the final game having zero playoff implications, both of these teams came out playing tough in one of the NFL’s best rivalries. The offenses traded blows in the first half, which saw the Falcons head into the locker room with a 17-14 lead, but it was the defenses that were the story in the second half. With the score knotted at 17, the Falcons were driving to take the lead before Devonta Freeman fumbled the ball just shy of the goal line. The fumble resembled a lot of huge mistakes the Falcons made all season that cost them numerous games. The Saints took the ball from their own four yard line and drove the ball down the field, but Travaris Cadet must have felt bad for Atlanta fumbling at the goal line and returned the favor.
Atlanta did have a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter. With under three minutes to go, Justin Hardy was stopped a few yards short of a first down at the New Orleans 27-yard line. However, an Andy Levitre unnecessary rougness penalty took the Falcons out of field goal range, and forced Atlanta to punt the ball back to Drew Brees.
The turning point came with under two minutes to go when Matt Ryan was intercepted on Atlanta’s first play of the possession. New Orleans was able to hold onto the ball and kick a 30-yard field goal as time ran out. The game was hard fought, but all too similar to numerous games the Falcons should have won. Untimely turnovers and boneheaded mistakes were the story of Sunday’s loss and the 2015 season as a whole.