Just when it seemed the Falcons were poised to put a little late-season winning streak together and possibly gather some momentum for next season, they fizzled in the second half and ultimately fell to Green Bay at Lambeau Field, 22-21.
Following an all-too-familiar pattern on Sunday, the Falcons went scoreless in the second half, similar to the NFC championship game loss to the 49ers.
And in both cases, the Falcons squandered double-digit leads.
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Also gone was a chance for a modest three-game winning streak with the imploding Redskins, also 3-10, visiting the Georgia Dome next week — in a game loaded with high-draft-pick implications for next spring.
Entering Sunday, the Packers had gone 0-4-1 in their previous five games, coinciding with Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone fracture (non-throwing injury). Without its leader, though, Green Bay was able to rally behind Matt Flynn, playing on his third team in two seasons.
Flynn (286 total yards, one TD vs. Atlanta) also represents the Packers’ fourth quarterback this season.
No, with the exception of last week’s 34-point outburst (against the Bills), the Falcons offense, expected to be one of the league’s best in 2013, reverted to the ugly form it has shown for much of the season.
In their three wins, the Falcons have scored at least 31 points. In their 10 losses, they have averaged just 18.6.
Some of the Sunday failures were inexplicable. In the opening half, the Falcons ran the ball for 64 yards on 13 carries (4.9 yards per carry). Leading 21-10 at halftime, one would think the rushing success would have carried over to the second half — especially amid declining weather conditions, including a wind chill factor of -1.
Instead, the Falcons ran the ball for just 19 yards in the final 30 minutes.
In terms of the reliable, future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas, who is on pace for more than 70 receptions and his first 1,000-yard season, had drops at critical times.
With 1:55 left in regulation and the Falcons going for it on 4th-and-5 from the Packers’ 33 — the Falcons had missed a 52-yard field goal try earlier amid the wind and snow — Gonzalez (three catches, 25 yards, one TD) dropped a ball that would have provided the first down.
To be fair, Packers safety Jarrett Bush got a hand on the ball early, but Gonzalez grasped the ball against his face mask, but still couldn’t corral it.
Later, with 17 seconds left and the Falcons at their own 43, Douglas (two catches, 20 yards) let a ball slide right through his hands on a deep out. On the next play, the unlikely hero Bush intercepted Ryan after the quarterback forced a ball to Douglas at the Packers’ 37.
Then came the costly rookie mistake. Seventy seconds into the fourth quarter, the Falcons let the Packers back in the game when outside linebacker Mike Neal beat O-lineman Ryan Schraeder, who played a career-high 11 snaps at right tackle last week, for a strip-sack of Ryan.
Johnny Jolly recovered and Green Bay took over at the Atlanta 21, marking the Falcons’ first turnover of the game.
Four plays later, Andrew Quarless caught the game-winner from Flynn — a 2-yard scoring pass/catch.
The Falcons have three more chances for victory. However, the last two come against teams headed for the NFC playoffs, San Francisco and Carolina.
Maybe against Washington, owner of the league’s 23rd-ranked defense, the Falcons offense will not let them down. But who knows. Green Bay’s was ranked 24th.