ATLANTA (AP) — Home is not-so sweet for the Atlanta Falcons.
If they can't figure out a way to win their final two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, they are headed for a fourth straight losing season.
The Falcons (5-7) dropped to 0-5 in Atlanta this season with a 30-17 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
“It’s hard, man," running back Cordarrelle Patterson said. “We do it for the fans. Being home and not getting a win for those guys, it hurts me. I love this city, I love Atlanta. I just want to get the win for them at home.”
Atlanta is 5-2 away from its retractable-roof stadium — including a victory over the New York Jets in a designated home game at London — but the lack of success at the Benz has been a huge issue for several seasons.
After going 5-3 at home in their debut season at the stadium in 2017, the Falcons are a miserable 9-20 in Atlanta, compared with 14-17 in other cities.
While it's true the Falcons' opponents in Atlanta this season have a better cumulative record (34-27) than the road opponents (37-48, if the Jets are included), there's still no excuse for losing three home games to teams that are no better than .500.
Going back to last season, the Falcons have lost seven straight in Atlanta.
“We constantly look at everything,” rookie coach Arthur Smith said. “We didn’t win the ones that I felt we should have. I mean, there’s a reason why. Some of it is matchup based. (But) we've got to play better, certainly, at home.”
For the second game in a row, the Falcons had success in the running game, though much of the production came on two early carries that produced Atlanta's only offensive touchdown. Patterson had a 39-yard run that set up Mike Davis' 17-yard TD. Patterson finished with 78 yards on 13 carries, Davis ran four times for 32 yards, and the Falcons finished with 23 carries for 121 yards, a 5.3-yard average. The previous week, they rushed for 149 yards against Jacksonville.
WHAT’S NEEDS HELP
Tom Brady passed 51 times — compared with 17 runs for Tampa Bay — but the Falcons rarely got any pressure on the Bucs' 44-year-old quarterback. Brady wasn't sacked at all, leaving Atlanta with a puny 15 sacks in 12 games, the lowest sack average in the league. On the other hand, the Falcons' offensive line struggled to keep Matt Ryan upright. He was sacked five times and hit 11 other times.
DL Marlon Davidson gave the Falcons a glimmer of hope with a stunning play in the closing seconds of the first half. With Brady looking to throw a screen pass, Davidson peeled off his rush, picked off the pass and glided 3 yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown. WR Russell Gage had by far his best game of the season with 11 catches for 130 yards, though he did have a crucial fumble in the third quarter. Gage came in with just 27 receptions for 270 yards in his first eight games.
TE Kyle Pitts. Opposing defenses have figured out that the best way to shut down Atlanta's passing attack is to take the first-round pick out of the game. The Falcons have little in the way of deep threats on the outside, so opponents are doubling up on Pitts to make sure he can't get loose. He had just four catches for 48 yards against Tampa Bay, giving him nine receptions for 103 yards over the past three games. More troubling, the Falcons can't find a way to get him involved in the red zone. While the Bucs got three receiving touchdowns from their tight end group, Pitts' only TD this season came way back in Week 5.
DL Jonathan Bullard missed his second straight game because of an ailing ankle. S Richie Grant and LB Adetokunbo Ogundeji both hobbled off the field against the Bucs with ankle injuries.
1 of 3 — On three trips into the red zone, the Falcons managed only one touchdown. The clock ran out on a meaningless drive at the end of the game, but the Falcons were really lamenting a blown opportunity when they had first-and-goal inside the 1 in the first half. Ryan sandwiched a bobbled snap around two incompletions, forcing the Falcons to settle for a 21-yard field goal when they absolutely needed a touchdown against the high-scoring Bucs.
0-10 — The Falcons' record against Tom Brady. Asked about Brady's career domination of Atlanta, Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said bluntly, "He’s just been on a better team for a long time.” Ouch.
Amazingly, the Falcons are still part of the NFC playoff race, trailing Washington (6-6), San Francisco (6-6) and Philadelphia (6-7) for the final wild-card spot and tied with a bunch of teams at 5-7.
Another of those 5-7 teams is Carolina, the NFC South rival that the Falcons face next Sunday in Charlotte. It's probably not a stretch to call this a must-win given all the tiebreakers that are working against Atlanta.
“The truth is, we’re still in the mix,” Smith said. “We've got five games to go. That’s a lot of football left.”
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