The Falcons will never blow a lead more memorable than 28-3. The Patriots’ comeback to win Super Bowl 51 will make that score a meme until the end of time. But that hasn’t stopped the Falcons from trying to make more lead-blowing history in 2020.
Before this year, no team had blown multiple 15-point fourth quarter leads in the same season. The Falcons have already done it twice this year, in Week 2 to the Cowboys and Week 3 to the Bears. Are the Falcons cursed? To find its first win of 2020, Atlanta will have to figure out how to keep itself ahead until the clock hits 0:00.
Falcons offensive line woes
The best way to close out a game with a lead — in this case 39-24 against Dallas and 26-10 against Chicago — is to ground-and-pound while moving the chains and keeping the clock running. The Falcons have a new running back in 2020, longtime Rams rusher Todd Gurley. Against the Bears, the Falcons simply couldn’t pick up any yardage on the ground late in the game.
Atlanta’s second, third and fourth possessions of the fourth quarter against Chicago were three-and-outs that went for a total of one yard. Gurley rushed for less than 3.0 yards per carry against the Bears.
Before the season, Sporting News ranked the Falcons’ offensive line as No. 20 in the NFL. That was due in part to a bottom-10 mark in first downs achieved rushing the football last year, when the Falcons averaged five per game. It seems that issue has carried over into this season and made it tougher to ice games with late leads.
Secondary issues for Atlanta
In some ways, allowing Dallas to recover a key onside kick in Week 2 was bad luck. But what bookended the onside kick were two quick-strike drives by Dak Prescott through the air to pull off the victory.
Atlanta was already reliant on a rookie, A.J. Terrell, at one of the cornerback spots before he was placed on the COVID-19/reserve list. Isaiah Oliver, a second-round pick in 2018, hasn’t developed into a shutdown corner on the other side. Two of Atlanta’s top three safeties, Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen, are former fifth-round picks that more ideally would be depth pieces.
That added up to Dallas going for 72-of-76 yards on pass plays in just a minute and eight seconds to close within two points. Then it was one big second-down throw to CeeDee Lamb for 24 yards that brought the Cowboys into field-goal range on their final drive.
The Falcons’ rush defense hasn’t been great, but they have talent up front in a unit led by Grady Jarrett. Holding the Cowboys to 4.0 yards per rush can actually be viewed as a victory against a team with one of the best offensive lines in the league. But an inability to shut down the pass late in games has hurt the Falcons — Nick Foles throwing three fourth-quarter touchdown passes was just additional proof of that.
History of Falcons’ blown leads
Thanks to Football Reference, we were able to compile a list of the 15 biggest blown leads in Falcons history. Of course, it’s Super Bowl LI at the top of the list. And eight of the fifteen have happened since 2013.
|Opponent||Date||Falcons points||Opponent points||Largest lead|
|New England Patriots (neutral site)||Feb 5, 2017||28||34||25|
|vs. Detroit Lions||Oct. 26, 2014||21||22||21|
|vs. Tennessee Titans||Nov. 23, 2003||31||38||21|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||Sept. 20, 2020||39||40||20|
|@ New Orleans Saints||Nov. 26, 1967||24||27||18|
|vs. Miami Dolphins||Oct. 15, 2017||17||20||17|
|vs. San Diego Chargers||Oct. 23, 2016||30||33||17|
|vs. San Francisco 49ers||Jan 20, 2013||24||28||17|
|@ New Orleans Saints||Nov. 16, 2003||20||23||17|
|vs. Washington Redskins||Sept. 14, 2003||31||33||17|
|@ New Orleans Saints||Nov. 13, 1994||32||33||17|
|vs. Washington Redskins||Dec. 17, 1989||30||31||17|
|vs. Chicago Bears||Sept. 27, 2020||26||30||16|
|@ Green Bay Packers||Oct. 1, 1989||21||23||15|
|vs. Indianapolis Colts||Nov. 22, 2015||21||24||14|