The Falcons struggled on the road against the Houston Texans, finishing with a disappointing 17-10 loss. The Falcons had some opportunities to win late, twice with the ball in Texans territory late in the fourth quarter, but failed to punch it in. They also found themselves with two defensive touchdowns wiped off the board from turnovers due to costly penalties.
Matt Ryan struggled early in this game with two picks on his first six passes. But he managed to finish going 20 of 46 for 267 yards with a touchdown. The running game added little, with Michael Turner rushing 14 times for 44 yards (3.1 avg). In the air, Tony Gonzalez led the team with 7 catches for 100 yards. Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Harry Douglas each had 4 catches for 68, 51, and 43 yards respectively. White had the team’s lone offensive touchdown. On special teams, Matt Bryant connected on a 19-yard field goal, his lone attempt of the day. Matt Bosher punted 4 times for an average of 50.5 yards with 2 of his punts going inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems averaged 23.5 yards and 11 yards on a pair of kickoffs and punts each, respectively. The offense struggled in the first half, converting only 1 of 6 third downs with only 123 total yards. The Falcons failed to take advantage of their lone redzone opportunity in the first half. Things did pick up in the second half as they were able to convert 5 of 7 third downs, adding 214 total yards, and did score a touchdown on their lone redzone entry.
Defensively the Falcons struggled to stop the run. They gave up a total of 162 rushing yards, 106 of which came in the second half. The Texans were able to convert on half of their 18 third down attempts. Curtis Lofton led defenders with 11 tackles, and also added a sack and a tackle for loss. John Abraham (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 pass defended); Kroy Biermann (4 tackles); Thomas DeCoud (10 tackles); Dominique Franks (3 tackles); Mike Peterson (10 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended); Dunta Robinson (3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass defended); James Sanders (10 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Vance Walker (1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); and Sean Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 pass defended) all had noteworthy games. Walker was able to force a fumble early in the game on a strip of T.J. Yates that James Sanders scooped up to run 90 yards for a touchdown. But the score was wiped out by a pair of off-setting illegal substitution penalties on both squads as players had begun to walk onto the field believing that the play was actually an incomplete pass. And at the outset of the fourth quarter, Mike Peterson stepped in front of a Yates pass to return it 31 yards for a pick six, but that play was nullified by a defensive holding call before the interception on the opposite side of the field by Robinson. That score would have given the Falcons a 17-10 lead, but instead the Texans proceeded to drive down the field to take the 17-10 lead, a lead they would hold for the remainder of the game.
The Falcons first series was auspiciious for the remainder of the game, as they had a three-and-out. However, Matt Ryan overthrew Roddy White on the first play of the game on a deep pattern, and then missed a wide open Julio Jones deep over the middle two plays later, leading to the Bosher punt. The defense managed to hold, forcing a Texans three-and-out. On the first play of the Falcons next series, a poorly executed flea-flicker resulted in a Ryan interception deep down the middle of the field. The Texans began to move the ball with a 20-yard pass to Andre Johnson getting them in the redzone. But three plays later, Walker hit a scrambling Yates as the ball was coming out on third down. It was initially seen as an incomplete pass and both teams began to trot out their field goal units as Sanders scooped up the loose ball and ran all the way into the endzone, which the referees then deemed it a fumble. The Texans challenged, but the fumble ruling was upheld, but the illegal substitution penalties wiped out the touchdown resulting in Falcons ball at their own 35-yard line. The Falcons looked to capitalize with Ryan hitting White for a 16-yard completion on the first play of the series. But then a pass intended for Jones down the middle of the field was intercepted due to a miscommunication between receiver and quarterback, as Ryan threw inside as Jones broke outside. So the Texans had the ball back at the Falcons 40-yard line. The Falcons defense held on a 3rd & 1 at their own 21 yard line. The Texans attempted to go for it on 4th down, but a false start by guard Mike Brisiel forced them to settle for a Neil Rackers 43-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 4 minutes left in the first quarter. The Falcons on the ensuing drive had a delay of game penalty on a 3rd & 6, and failed to convert the ensuing 3rd & 11. Bosher’s 51-yard punt helped pin the Texans deep in their own territory and the Falcons defense held them to another three-and-out. But the Falcons responded with their own three-and-out as the second quarter began. A 28-yard run by Arian Foster got the texans at mid-field, which was then followed by a 50-yard pass to Andre Johnson that set them up at the Falcons 4-yard line. Three plays later, Yates hit Joel Dreessen over the middle for a 3-yard score as the Texans now held a 10-0 lead. The Falcons began to have some offensive success on their next drive, alternating between runs of Michael Turner and throws to Tony Gonzalez. Turner had four carries for 27 yards on the drive, and Gonzalez had 3 catches for 49 yards. Harry Douglas had a 2nd down catch that set up the team at the 1-yard line. But a missed throw to Tony Gonzalez on 3rd & goal from the 1-yard resulted in the team settling for a 19-yard field goal from Bryant to cut the Texans lead to 7 points. The Texans were able to milk over three minutes off the clock punting the ball back to the Falcons with 1:34 to go in the half. But following a roughing the passer call on Antonio Smith on first down, Ryan had three straight incompletions, resulting in another Bosher punt with only 21 seconds coming off the clock. The Texans ran out the last minute of the first half, to go into halftime with a 10-3 lead.
The defense did their part on the opening drive of the second half, stopping the Texans with a four-and-out thanks to John Abraham’s sack on second down and batting down a pass on third down. The Falcons took over and a false start on Will Svitek on 3rd & 5 was followed by a sack-strip on Ryan. But the turnover was negated by a defensive holding call on Brice McCain that gave the Falcons a first down instead of the Texans gaining possession at Atlanta’s 15-yard line. The Falcons were able to move the ball thanks in large part to a 3rd down Ryan scramble to get the ball to midfield and a new set of downs. But on their next third down attempt, Douglas was pushed out of bounds a few yards short of the first down setting up a 4th & 3 at the Texans 34-yard line. Pressure up the middle resulted in an incomplete pass and the Texans took over with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter. But the defense held, forcing a 54-yard field goal attempt that missed giving the Falcons the ball back at their own 44-yard line. Once more Ryan found Gonzalez on an 18-yard pass to convert a third down, and then a few plays later hit Jones deep for a 26-yard strike to set up the ball at the Texans 4-yard line. On the next play, a busted coverage left Roddy White wide open in the endzone for an easy score. The Falcons tied the game 10-10 with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter. On the second play of the fourth quarter, Peterson picked off Yates pass but the holding call wiped out the turnover and the score giving the Texans a 1st & 10 at their own 37-yard line. They proceeded to pound the ball down the field, running the ball on 12 of their next 14 plays resulting in a 9-minute drive. The drive was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Arian Foster, who had run the ball a total of 9 times for 39 yards on the 19-play drive that began in the third quarter. With just six minutes to go in the game, the Falcons needed a score. And they were able to move the ball as Ryan found Douglas over the middle on third down for a 16-yard gain. Three plays later, Ryan hit White for another 16-yard gain to convert the third down once again. Two plays later, Gonzalez had a 16-yard gain to give them the ball at the Texans own 29-yard line. Two runs by Turner for 9 yards put them at the TExans 20. Ryan threw a beautiful fade to Jones on the next play in the endzone, but Texans corner Jason Allen was able to push the soaring Jones out of bounds, preventing his feet from coming in bounds for the score. A delay of game penalty on the ensuing 4th & 1 forced a 4th & 6, which resulted in another incomplete pass. The Texans took over with two and a half minutes at their own 26-yard line. But the defense held firm with a three-and-out. The Falcons got the ball back at their own 33 with 59 seconds left and no timeouts. On first down, Ryan hit Jacquizz Rodgers in the flat for a 5-yard gain. He then found Douglas over the middle for a 17-yard gain. After clocking the ball, they had the ball in Texans terriroty with 35 seconds left. The next play, Ryan found Jones for a 20-yard gain. Clocking the ball once more with 16 seconds remaining, the Falcons were now at the Texans 25-yard line. But a throw to Jones along the sideline was incomplete and would have been negated by an illegal touching penalty on Jones for stepping out of bounds before the catch. On 2nd & 15 with 8 seconds to go, Ryan threw deep into the endzone, but overthrew White. With a second to go, Ryan found an open Jones in the endzone, but he dropped the ball, ending the game.
The Falcons record now sits at 7-5 and their playoff hopes begin to wane. They will have to try and rebound next week with another road contest against the Carolina Panthers (4-8) to get back on track. The Falcons beat the Panthers earlier this season with a 31-17 victory in Week 6. They needed some last minute heroics from Corey Peters to seal the win. With that win, the Falcons now sport 3-straight wins against the Panthers, including their last trip to Charlotte, a 31-10 win last December. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 1-2 on the road against the Panthers, but 5-2 overall. The Panthers are 2-4 at home under first year head coach Ron Rivera and will be returning home for the first time after a three-game road stand in which they won their past two matchups. The Falcons are 3-2 under Smith in the second of consecutive road games when they lose the first one. The Panthers are 1-2 this year in home games coming off road games, regardless of their result.