Once again the Atlanta Falcons behind early and were unable to climb out of the hole on their way to a 17-16 road loss to the San Francisco 49ers, marking their first losing streak of the year. The team had an opportunity to win it late, but head coach Dan Quinn opted to settle for a 19-yard field goal from kicker Matt Bryant with 2:56 left on the game clock rather than going for it on 4th-and-goal at the one-yard line down 17-13. The Falcons defense was subsequently unable to get the necessary stop on the ensuing 49ers possession and lost the game. The team’s record now falls to 6-3 heading into their bye week.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was productive, completing 30 of 45 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown but the offense too often struggled to move the ball. Ryan also saw plenty of pressure, being sacked twice and hit seven times.
The Falcons prolific ground attack was stymied as Devonta Freeman finished the day with just 12 yards on 12 carries. Tevin Coleman added just three yards on a single carry.
In the air, Julio Jones led the receivers with 10 receptions for 137 yards, including a big 54-yard catch that helped set up the Falcons lone touchdown drive at the end of the first half. Devonta Freeman punched it in, scoring the team’s lone touchdown on a 17-yard catch and finished the game with eight catches for 67 yards. Jacob Tamme (six catches, 61 yards) and Justin Hardy (four catches, 17 yards) also made their presences known.
Special teams seemed to be the only effective phase of the Falcons on the day as Bryant hit on all three of his field-goal tries from 44, 36 and 19 yards out. Matt Bosher punted seven times, averaging 43.4 yards and placing five punts inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems had a productive day as a returner, averaging 19 yards on four punts and 28.8 yards on four kickoff returns.
Overall the Falcons struggled to string together long drives, converting just five of 15 (33 percent) third-down tries. They gained 302 yards of total offense, a fairly low total considering they were playing from behind for most of the final three quarters. The ground game produced just 17 yards in its entirety. About the biggest positive for the team’s offense was that it snapped it’s four-game streak of turning the ball over.
Defensively the Falcons themselves were able to produce two turnovers of their own on interceptions by 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert but turned those into just three points. The defense was unable to take advantage of the usually unimpressive Gabbert in his first action of 2015, after he replaced a bench Colin Kaepernick this week. The 49ers gained 318 yards of total offense, including 133 on the ground, which also marks the most the Falcons defense has given up in 2015. The 49ers converted just six of 15 (40 percent) third-down attempts but did get first downs on both of their fourth-down tries.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler logged his first start of the year in place of an injured Justin Durant and led the team with 10 tackles, including one for loss. Phillip Adams (one tackle, one interception), Jonathan Babineaux (three tackles, one quarterback hit, one pass deflection), Vic Beasley (one tackle, one interception), Kroy Biermann (four tackles), Jalen Collins (four tackles), Ra’Shede Hageman (three tackles), Kemal Ishmael (six tackles), Brooks Reed (five tackles), Paul Soliai (three tackles), Desmond Trufant (four tackles, one pass deflection) and Paul Worrilow (five tackles, two tackles for loss) had notable games.
The Falcons deferred after winning the opening kickoff, allowing the 49ers to start the game with the ball. The opening series for the 49ers gained them little yardage with Babineaux bottling up wide receiver Bruce Ellington on a screen pass for one yard on first down, following by Falcons safety Robenson Therezie making a stop against tight end Vance McDonald after six yards on 3rd-and-10 to force a quick 49ers punt after a three-and-out.
Ryan hit both of his first two passes, connecting with Freeman on first down in the flat for a 10-yard gain after he shook a 49ers defender followed by hitting Jones on a crossing pattern for 16 yards on second down. After a six-yard run by Freeman, Ryan threw behind Tamme over the middle to force a 3rd-and-4. Ryan found Freeman again in the flat for a 12-yard gain to get the conversion and move the ball to the 49ers 28-yard line. Freeman was stuffed for no gain on first down and Ryan’s second-down pass to Tamme was broken up by 49ers rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt. That brought on a 3rd-and-10, which saw Ryan throw a shallow cross to Tamme that gained just two yards. Bryant came out onto the field for a 44-yard field goal, which he nailed to put the Falcons up 3-0 with 9:24 left in the first quarter after a nine-play, 46-yard scoring drive.
49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith dropped Gabbert’s first-down pass, which was followed by a five-yard run by running back Shaun Draughn to set up a more manageable third down for the team. However Trufant was there to break up the pass to wide receiver Jerome Simpson and the Falcons had force another 49ers three-and-out to start the game. On the punt, Weems was able to shake a couple of defenders and nearly broke it for a score before being tackled by the punter Bradley Pinion after a 41-yard return.
That gave the Falcons very favorable field position on the ensuing drive, starting out at the 50-yard line. But on first down Freeman’s run was blown up in the backfield, leading to a four-yard loss. Two plays later on 3rd-and-10, pressure forced Ryan to gamble and try flipping a pass to Tamme, who bobbled the ball before catching it for a one-yard loss. Thankfully 49ers outside linebacker Aaron Lynch was flagged for an offsides penalty, nullifying the negative play and giving the Falcons another shot on 3rd-and-5. Ryan was sacked by Lynch and the Falcons were forced to punt.
On the first third down of the ensuing 49ers series, Gabbert was able to escape the pocket and find an open Quinton Patton downfield. The 49ers receiver had beaten Adams and was able to shake Ishmael to get a massive 41-yard gain to completely flip field position and put the ball into Falcons territory. Gabbert showed off his mobility once more on the next play, scrambling for a 10-yard gain and a first down. Draughn then gained another 11 yards on a run up the middle, putting the ball in the red zone for the first time. The Falcons run defense then tightened up, only allowing one yard on the next two 49ers runs to force a 3rd-and-9. Trufant, Ishmael and Nate Stupar converged on Patton on Gabbert’s underneath throw to stop him a yard shy of the sticks. The 49ers opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Falcons nine-yard line on the final play of the first quarter, and converted on a one-yard run by Kendall Gaskins. Two plays into the second quarter, Gabbert was once again able to break containment and scramble towards the end zone. Worrilow was able to get enough of him, tripping him up before he hit the goal line. The 49ers challenged the ruling that Gabbert did not score, but it was upheld upon review and the ball was set at the half-yard line. On a play-action fake, the Falcons defense completely bit and left tight end Garrett Celek wide open in the end zone for an easy one-yard score. The 49ers had taken the lead 7-3 with 13:41 left in the second quarter after a 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive.
The Falcons dialed up a screen pass to Jones to start their next drive and the receiver gained seven yards. Freeman was bottled up once more on a stretch play, getting stopped after a one-yard gain by linebacker Navorro Bowman. Hardy snagged his first catch of the day on 3rd-and-2, gaining five yards and keeping the chains moving. Tamme followed that up with a first down of his own after a 10-yard grab, putting the Falcons at midfield. The Falcons tried to go back to the running game, but Freeman’s run to the right was strung out for a three-yard loss. Two plays later on 3rd-and-12, the Falcons tried a comeback to Jones but he was stopped shy of the sticks after a 10-yard gain and the Falcons were forced to punt.
The defense stepped up on the ensuing drive, stuffing Draughn for a loss of one yard on first down. Soliai then helped bottle up Pierre Thomas on the next down, as the veteran running back gained just two yards. On 3rd-and-9, Babineaux broke up a pass over the middle to Patton, forcing another punt after a third 49ers three-and-out.
After a 14-yard punt rerun by Weems, the Falcons had very favorable field position, starting their next series at the 49ers 45-yard line. The Falcons then used play action to get more, with Tamme bobbling the catch, but managing to secure it and gain a few more yards for a 26-yard gain. Two plays later Jones was unable to snag a quick slant over the middle, to bring about 3rd-and-9 from the 18-yard line. 49ers defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie batted down Ryan’s pass to Freeman, forcing the Falcons to settle for another field goal. Bryant hit the 36-yarder, bringing the 49ers lead to one point with the Falcons down 7-6 with 6:10 left in the second quarter.
The 49ers started their next series with another drop by Smith on first down. But Gabbert was able to get some back on the next down as he scrambled for seven yards after Adams whiffed on the sack on the rare Falcons blitz. The 49ers easily converted on 3rd-and-3 thanks to Patton beating Adams on a back-shoulder throw for 21 yards, which also put the ball into Falcons territory. Two plays later Thomas was able to give the 49ers another new set of downs after a four-yard run on 2nd-and-3. Babineaux was able to blow up the next 49ers run, drawing a holding call and allowing teammates to drop Draughn for a four-yard loss. Two plays later, Gabbert overthrew his tight end in Vance McDonald down the seam, which set up a 3rd-and-8 from the Falcons 26-yard line. Gabbert tried another back-shoulder throw, but this time the ball went right throw Simpson’s hands and the 49ers were forced to settle for a field goal. Kicker Phil Dawson nailed the 44-yard kick, pushing San Francisco’s lead to 10-6 with 3:20 left in the first half.
Freeman’s first carry on the ensuing series gained him three yards when he was able to bounce the play outside, but it was wiped out by a beneficial offsides penalty on outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, gifting the Falcons five yards instead. However Ryan missed on his out pass to Jones, bringing up a 3rd-and-5. Jerod-Eddie made his presence known once more by batting down the third-down pass and the Falcons had a quick three-and-out, punting the ball back to the 49ers with 2:39 left in the second quarter. 49ers receiver Bruce Ellington gained 17 yards on Bosher’s 57-yard punt, which was coupled with a 15-yard penalty thanks to a face mask on tight end Levine Toilolo. The 49ers started the ensuing drive at their 43-yard line with 2:25 left on the first-half clock.
After the two-minute warning hit, Beasley was flagged for going offsides, giving the 49ers a new set of downs at the Falcons 45-yard line. Draughn got the carry on the next play and was able to break the initial tackle attempt by Babineaux and Adrian Clayborn and then scramble down the sideline for a 30-yard gain, putting the 49ers back in the red zone for the second time. After two runs that went nowhere thinks to the solid efforts of Tyson Jackson and Soliai up front, the 49ers faced a 3rd-and-6 from the Falcons 11-yard line. Celek beat Collins on a double move and snagged an easy 11-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 17-6 lead with 1:16 left in the first half after a five-play, 57-yard scoring drive.
The Falcons finally dialed up the deep shot on the ensuing series with Ryan lobbing a 54-yard pass to Jones downfield, putting the ball deep in 49ers territory. Tamme gained seven on his pass from Ryan on the next play and then the Falcons quarterback hit Freeman on a short pass over the middle, before the running back scrambled untouched into the end zone for a 17-yard score. The Falcons quickly answered with a three-play, 78-yard scoring drive in just 63 seconds to cut the 49ers lead to 17-13 with 13 seconds left in the half.
After Bosher’s kickoff the 49ers took a knee, content to carry their four-point lead into the second half.
The Falcons got another big boost from Weems on special teams, who took the opening kickoff of the third quarter for 50 yards to start the Falcons drive at midfield. The Falcons running game seemingly was sparked by the big return with Freeman gaining five and four yards, respectively on his first two carries, with the latter converting a 3rd-and-1 that saw him shake a 49ers defender and fall forward. But his next run was stuffed for a loss of three yards. Pressure forced Ryan to throw a check down to Toilolo for a one-yard gain. Then on 3rd-and-12, pressure flushed Ryan out of the pocket and he was able to scramble 14 yards for a first down but it was wiped out by a penalty. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder was flagged for a hold and the Falcons now faced a 3rd-and-22. Jimmie Ward put a nice hit on Tamme on Ryan’s pass, breaking up the throw and the Falcons were forced to punt.
After two runs by Draughn for a combined five yards, Collins was beat on a double move by Smith for a 26-yard gain to convert on third down. Jackson was able to pressure Gabbert somewhat on his rollout out of the pocket to force a throwaway on the next down. Gabbert tried to fit a throw down the seam to Simpson, but Ricardo Allen was there to help break it up and the ball ricocheted off Simpson’s hands into the arms of Adams for an acrobatic interception. The ball looked like it might have touched the turf as Adams was going to the turf, but the officials deemed it was still a catch upon review and gave the Falcons the ball at their 26-yard line. However their field position was further hurt since Worrilow was flagged for an illegal blindside block on Adams return, pushing the team back to their 13-yard line to start their next series.
The Falcons checked down to Freeman twice to start the ensuing series, gaining just six combined yards to set up a third down. Jones was able to win in traffic against cornerback Marcus Cromartie for a six-yard gain to give the Falcons a new set of downs. Then the Falcons dialed up a deep cross to Jones for an 18-yard gain. The running game continued to be stagnant as Freeman’s next carry got the team behind schedule with a three-yard loss. Two plays later on 3rd-and-7, Ryan missed an open Nick Williams on an out pattern and the Falcons were forced to punt it. Bosher nailed a 51-yard punt and Hardy was able to keep the ball alive before it rolled into the end zone, allowing Weems to down it at the 49ers three-yard line.
The 49ers were able to gain some breathing room thanks to Collins once more getting beat on a back-shoulder throw to Smith for 18 yards. Two plays later Hageman was able to blow up the run play to Draughn for no gain, leading to a 3rd-and-10. The 49ers tried a middle screen to Ellington, but O’Brien Schofield was there to drag him down after a one-yard gain to force a 49ers punt.
The Falcons started their next drive out favorably at their 40-yard line with 2:25 left to go in the third quarter. They tried to dial up another play-action deep throw, but no receiver got open and the team settled for a two-yard scramble by Ryan. That brought up a 3rd-and-5 and Ryan hit Jones on an out for an 11-yard gain to get the ball into 49ers territory. Ryan’s next pass to Freeman over the middle was nearly picked off by Bowman. Ryan tried to throw up another play to Jones but 49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson was there to break it up. Then on 3rd-and-10, Ryan threw it along the sideline to Roddy White but Cromartie was there to knock it out of his hands before he could secure it and the Falcons were forced to punt once more. Bosher’s high 36-yard punt forced Ellington to fair catch it at the 49ers eight-yard line as the third quarter came to a close.
Gabbert was able to convert a first down on his first pass, hitting Draughn for a check down for a 12-yard gain. Two plays later, Wheeler blasted Gabbert on a blitz up the middle as the 49ers quarterback tried to throw downfield to Celek. But Wheeler was flagged for roughing the passer for a helmet-to-helmet hit and Ishmael was also flagged for illegal use of hands, giving the 49ers a first down and 15 yards. That hit however forced Gabbert to exit the game and be checked by team doctors, putting former starter Colin Kaepernick in the game for a few plays. He handed the ball off to Draughn on his first play, but it was bottled up by Soliai for no gain. Kaepernick had his first pass was dropped downfield by open McDonald before the 49ers called a timeout to allow them to get Gabbert back on the field for 3rd-and-10. Pressure forced Gabbert to scramble, gaining just five yards and forcing a 49ers punt with 13:11 left on the game clock.
After a seven-yard gain on second down, Freeman’s longest run of the day, he was stuffed for a one-yard gain after penetration blew up the play. On the ensuing 2nd-and-9, Jones was blasted by Tartt to break up Ryan’s throw and force a third down. Pressure got to Ryan and he was dropped by Bowman for a sack, forcing the Falcons to punt it right back to the 49ers with 10:23 left in the game.
Gabbert hit his first pass to McDonald for 13 yards before an end-around to Ellington two plays later gained seven yards to set up a 3rd-and-1. Soliai and Biermann were there to stuff the Gaskins run for no yardage, prompting the 49ers to try and go for it on 4th-and-1 at their 46-yard line. They called a fullback dive to Bruce Miller, who gained the necessary yard. But Quinn thought the officials gave the 49ers fullback a favorable spot and challenged the ruling. However there was no way that the officials could get a better view of Miller’s position in the pile from any replay angle and the play was upheld, costing the Falcons a critical timeout with 7:51 left in the game. But despite the unfortunate challenge, the Falcons defense stepped up two plays later when Beasley picked off Gabbert. The 49ers quarterback under threw a streaking McDonald and with Beasley trailing, he was able to snag the pick at the Falcons 33-yard line, halting the 49ers drive.
White made his first catch of the day, snagging a 20-yard throw down the seam to get the ball into 49ers territory. Ryan proceeded to hit his next five passes, connecting with Jones, Hardy, Freeman, Tamme and Jones again to move the ball a combined 43 yards to get it down to the down to the four-yard line with 3:46 left on the fourth-quarter clock. The Falcons took a shot to Jones in the end zone, but Johnson was there to break up Ryan’s fade pass and force a 3rd-and-goal. The Falcons tried a quick slant to Hardy, but he was tripped up after a three-yard gain and the Falcons opted to settle for the points with three minutes left in the game at the 49ers one-yard line instead of going for it on 4th-and-goal. Bryant hit the 19-yard kick, bringing the score to 17-16 with 2:56 left in the game after a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive.
After a three-yard run by Gaskins, the Falcons used their first timeout. Gaskins then gained another three yards on second down with the Falcons trying to save their final timeout. On 3rd-and-4, Gabbert was able to scramble for five yards to give the 49ers a new set of downs as the two-minute warning hit. On a new first down, Gaskins ran off the right side for an eight-yard gain, forcing the Falcons to call their final timeout. On 2nd-and-2, Gaskins was able to gain three yards for the first down on the run up the middle, giving the 49ers a new set of downs and effectively killing any chance the Falcons had of stopping the clock with 1:08 left to go. The 49ers got into victory formation and the game was over.
The Falcons will have a bye and a much needed week of rest before they host the Indianapolis Colts (4-5) in Week 11. The Colts too will be coming off a bye week, having just handed the Denver Broncos their first loss of the season. The Colts are 2-1 under head coach Chuck Pagano coming off a bye week. The Falcons have won six straight games coming off their bye week and hope that streak continues under Quinn.