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The Scariest Thing This Halloween Season Is the Falcons With a Lead

Following collapses against the Cowboys and Bears, the Falcons added another blown lead to their 2020 résumé: a 23-22 loss to the Lions. It’s time to crown Atlanta the king of the chokers.

NFL: OCT 25 Lions at Falcons Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Todd Gurley tried his hardest to get the Falcons a win on Sunday—but we should know by now that no team is better at finding ways to lose than Atlanta. With just 1:12 left in their game against the Lions, the Falcons had the ball and were trying to close a 14-16 deficit. Atlanta had a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line when Gurley ran through the defense and gained a clear path to the end zone. After breaking a tackle, he could have walked in … until he realized that, actually, he didn’t want to score. He’d rather fall to the turf, burn clock, and set up a chip-shot field goal attempt. One problem: He figured this out just a moment too late.

Gurley has a history of this type of situational awareness. In his 2018 season with the Rams, Gurley twice sacrificed late touchdowns to give his team better chances to win. He made fantasy GMs and bettors furious—but he did his job, which is to help earn his team a victory. This time, though, his momentum carried him just into the end zone, and the extra six points (which soon became eight after Atlanta converted a two-point conversion) actually ended up costing his team a win.

That’s right—another week, another stunning Falcons collapse. Time is a flat circle, etc. After forgetting how onside kicks work in a staggering loss to the Cowboys and forgetting how to play offense in a late defeat at the hands of the Bears, Gurley forgot about the clock—for just a brief second—and the Falcons collapsed against the Lions.

Detroit got the ball back with just a little over a minute remaining, 75 yards of field to pay dirt, and no timeouts. After an incompletion on first down, Matthew Stafford completed his next four passes (punctuating each with a spike to stop the clock), and finishing the drive with this touchdown throw to tight end T.J. Hockenson as time expired. Detroit earned a 23-22 victory, and the Falcons once again fell apart when it mattered most.

By this point, it’s become clear that ESPN’s win-probability model is a bit broken, but let’s take a look at it anyway. As Stafford was driving in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had a 96.6 percent chance of winning the game, making this the team’s third collapse of the season with a win probability of 95 percent or higher. In one game, they lost after achieving a 99.9 percent win probability.

The Falcons’ late-game win probability against the Lions on Sunday, per ESPN

The Lions are known for their preternatural ability to steal defeat from the jaws of victory, and they nearly did so again on Sunday. After the touchdown to Hockenson, wide receiver Danny Amendola was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That 15-yard punishment was enforced on the extra point attempt, meaning kicker Matt Prater ended up needing to hit a 48-yard field goal just to give Detroit the one-point lead and win. He booted it through, but that flag was nearly a crucial error for the Lions—I’d be writing about a different team right now if Prater had whiffed the kick.

Given the season the Falcons are having—in addition to their infamous meltdown in Super Bowl LI—it’s safe to crown Atlanta the king of the chokers. No team has ever been more creative when it comes to losing football games. The last time the Falcons had a similar loss, I wrote that it could be a “psyche-breaking” event for the team. Now, though, I have to imagine that fans and players alike just feel numb. Improbable losses can’t be stunning for the Falcons anymore—they’re just routine. And everyone should know to never get their hopes up with this squad.

Two weeks ago, the Falcons cleaned house, firing head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff as the franchise looks for a fresh start. But Sunday’s loss showed that the Falcons still haven’t escaped all their demons. It’s starting to feel like they never will.