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The Falcons’ Historic Collapses Aren’t Just a Meme Anymore—They’re a Weekly Occurrence

For the second straight game, Atlanta blew a seemingly unblowable late lead. How does this team recover?

AP Images/Ringer illustration

Last week I blogged about the Falcons’ stunning collapse against the Cowboys. I ended on a kicker that I thought was somewhat clever and, ultimately, optimistic:

On the flip side, the Falcons have shown that they are the masters of making improbable events happen. Maybe sometime soon one of those events will break their way.

That first sentence has at least hit the mark, and sooner than anyone could have anticipated. Atlanta suffered another unbelievable loss on Sunday, this time to the Bears. With 10:07 left in the third quarter, Younghoe Koo booted through a field goal to give the Falcons a 26-10 lead against a Chicago team that had been so putrid to that point that they benched quarterback Mitchell Trubisky for Nick Foles. Altanta held that lead into the fourth quarter. Then the collapse started. Here are the Falcons’ five drives in the final frame:

  • 7 plays, missed field goal
  • 3 plays, punt
  • 3 plays, punt
  • 3 plays, punt
  • 4 plays, interception

By contrast, here are the Bears’ fourth-quarter drives:

  • 9 plays, turnover on downs
  • 9 plays, touchdown
  • 3 plays, touchdown
  • 5 plays, touchdown
  • 4 plays, end of game

If virtually any of these drives had gone the other way, the Falcons would have had their first win of the season. Instead, they choked away a game that they had a 99.3 percent chance to win at one point, their second consecutive improbable collapse.

No play was as stunningly incompetent as the Falcons’ refusal to recover an onside kick last week, but one moment of despair stood out on Sunday. With a little over a minute remaining, two timeouts left, and the chance to put together a comeback drive, Matt Ryan fired the ball a good 6 feet over the head of Calvin Ridley, leading to an ugly back-breaking interception:

Atlanta’s collapse even overshadows what should have been the real narrative coming out of this game—that the Bears benched Trubisky in favor of Foles early in the third quarter. Foles threw an interception on his fourth pass of the game, but came back to lead three consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter. He finished with a stat line of 16-for-29 for 188 yards, three touchdowns, and the pick. Maybe we should have all seen this coming the moment Foles subbed in.

Somehow, the Bears are 3-0, though their average margin of victory (4 points) and lack of faith in their quarterback point to regression for this team. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 0-3 in one of the toughest divisions in football. Their path to the postseason is almost nonexistent.

This game has potential to be a psyche-breaking loss for the Falcons. The 28-3 Super Bowl debacle has already defined the Matt Ryan–Dan Quinn era in Atlanta. Now, with two absolutely crushing defeats in back-to-back weeks, “28-3” is becoming more than just a one-off meme. Improbable, soul-crushing failure is becoming the defining trait of these Falcons.