ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons (1-3) dropped their third game of the season on Sunday, losing 24-10 to the Tennessee Titans (2-2) in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The loss draws the first quarter of the 2019 season to a close, and the Falcons don’t like where they stand through four games.
“We’ve been through one quarter, and where we sit is 1-3,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after the game. “Not acceptable for the standards that we’ve set for one another. We intend on getting that fixed. It’ll take work to do that, but that’s what we intend on doing.”
This start, which has involved slow starts on offense and plenty of penalties, was not what the Falcons anticipated and it’s left them searching for answers with 12 games left to play. Atlanta scored a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time this season against the Titans, a 1-yard run by Ito Smith, but that was the only touchdown the Falcons’ offense could muster.
Atlanta moved the ball fairly well against a Titans defense that had allowed the sixth-fewest yards in the league entering the contest. The Falcons gained 422 yards on Sunday, including 364 through the air, but managed to score just 10 points. Three times the Falcons turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert on fourth-and-short situations.
Injuries along the offensive line did not help matters. The Falcons lost right guard Jamon Brown early in the game, and center Alex Mack briefly went to the locker room at one point with an elbow injury. That shuffling briefly resulted in a time when the Falcons had Wes Schweitzer playing center and swing tackle Ty Sambrailo in at right guard. The Titans took advantage of that, sacking Matt Ryan five times and hitting him a total of 12 times.
The Atlanta Falcons needed a third running back behind Devonta Freeman and Ito Smith for Sunday’s game, and it appears that man will be Brian Hill.
Hill will be active for the first time this season against the Titans. He rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown this preseason and gained 115 yards on eight carries against the Panthers last season in Week 16. Rookie running back Qadree Ollison is listed among the team’s inactives this week.
“Usually it comes down to all 11 of us executing and finishing our plays and winning our one-on-one matchups,” Ryan said. “I’ve played football for a long time. From basically the time I’ve started playing until right now, it’s about winning your one-on-one matchups. Across the board we haven’t done a good enough job of that.”
During the week leading up to the Titans game, the Falcons placed a major emphasis on cleaning up the penalties and getting off to a faster start. After committing 16 fouls in Week 3 against the Colts, the Falcons were flagged seven times on Sunday, which marks notable improvement in that area. For the third time this season, however, the Falcons trailed at halftime.
Despite the slow starts that have defined the early part of this season, the Falcons remain adamant that the preparation throughout the week has been where it’s needed to be.
“We practiced well, we did everything great,” Falcons receiver Julio Jones said. “We had the referees out there, everything looked smooth. The execution was there, everything was there. It’s just that it happened in the game. For us, it’s something we’ve got to figure out, all of us, collectively, to see what we can all do better.”
There have been some strong individual performances this season for the Falcons, and there were some on Sunday as well. Austin Hooper led the team with nine catches for 130 yards, one week after catching two touchdown passes, and De’Vondre Campbell finished the game with 17 tackles, two tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles.
It takes more than high-caliber individual play to win in the NFL, however, and the Falcons continue to seek a complete performance as a team. After one quarter of the season, the Falcons are still digging for answers and working to get things fixed.
“When you’re not performing well you look at everything,” Quinn said. “… We’ll make sure we dig in hard to the areas that need it, and we’re nowhere near the team that we can be. We’re pissed about where we’re at after the first quarter [of the season], as I think our fans are. The good thing? We’re the ones that get to fix it, and we certainly intend on doing that.”