ATL: What We Learned  

 

Atlanta Falcons ceding NFC South; 9 'MNF' takeaways

The ghosts of seasons past came back to haunt the Atlanta Falcons in a soul-crushing, season-crashing 30-28 loss to the New York Jets on Monday night.

A team that couldn't escape its short-yardage woes with power back Michael Turner the past two seasons eschewed an easy field goal to give scat back Jacquizz Rodgers a shot at the Jets' brick wall going into halftime. The decision predictably backfired, ultimately costing coach Mike Smith the game.

A team that showed no defensive backbone in recent playoff losses to the Packers, Giants and 49ers allowed a rookie quarterback to march down the field for the game-winning field goal in a textbook two-minute drill. In doing so, Geno Smith became the first rookie of the Super Bowl era to throw three touchdowns passes with an 80 percent completion rate and zero interceptions on the road.

Five games into the season, the Falcons essentially are four and a half games behind the New Orleans Saints, a team that might just be the most complete in the league.

The NFC South crown is a pipe dream. As banged up as this roster is, the Falcons will count themselves fortunate to finish with a .500 record.

Roddy White missed the majority of the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. NFL Media's Jeff Darlington reported after the game that Julio Jones was seen limping out of the X-ray room.

Entering the bye week with winnable matchups on the horizon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers, this team can ill afford a serious injury to either wide receiver if it is going to mount an improbable run at a wild-card spot.

Here's what else we learned in Monday's game:

1. If you thought the shifts in the Geno Smith narrative were seismic before, wait until the talk shows run wild with the rookie's second last-minute victory in his first five NFL games. One week after accounting for four turnovers in a debacle at Tennessee, Smith joined Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only rookie quarterbacks to toss three touchdown passes on "Monday Night Football." He generated a 147.7 passer rating, drove the ball downfield with accuracy and calmly led the game-winning drive. Through all of the ebbs and flows, the second-round draft pick has shown enough promise to engender belief that he's the quarterback of the future.

2. Now that speed back Mike Goodson and power back Chris Ivory have returned from a suspension and a hamstring injury respectively, the Jets suddenly have the makings of an effective backfield stable. The skill sets of Goodson, Ivory and Bilal Powell complement each other well. The trio combined to average over 5.0 yards per carry. No injury was announced for Goodson, but he was nowhere to be found after an impressive first quarter.

3. The Jets have poured a lot of draft capital into their defensive line, and it shows. Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison and 2013 first-round draft pick Sheldon Richardson have been mainstays on our "Making the Leap" watch, but it was 2011 first-rounder Muhammad Wilkerson who enjoyed a national coming-out party Monday night. Wilkerson tallied a sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble on a play that saw him put a clown suit on Falcons right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.

4. Despite the failed goal-line conversion going into halftime, Jacquizz Rodgers had a more productive game than any running back against the Jets this season. Excluding a fluky 59-yard run in which the Bills' Fred Jackson was hit by a wall of defenders behind the line of scrimmage, the Jets have held opposing runners to a paltry 2.47 yards per carry through five games.

5. The Falcons' offensive line might be the league's worst. Ryan had completed nearly 90 percent of his passes entering the fourth quarter, at which point he only had attempted one pass of 15-plus yards through the air. He simply didn't have time to set up and throw. As predicted, the Jets' defensive front seven dominated the trenches. Ryan became just the second quarterback since 1960 to throw for 300-plus yards at an 80 percent clip with zero interceptions -- and lose.

6. Whatever the reason for Tony Gonzalez's slow start, it's safe to say he's all the way back to 2012 form. For just the third time in his likely Hall of Fame career, Gonzalez has posted double-digit receptions in back-to-back games. The Falcons tight end passed Marvin Harrison to move into sixth place on the all-time receiving yards list.

7. Although Osi Umenyiora now has four sacks to the New York Giants' five, the Falcons' inability to generate a consistent pass rush continues to be a problem. Smith had too much time to throw, while the Jets scored on their first three series for the first time since 2008.

8. The referees were a factor. Julio Jones was denied a touchdown when Antonio Cromartie got away with subtle but effective pass interference on an end-zone bomb. Jones was called for a ticky-tack offensive interference penalty on the next series. The Falcons benefited from an iffy defensive holding penalty that allowed them to pull ahead late in the fourth quarter.

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