TAMPA, Fla. – Matt Ryan didn’t want to hear it. Didn’t want to hear the reality of how 0-2 in the NFL often means the playoffs already are out of reach. Maybe it’s because he has been around the league long enough to know there are outliers in every situation.
Or maybe it is because, for the first time, NFL teams will play 17 games instead of 16, so the new percentages are still unknown. At least, that’s what Ryan is hoping.
“We can throw that out, 17-game schedule,” Ryan said, before the question was even finished. “It’s all different now. I don’t want to hear those statistics.”
But 17 games or 16 games, the reality for the Atlanta Falcons is very clear after their second consecutive 20-plus point defeat (this time a 48-25 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Atlanta has an opportunity on Sunday against the similarly 0-2 New York Giants to try and show improvement. To take a chance it has against another winless team and alter the course of their season.
That’s what it’s come down to ... and fall hasn’t even started yet.
Atlanta at least looked more competent than in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles when essentially everything went wrong. The Falcons were in a 3-point game at the start of the fourth quarter, 28-25. They had come back from 18 points down to make it close.
The offense was moving. The defense forced two straight punts. There was, for the first time all season, life. Then mistake begat mistake. Good teams can overcome this. Mediocre teams can weather it. The Falcons?
Ryan threw two interceptions for touchdowns. A shanked punt by Cameron Nizialek. Coverage breakdowns. Another Tampa Bay drive became a Tom Brady TD pass to Chris Godwin. A close game turned into a rout, showing exactly how thin this team’s margin for any mistake -- even the slightest one -- is paper thin.
The Falcons do have things they could build on for what is now an incredibly critical game against the Giants: Cordarrelle Patterson as an all-purpose threat; Kyle Pitts finding rhythm as a pass-catcher after five receptions for 73 yards; and a defense that did, at times, force Brady to move around and out of the pocket.
But the end result -- which is what people will remember far longer than anything else -- was the same.
“It looks ugly in the box score if you’re just on the surface looking at it,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “But understand the context of the game. We had a chance in the fourth quarter to go win it or, at worst, you go flip it.”
But Atlanta couldn’t. Tampa Bay, with its experience and talent, did. And then added on to it, leaving the Falcons with 80 points allowed over two weeks, the worst total in franchise history and the seventh most in NFL history in a coach’s first two games. Left them with a minus-49 point differential through two weeks -- the highest in franchise history.
Atlanta now has lost seven straight games, dating to last season, the first time since 2003 the Falcons have dropped seven in a row.
Yet Ryan is right. It is still early. That Atlanta came back after trailing 28-10 in the third quarter is what the franchise is holding on to right now. That they saw some positives. But now, with the Giants next and -- no matter 16 or 17 games -- a season starting to teeter, the Falcons need to be much better than they’ve shown.
“It hurts, honestly,” Patterson said. “We was there. It’s something we talked about all week, scoring points, touchdowns, and just having the chance to go in and take the lead.
“And we had the opportunity, but we didn’t do it.”