As Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry dashed into the open field en route to his seventh and eighth points of the game, it became clear that the Atlanta Falcons were going to lose 29-28 to a team that only scored 13 offensive points.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome. In a game that will undoubtedly be added to the ever-growing list of heartbreaking Atlanta sports losses, the Falcons scored 12 unanswered points to cling to an unlikely 28-27 lead late in the fourth quarter. Going for a two-point conversion, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw an interception to Berry, who took the ball all the way back for a score.
The loss drops the Falcons to 7-5, who are now just a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South race. Atlanta will finish the season against four teams that have a combined 14-31 record, so there’s no doubt they’ll have a chance to recover after a tough loss against a very good Chiefs team, but by the end of Sunday, they might no longer control their own destiny.
Even more disheartening than the loss were the losses the Falcons might have suffered over the course of the game. Left tackle Jake Matthews left the game with a knee injury and was unable to return, and wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu – No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart, respectively – also left the game hurt. Atlanta relies on its offense to carry the load, and if they lose three key pieces at this point in the season, they might be kissing their playoff chances goodbye.
Sunday’s game was not a must-win, but it was a should-win. For the Falcons to be seen among the league’s elite, they need to beat the league’s elite. The 9-3 Chiefs are likely to be one of the AFC’s top seeds in the postseason, and the Falcons had them, rallying from 11 points down in the fourth quarter. After starting the season with huge wins against the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos on the road, the Falcons haven’t beaten a team with a winning record since Nov. 4.
A loss such as this one has the tendency to linger, but the Falcons can’t let that happen. If they take care of business against four mediocre opponents, they’ll still be a playoff team, and they might even be a No. 2 or No.3 seed. But that loss was about as bad as anything Atlanta fans have ever seen, and they’ve seen it all.Follow @Sean_Breslin