ATLANTA -- This was supposed to be another step toward a miraculous turnaround -- a chance for the Atlanta Falcons to continue silencing critics while helping alter the perception surrounding their embattled head coach.
The Falcons had a golden opportunity Sunday to build off a two-game winning streak against a weak Bucs defense. Instead, they left the home fans shaking their hands in disgust in a baffling 35-22 loss.
The Falcons fall to 3-8 and questions about coach Dan Quinn's future will surely crop up again.
There were a variety of factors that led to Sunday's implosion. The defense wasn't as sharp as it has been the past couple of games, despite interceptions by Desmond Trufant and De'Vondre Campbell. The Falcons didn't sack Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and allowed wide receiver Chris Godwin to catch seven passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yard score. There was noticeable confusion and mental breakdowns on defense despite the recent emphasis on communication. And offensively, the Falcons couldn't protect quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked six times and was under duress most of the afternoon.
A nonexistent running game, outside of Qadree Ollison's 1-yard touchdown, didn't help Ryan's cause.
Quinn is sure to take criticism for settling for field goals when touchdowns were needed. But, again, this was a game where nothing came together for the Falcons. Now they have a short turnaround to regroup Thursday night against the rival New Orleans Saints, a team they embarrassed on Nov. 10.
Troubling trend: Ryan's lack of protection. The Falcons have lost all four games this season when Ryan has been sacked four or more times. Certainly, the Saints will come with a better rush plan on Thanksgiving night than they did when the Falcons beat them 26-9 in New Orleans. The Falcons still have to face a pretty strong San Francisco 49ers defense, as well as the Carolina Panthers, once again.
QB breakdown: Ryan didn't have his best outing, finishing 23-for-46 for 271 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Calvin Ridley was the Falcons' leading receiver with six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown (thrown by backup Matt Schaub). Julio Jones had five catches for 68 yards on nine targets and battled through a left shoulder injury that might have limited his effectiveness.
Buy on a breakout performance? It's hard to ignore tight end Jaeden Graham's 53-yard reception down the middle of the field on the game's second play. Graham showed no hesitation to step up and make a big play. The question is, how many more opportunities will he get? Graham benefited from starter Austin Hooper being out the past two games with a sprained left MCL. Hooper might be back as soon as Thursday's game or maybe the week after. Whenever Hooper returns, Graham won't see the field as much but at least the Falcons know Graham is capable.