- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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What it means: With the loss, the Falcons dropped to 2-6 on a day when they had no margin for error. It seems virtually impossible for the Falcons to make a playoff run now despite the optimism expressed in the locker room leading up to Sunday’s game. It’s hard to believe the Falcons already have doubled their loss total from a year ago. And it can’t all be blamed on injuries. Poor play in every phase of the game has hurt them throughout.
Stock watch: Matt Ryan's stock plummeted fast. He entered the season as one of the top quarterbacks around. Then all of a sudden, Ryan threw seven interceptions in the past two games, including a 38-yard interception that was returned for a touchdown by veteran Drayton Florence in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Of course, Ryan is without top weapons Julio Jones and Roddy White. At the same time, he made some questionable throws in traffic days after he talked about how he needed to play better. The turnovers also contributed to the defense being on the field way longer than it needed to be against the Panthers, who dominated the time of possession battle, 36:25 to 23:35. Ryan finished 20-of-27 for 219 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Opportunity lost: Midway through the fourth quarter, Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel got beat by Panthers receiver Brandon LaFell, but Samuel made up for the play by forcing LaFell to fumble deep in Falcons’ territory. As the ball rolled on the ground, cornerback Robert Alford tried to step up and recover it, but he kicked it right back into the arms of LaFell at the Falcons’ 8-yard line. The Panthers kept possession and on the very next play, quarterback Cam Newton scored on an 8-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers an insurmountable 24-10 edge. It’s a different game if the Falcons come up with that turnover.
Youth movement: Rookie cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Alford both made an impact on defense. Trufant snatched his first career interception on a deep ball launched by Newton. But Alford topped Trufant with an acrobatic pick during which he tiptoed to remain inbounds. The play was called an incomplete pass at first, but a replay confirmed just how great a play Alford made. If only Alford just could have come up with the fumble recovery. Not to be outdone was undrafted rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow, who had a career day with nearly 20 tackles.
Foul play: The Falcons again hurt themselves with penalties, including some procedural calls. But coach Mike Smith seemed to take issue with at least one pass interference call and appeared to be upset about the defense being whistled for too many men on the field. Whatever the case, those penalties came back to bite the Falcons once again. They were flagged seven times for 59 yards.
What’s next: The Falcons host one of the league’s best when the Seattle Seahawks come to the Georgia Dome next Sunday. The last time the teams met was in last year’s playoffs, when the Falcons fought off a Seahawks comeback. With Russell Wilson leading the way, the Falcons will have a tough time slowing down the powerful Seahawks.