- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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Tightening up on defense: Yes, the Falcons had five sacks, including two by Osi Umenyiora and 1.5 by Akeem Dent. Umenyiora forced a turnover that resulted in a touchdown, while William Moore thwarted a drive with an interception. But when the Falcons needed to tighten up the most, they allowed the Dolphins to march 75 yards in 13 plays for the game-winning score. The Dolphins converted three third downs along the way. And no play during the drive seemed more critical than when linebacker Joplo Bartu -- Sean Weatherspoon’s replacement -- was beaten by tight end Charles Clay for a 21-yard gain with Miami facing second-and-10 from the Atlanta 29. It’s hard to blame Stephen Nicholas for surrendering the game-winning 1-yard touchdown to tight end Dion Sims when the Falcons shouldn’t have allowed the Dolphins to drive that deep to start. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might get scrutinized, but Nolan wasn’t the one missing tackles.
Not in the zone: Falcons coach Mike Smith emphasized how his team failed in the red zone on both sides. Nothing symbolized Smith’s thoughts more than when the Falcons had first-and-10 from the Dolphins’ 11 in the second quarter and couldn’t punch it in the end zone. They settled for Matt Bryant’s 20-yard field goal rather than attempting to score a touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the 2; three points instead of seven in a game decided by four. The Falcons were 2-of-5 in red zone efficiency while the Dolphins were 3-for-3. "We know when we go against a good football team like Miami, that number has to be higher,’’ quarterback Matt Ryan said. The 3-0 Patriots are another good team the Falcons will have to be more efficient against.
In the running: How did the Falcons respond with Steven Jackson sidelined by a hamstring injury? Well, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling simply combined for 139 rushing yards on 29 carries as each averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Snelling also caught four passes for 58 yards, including a 7-yard score off a shovel pass from Ryan. More impressive was the number of yards each player gained after contact. Their production means the Falcons don’t have to rush Jackson back too soon. And even when Jackson returns, the Falcons can spread carries around to preserve his body for the duration of the season.
On the line: Left guard Justin Blalock promised the line was focused on keeping Ryan clean. The quarterback didn’t get sacked Sunday after absorbing five sacks in the first two games. Ryan helped his own cause by getting the ball out quickly. Not to mention Dolphins pass-rush specialist Cameron Wake played only 13 snaps while nursing a knee injury. However, the line overall played solidly. Blalock threw a crushing block on Snelling’s touchdown, and new starting right tackle Jeremy Trueblood overcame a rough start. Lamar Holmes, who shifted to left tackle after two games on the right side, had his moments. But Holmes also allowed 6-foot-6 defensive end Dion Jordan to get pressure on Ryan in the final moments. Jordan hit Ryan’s arm, leading to game-clinching interception by safety Jimmy Wilson.
1dDan Graziano and Adam Caplan