An examination of four hot issues from the Falcons’ 30-23 loss to the Patriots:
Matty Ice-Cold? Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw for a career-high 421 yards, including 201 yards in the fourth quarter alone. But on the Falcons’ final desperation drive, Ryan threw three bad passes in the red zone following a 49-yard connection with Julio Jones. Ryan admitted he should have given Roddy White a better opportunity to make a play on fourth-and-7 from the Patriots’ 10-yard line, when cornerback Aqib Talib batted the ball to seal the win. Ryan also missed a wide-open White on another fourth-down play from the Patriots' 7. It’s hard to criticize a guy who has engineered 22 game-winning drives, but even Ryan knows he has to play better and possibly improvise more -- particularly in the red zone.
Defensive breakdowns: The Falcons' defense had its share of issues throughout the game. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will be asked exactly what happened on that third-and-19 play in the fourth quarter when Tom Brady found Kenbrell Thompkins for a 26-yard gain from his own 12-yard line. The Falcons faked an all-out blitz, went with a three-man rush and managed to let Thompkins get behind them in coverage. William Moore added to the misery with a hit-to-the-head penalty. Giving up that play is inexcusable, based on the down and distance, and it has to be addressed immediately.
On the line: The offensive line remains a question mark, although Ryan was sacked just twice. One of those sacks -- allowed by Lamar Holmes -- came in the red zone and forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Center Peter Konz whiffed on the other sack allowed. Left tackle Sam Baker went down with a knee injury but picked up two successive penalties before exiting. If Baker is out a significant amount of time, the Falcons might want to consider looking around for more offensive-line help based on the struggles Holmes has had at tackle.
Fountain of youth: If there was a positive to come out of Sunday’s game, it was the play of veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. He ran smooth routes and dominated his one-on-one matchups against linebackers en route to a career-high 149 receiving yards on 12 catches. Gonzalez was targeted a team-high 14 times after subtly bringing up his touches last week. More than anything, Gonzalez showed just how valuable he'll be to Ryan for the rest of the season. We’ll see if Ryan tries to talk him out of retirement once again.