The Falcons went 13-3 last year and were 10 yards away from going to the Super Bowl. They couldn't get those final 10 yards to beat the 49ers, and there was no guarantee they would get that close again this season.
A lot went right for the Falcons last year, and there were flaws, most notably a defense that was average at best. This season, they're not catching the same breaks, and the flaws still exist. After an exciting comeback fell short on Sunday night in a 30-23 loss to the Patriots at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons are 1-3, matching their loss total from all of last year.
In the Falcons' defense, the Patriots aren't nearly as dead as some fans want to believe. They're 4-0 and will at some point get receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen back from injuries. They're off to a great start, considering the circumstances. But, given that the Patriots were so shorthanded on offense, a strong contender should beat them at home. Instead, the Falcons trailed 30-13 in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons' comeback was thrilling (what about that deep Julio Jones catch on their last drive?) but Atlanta needed a furious rally because it was thoroughly outplayed for most of the second half. Not long after the final incompletion to Roddy White fell to the ground in the end zone, it probably started setting in that the Falcons now have a pretty long road ahead of them.
Atlanta still has a fantastic passing game, and it will get better when White is fully healthy from an ankle injury. The running game will improve when Steven Jackson returns from a hamstring injury. There was a telling sequence in the fourth quarter after Atlanta recovered an onside kick and drove inside the red zone. Atlanta had a second and 1, but chose to pass twice rather than run for the first down. They threw two incompletions and kicked a field goal. The Falcons arguably should have gone for it on fourth and 1. There just wasn't much trust in the running game to get that yard.
Atlanta's defense still isn't very good. Even against New England's odd cast of characters surrounding quarterback Tom Brady, the Falcons couldn't slow the Patriots down. Brady had 316 yards and two touchdowns, and the Patriots also rushed for more than 100 yards.
The fourth quarter was a roller coaster, with Atlanta getting extra chances because of a recovered onside kick and a fumbled snap on fourth down and 1 by Brady. But in the end it was just another loss. The Falcons can't afford many more if they want to be a contender again this season.