FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Turnovers have finally caught up with the Atlanta Falcons, playing a big role in their first loss and highlighting an inability to replicate one of the team’s strengths in last year’s Super Bowl run.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons rank near the bottom of the league with a minus-4 turnover differential. Ryan threw five interceptions in the last two games , including two in last week’s 23-17 loss to Buffalo. Ryan also lost a fumble returned for a touchdown by Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White.
The two-interception game came one week after Ryan threw three interceptions in a narrow win at Detroit.
Ryan threw only seven interceptions, and never threw more than one in a game, in his 2016 MVP season. It’s no surprise Ryan and the Falcons (3-1) emphasized protecting the ball in their bye week.
“We’re better than that,” Ryan said. “I’m better than that from an offensive standpoint in terms of taking care of the ball. We’ve got to make better decisions, and I do, too, in order to give ourselves a chance to win games.”
It was easy to overlook the three interceptions against Detroit because two came on passes off the hands of Mohamed Sanu and Tevin Coleman.
Early in the third quarter against the Bills, Ryan attempted to complete a deep pass to Taylor Gabriel. The pass hung up too long, turning the play into a jump ball competition won by strong safety Micah Hyde, who had position in front of Gabriel.
Hyde added another interception in the fourth quarter on a pass off the hands of receiver Nick Williams. At that point, the Falcons were missing top receivers Julio Jones and Sanu , who were out with injuries.
The most costly turnover was the fumble returned for a touchdown. A review confirmed the play was a fumble instead of an incomplete pass.
Ryan said he thought his arm was moving forward “but it’s not my job to rule or officiate. That’s just one of those bang-bang plays that are tough.”
The Falcons had no takeaways against Buffalo, making the turnovers more difficult to overcome. They have only two takeaways — one fumble recovery and one interception, each by cornerback Desmond Trufant — for the season.
“We always want to be able to create turnovers on the defensive side of the ball,” said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. “Whether it is to punch out the ball or try to get some caused fumbles. There’s opportunity out there for us to get it, but we have to be more mindful about it. It’s a mindset. You have to attack the game in that manner and we just have to get the job done.”
Coach Dan Quinn said the minus-3 turnover differential was “the real story of the game.”
“We don’t look at that as an offensive or defensive stat or a turnover margin, we see it as a team stat, and without creating any turnovers you cannot be in the plus,” Quinn said.
The Falcons are hoping such injured players as Jones, Sanu and top pass rusher Vic Beasley can return for next week’s game against Miami. Running back Devonta Freeman also is hoping the break gives the offense a chance to regroup and play up to the standards it set when it led the league in scoring last season.
“We’ve just got to get better, come back off this bye week and learn from our mistakes and clean up everything,” Freeman said. “It’s the little things. I feel like we need to get better with detail, taking care of the ball, running better routes, making something happen if nothing is there, and just get better as a whole.”