In a near-mirrored version of last year's playoff loss in Philadelphia, the Falcons drove to the red zone in the north end of Lincoln Financial Field with the game on the line. Like the previous loss, Thursday night's failure ended with a boundary pass Jones couldn't corral in bounds. The Falcons' All-Pro receiver was body-slammed out of bounds to end the 18-12 loss to the Eagles.
The red-zone failure on the final play bookended a night of offensive struggles for Atlanta that began by getting stuffed at the doorstep on fourth down of the opening drive. Matt Ryan's offense went 1-5 in red-zone scoring Thursday night, managing just 12 points.
"Our ability to score down there, that has to change," coach Dan Quinn said, via NBC's Pro Football Talk. "We weren't able to do that tonight. Give credit to them. We knew coming in this was going to be a good matchup defensively, offensively and all in different areas but that part of our game clearly tonight we didn't execute at the level we'd like and we've got work to do."
The struggles in the red zone are nothing new for Atlanta, which ranked 23rd in RZ percentage last season.
Matt Ryan had a particularly brutal night throwing the ball. Not only was he badgered by Eagles pressure, his throws were often late, off-target and lacked zip. Appearing uncomfortable in the pocket, Ryan finished with a 5.8 yards per attempt average on 43 attempts, completing a dastardly 48.8 percent of his tosses, with one interception (in the red zone) and zero TD passes.
The only thing worse than the odd lack of arm strength on Ryan's passes was the red zone play-calling and execution.
Ryan went 1-9 in red area passing Thursday night, including 0-3 to Jones, one target of which sailed about a mile over the receiver's head.
"I really believe we're going to make those plays as we move forward," an optimistic Ryan said after the game, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN. "It just comes down to making a play here or there. And I think when we get those changes again, we're going to come up with those plays. But we're going to continue to work at it and practice it. I think we are closer. We're disappointed that we didn't make those plays tonight. But I'm confident that we're going to make them moving forward."
After an offseason of supposedly focusing on improving in the red zone, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian finds himself right back in the eye of ire.
First was the odd decision not to have the team's best player, Julio Jones, on the field during the first failed red-zone trip. Jones propelled the Falcons to the doorstep of the end zone, then sat the next four plays out watching the offense fail in both scheme and execution.
"Nobody was in. We were in goal line," Jones said of the personnel on the field for the first scoring opportunity. "I'm comfortable with every call that's made. My job is to go out there and execute and do my best when it's my time."
Even if Jones is playing nice, Sark will get heat for not at least using his top player as a decoy. Jones ended the game with 10 receptions on 19 targets for 169 yards - zero catches coming in the red zone.
If Thursday's problems were a one-off situation, they could be dismissed as knocking off rust. They were not.
The Falcons have scored just one offensive touchdown in each of their last four games, per NFL Research.
Atlanta opens the season the same way the last one closed: with a loss in Philly, red-zone problems and an offensive coordinator most fans want to drive out of town.