Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan thrived in the first half, completing 15 of 21 passes for 151 yards, including a deep ball to newly promoted Marvin Hall for a 40-yard touchdown. Those third-and-long situations Ryan talked about cleaning up during the bye week suddenly became easy to convert. The combo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 61 yards -- all on the ground -- during a five-play drive that resulted in Coleman's 6-yard touchdown run. And middle linebacker Deion Jones intercepted Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler, just the second pick for the Falcons on the season.
The Falcons led 17-0 at halftime, but it didn't matter. They didn't score after that. When Ryan was picked off by Dolphins safety Reshad Jones with less than a minute remaining in the game, it sealed the Falcons' 20-17 loss.
The second-half issues that kept the Dolphins in the game were the last thing Falcons coach Dan Quinn wanted to see coming off the bye week -- or coming off blowing that 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI. Sure, the Dolphins came to Mercedes-Benz Stadium touting one of the league's stingiest defense, led by Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Jones. But the Falcons had a chance to close the Dolphins out -- and didn't.
"Losing, in general, is hard," Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said. "But two times in a row at home? That's a disrespect to ourselves. That's a disrespect to our coaches. That's a disrespect to our owner. That's a disrespect to our fans. That's a disrespect to everybody that surrounds the damn Falcons because that's not us."
Defensive penalties and missed tackles had a lot to do with the implosion. Then, turnovers came into play again as Ryan threw his sixth interception on a play where he tried to fit a ball into double coverage to tight end Austin Hooper on first down. The ball was tipped by Dolphins cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, then picked by Jones. The Falcons could have gone conservative and set up the game-tying field goal.
"Hats off to them today. They were the better team," Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones said of the Dolphins. "But it's on us. It's a player-led team. We've got to find ways to win games. ... We just have to go out there and finish the game."
Sunday's tune-up for next week's Super Bowl rematch with the New England Patriots showed that the Falcons still have work to do in all phases to remain contenders. The offense didn't look so explosive in the second half; Ryan was under constant pressure as his line had breakdowns. The defense looked like a sieve, particularly on a third-down play in the fourth quarter in which Cutler hit Jarvis Landry, who picked up the first down while shaking off five tackle attempts. And the punt team struggled, with usually reliable Matt Bosher not at his best and long snapper Josh Harris botching a snap that led to the Dolphins taking the lead.
Quinn is a coach who harps on playing disciplined football. Well, his defense picked up key defensive penalties that gave Miami momentum in the second half. One was a pass interference call on Robert Alford. The biggest was a late hit on Grady Jarrett. Adrian Clayborn also had a key penalty that gave the Dolphins a shorter third down to keep a drive alive.
Quinn always talks about resetting. He also said after a loss to the Buffalo Bills that his team needed to play with more emotions.
With the hype that will surround their rematch with Patriots next Sunday night, the Falcons will have to find a way to reset once again and make sure this doesn't spiral out of control after dropping two in a row.
"We've got to reset," Allen said. "It ain't no other way. What you going to do, just lay down? There's s--- else you can do. You've got be a man. You've got to know what we work for when we wake up every morning. What we grind for. What this team stands for. We've got to reset."