Rapid Reaction: Patriots 30, Falcons 23

ATLANTA -- A few thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night:

What it means: The Falcons now find themselves in unfamiliar territory -- on the outside looking in. Since 1990, only 9 percent of teams have made the playoffs after a 1-3 start. One of those 22 teams (out of 258) was the 2002 Falcons, who finished 9-6-1 and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in a divisional playoff game after beating the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card game. But this Falcons team has a tall task, with teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers and the San Francisco 49ers still remaining on the schedule. And the Falcons were supposed to be a Super Bowl favorite.

Stock watch: If there was a bright spot in the loss, it was the play of tight end Tony Gonzalez. He indirectly lobbied for more touches leading up to the game and responded with 12 catches for 149 yards. His showing included seven catches for 90 yards in the first half and a 21-yard touchdown before halftime on which he shook a falling defender. Gonzalez, who added a second score late, was Matt Ryan's primary target on a night when Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib locked up Julio Jones. If only Gonzalez could play defense.

In the zone: The Falcons got off to a bad start in terms of red zone efficiency, driving down to the Patriots’ 5-yard line on their first possession, then settling for Matt Bryant’s 23-yard field goal. Ryan overthrew Roddy White on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ 7-yard line. Then Ryan was sacked on third-and-5 from the Patriots’ 18, causing the Falcons to settle for another field goal. In other words, an offense that needed to improve its red zone efficiency struggled once again.

Run down: The Falcons actually performed well against the run the first three games, surrendering just 79 yards per game to rank fifth in the league. Then they imploded against the Patriots and got gashed. No run was more significant than LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown sprint that was the final difference. With injuries mounting at linebacker for the Falcons, other teams might follow the Patriots’ lead and run the ball down against the Falcons.

Line shuffle: Sam Baker returned to the starting lineup at left tackle after missing last week with a knee/foot injury. The Falcons opted to keep Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle and benched Lamar Holmes. Well, Holmes was right back in the lineup after Baker exited the game with a left knee injury and didn’t return. Baker picked up two bad penalties before going down. If Baker’s injury isn’t serious, it will be interesting to see how the Falcons proceed at tackle moving forward.

What’s next: The Falcons face the struggling New York Jets on "Monday Night Football" on Oct. 7 at the Georgia Dome. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 1-3 on Monday night, 10-24 all time.