Losing the turnover battle a troubling trend highlighted in the Falcons’ loss to the Commanders

ATLANTA – The Falcons haven’t produced a turnover since Jesse Bates III intercepted a pass in Detroit. That’s 15 complete quarters played with no outs.

The Falcons have turned the ball over nine times since then.

It’s a tough way to make a living in the NFL. It’s no surprise, then, that the Falcons have lost three of four since that Bates pick.

Those who lose the turnover battle often lose the game. That was the case on Sunday, when three interceptions by Desmond Reeder and a zero score by the Falcons’ defense went a long way in a 24-16 loss to the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons outgained Washington by 209 yards. They allowed just two third-down conversions all day. They had five sacks. They did all that and still lost. When you’re statistically dominant and get beat, gift giving is usually the culprit.

“It all came down to the turnovers, the plays they made and the position they took,” Falcon head coach Arthur Smith said. “They took advantage of their opportunities and we didn’t. It wasn’t good enough.”

The defense provided one fourth-quarter opportunity after another that the Falcons failed to capitalize on, most notably two fourth-quarter picks that spoiled a legitimate comeback attempt.

I’m not going to dive headfirst into the nitty-gritty of what happened because Torey McElhaney already did, so I’ll stick to a troubling trend that has put Atlanta in a bind time and time again.

The Falcons have a minus-6 turnover margin this season and are minus-9 after Bates’ interception. Since we mentioned Bates, it’s worth noting that he’s the only Falcons player to force a turnover this season.

While this defense plays well more often than not and is stingy at the end of games — they allowed just 32 yards and forced four straight punts to close out Sunday’s contest — they don’t take the ball away. That’s a setback for Falcons defenders after this latest loss.

“We have to find a way to create more shifts on defense,” Bates said. “It’s hard to win when you’re 0-for-3 in the turnover battle and you’re giving up big returns on special teams. We won’t overreact. It’s Week 6 and we’re 3-3. We have everything we want right in front of us.”

Everything the Falcons want, however, can’t be accomplished with a play like this. Sunday’s game was up for grabs, even after a string of mistakes. A big play or avoiding a big mistake could have resulted in a positive outcome.

The last two reversals were particularly impressive. Reeder threw a pick into the end zone in a go-ahead situation with approximately five minutes remaining. Then, after the defense provided a third chance to set up a game-winning drive, Reeder threw his third interception 34 yards out of the end zone. Sunday’s game ended up being a missed opportunity because of those mistakes.

“It’s hard to come out and put on that show,” Reeder said. “When you have a lot of opportunities to get down, to put points on the board, a lot of opportunities to move the ball, drive things and not get it done, obviously it’s tough for us.”

While there was obvious disappointment with the result, it wasn’t all doom and gloom in the Falcons locker room. They were focused on improvement and how to play the clean, complementary football needed to win consistently in this league.

“We’re forcing some passes; we can be better at it,” linebacker Grady Jarrett said. “We got off to a hot start and we need to get back to it. Limiting big games too. I think we were good, but there’s another level we can take it to, and that’s the encouraging part. It’s encouraging that we can be better.”

They will need to be, especially in the turnover battle, to come out on the right end of future results.

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