Futile facts on Atlanta Falcons' fading season

By The Sports Xchange
Carolina Panthers tight end Ed Dickson scores a touchdown on a four-yard pass from Cam Newton against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of an NFL football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 13, 2015. UPI/Nell Redmond
1 of 3 | Carolina Panthers tight end Ed Dickson scores a touchdown on a four-yard pass from Cam Newton against the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of an NFL football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 13, 2015. UPI/Nell Redmond | License Photo

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are on the verge of elimination from the playoff race after losing 38-0 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but they still have a tiny bit of hope.

With three games to play, the Falcons (6-7) are two games behind the Seattle Seahawks (8-5) and Minnesota Vikings (8-5) for the two NFC wild-card berths. To make the playoffs, the Falcons need to win the rest of their games while the Seahawks lose the rest of their games.


The Falcons can't make the playoffs if they finish tied with the Seahawks because they would lose the first applicable tiebreaker, NFC record. The Seahawks are 6-4 in the NFC, and the Falcons are 4-6. The Falcons could win a tiebreaker against the Vikings, who are 5-4 against NFC opponents.


The Falcons also would have to finish with a better record than the Buccaneers (6-7) to make the playoffs because they lost both games against Tampa Bay.

If the Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) both win out, Atlanta would win the tiebreaker by virtue of a better NFC record.

Otherwise, there is this:

The Falcons could become just the seventh team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to fail to make the playoffs after starting the season 5-0, and they could become the first team in that group to finish with a losing record. A total of 66 of 72 previous teams that started the season 5-0 advanced to the playoffs.

The 2009 Denver Broncos (8-8), the 2009 New York Giants (8-8), the 2003 Minnesota Vikings (9-7), the 1993 New Orleans Saints (8-8) and the 1978 Washington Redskins (8-8) and the 1974 New England Patriots (7-7) all started the season 5-0 before faltering.

--After allowing the Panthers' second touchdown, second-year defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman got in a pushing and shoving match with defensive line coach Bryan Cox following the conversion attempt.


Once the battle was broken up, linebacker O'Brien Schofield tried to calm Hageman. He was shoved away.

Veteran defensive tackle Paul Soliai also tried to calm Hageman before Cox went on the field and tried to play peacemaker. Head coach Dan Quinn came over near the end of the shoving match, which saw Hageman pulling away from Cox and storming up the sideline.

"They are kind of like father-son," Quinn said, downplaying the encounter. "Both are emotional guys, and (that's) what makes them both good."

--An early review call went against the Falcons and started their slide.

On a second-and-22, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton completed a pass to tight Greg Olsen, who appeared to fumble. Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen recovered the ball.

The Panthers challenged the ruling, and after a review, the ball was awarded to Carolina because the officials said Olsen was down by contact.

Three plays later, Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart scored on a short touchdown run to make it 14-0.

Strong safety William Moore sustained an ankle injury on the play and did not return.


--While the defense was imploding, the Falcons couldn't move the ball. They were forced to punt on five of their first six possessions. The only drive that didn't result in a punt was a kneel-down at the end of the first half.

On their seventh possession, running back Devonta Freeman fumbled, and Carolina defensive end Kony Ealy recovered.

The Panthers went on to add a field goal to make it 31-0 with 5:46 left in the third quarter.

On Atlanta's eighth possession, quarterback Matt Ryan fumbled and Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short recovered the ball. The Panthers scored a touchdown off the turnover to make it 38-0 with 2:18 to play in the third quarter.

The Panthers had five sacks and 11 quarterbacks hits.

"From an offensive standpoint, when you score zero points, clearly we aren't doing our job," Ryan said.

--Wide receiver Julio Jones, with his third catch of the game, set a career high for receptions in a season with 104. He now has a league-high 109 catches on the season but has just six touchdowns. He hasn't scored a touchdown over the past five games.

--Wide receiver Nick Williams had a career-long reception of 29 yards. He finished the game with four receptions for 40 yards, which was his second-best receiving total of the season.


--Outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. recorded his third career sack in the third quarter. According to NFL True Media, Beasley's three sacks are tied for the second most by a rookie in Falcons history.

--Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux recorded his first sack of the year, dragging down quarterback Cam Newton for a 6-yard loss. He now has 26.5 sacks in his career.

--Strong safety William Moore left the game with an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return.

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