By GENARO C. ARMAS
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank watched coach Dan Quinn offer explanations about another defeat. The boss then gave Quinn a hug before he walked out the door of a Lambeau Field media room.
Blank still appears to have Quinn’s back as the losses keep piling up for Atlanta.
In less than two years, the Falcons have gone from a trip to the Super Bowl to a losing record that was clinched with a 34-20 defeat on Sunday to the Green Bay Packers. It was Atlanta’s fifth straight defeat.
Matt Ryan threw for 262 yards and three scores, including two to star receiver Julio Jones. But after an encouraging game-opening touchdown drive that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Jones, the Falcons (4-9) played mistake-filled football to fall behind quickly by double digits.
By the time Ryan and Jones connected for another score, from 12 yards with 13:34 left in the game, Atlanta was still down by 20.
In between, they hurt themselves too many times, including eight defensive penalties. Thirteen flags overall cost the Falcons 101 yards.
“It’s definitely frustrating, maddening, disbelief, all of those things when we don’t execute on those,” coach Dan Quinn said.
It wasn’t just the penalties that hurt, either.
Bashaud Breeland returned an interception 22 yards for a score in the second quarter after jumping a sideline pass intended for Austin Hooper. Later, an ill-timed shotgun snap in the red zone epitomized the misfortunes of an injury-filled year.
The hike from center Alex Mack hit Mohamed Sanu in the leg just as the receiver crossed in motion behind the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter. The Falcons retreated from the ball for a moment, appearing to be unaware of what happened — just enough time for Breeland to sneak in for the recovery.
“That was tough, but that’s on me. The whole operation starts and ends with me, so I’ve got to do a better job of that and making sure that we don’t have things like that coming up,” Ryan said. “I think if we score on that drive it’s a much different game where you have a better opportunity of making a comeback.”
Instead, with three games left on the schedule, the Falcons are stuck with their first losing season since going 6-10 in 2014, Mike Smith’s last season as coach.
Quinn replaced him the following season, when Atlanta finished at .500 before taking a giant leap forward in the 2016 season to reach the Super Bowl. Atlanta beat Green Bay in the NFC title game that year in a contest between teams that looked like they would be contenders for season to come.
But both haven’t lived up to expectations in 2018. The Packers fired head coach Mike McCarthy last week, while Blank reaffirmed support for his coach.
Green Bay snapped a three-game skid, winning for the first time under interim head coach Joe Philbin.
The frustration continues for Atlanta.
One bright spot for the Falcons is that Jones reached 1,400 yards receiving for the fifth straight season, an NFL first. He finished with eight catches on 11 targets for 106 yards.
Otherwise, it was understandable why the visiting locker room cleared out so quickly following an error-filled afternoon. The preparation and effort were there, Quinn said. The execution needed to improve.
“For us to be the team that we need to play like,” he said, “that can’t be our identity.”