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Falcons defense keeps coming up short at the end

September 30, 2018
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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) makes a touchdown catch against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Atlanta. The Cincinnati Bengals won 37-36. (AP Photo/John Amis)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are making a bad habit of collapsing in the final moments of games.

They were at it again in Sunday’s 37-36 loss to Cincinnati, allowing Andy Dalton to complete a 13-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green with 7 seconds remaining.

“It’s like just taking your heart and ripping it out,” defensive end Vic Beasley said. “It’s tough, but it’s just part of the game. It’s why we play the game. We play the game to win, but sometimes that’s how it ends up.”

The Falcons gave up touchdowns on the first four drives, but held the Bengals to one field goal in the second half before Dalton directed a 16-play, 75-yard drive. He completed one third-down pass and two fourth-down throws to Tyler Boyd, all against Desmond Trufant.

On the winning catch, Dalton had an easy decision to look for Green, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, to come open against zone coverage with inexperienced cornerback Isaiah Oliver defending the right side of the end zone.

Dalton had enough time to wait for Green to come open and slide down for the catch. Oliver and Brian Poole were closest to the receiver, but had no chance to make a play.

“I probably should’ve sank back a little bit more, like 3 or 4 yards,” Oliver said. ”(Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel) said that it sucks right now, but you’ve just got to take it and learn something from it. It can’t all be negative.”

There hasn’t been much positivity for Atlanta’s defense this year. Two starters — strong safety Keanu Neal and free safety Ricardo Allen — are injured and out for the season. Defensive captain Deion Jones, a third-year linebacker, is sidelined with a foot injury and will miss at least the next six weeks.

Even though they’ve allowed 80 points in the past two games, Sunday wasn’t entirely a disaster for the defense. Takk McKinley had three sacks, all in the second half, and safety Damontae Kazee got his first career interception.

A big call that could have favored Beasley went Cincinnati’s way in the fourth quarter. McKinley took down Dalton for a 10-yard loss and the ball came loose and Beasley recovered the fumble at the Atlanta 18. But the ruling was reversed because Dalton’s knee was down. A 36-yard field goal cut the lead to 33-31.

Beasley returned to the game quickly in the first quarter after leaving with an ankle injury. He knew the line was in bad shape depth wise. McKinley missed last week with a groin injury, and reserve end Derrick Shelby didn’t dress for the second straight game because of a groin injury.

McKinley said the defense can’t afford to let the injuries affect its collective psyche.

“We have to finish,” McKinley said. “Regardless how many points we held them to in the second half, we lost the game.”

Last week’s loss to New Orleans dropped the Falcons to 1-1 in the NFC South when quarterback Drew Brees forced overtime with a 7-yard touchdown run and then won the game with a 1-yard run in the extra period.

Against Cincinnati, the Falcons did it again. They’ll have another chance to get it right next week at Pittsburgh.

“Those are the moments I’m talking about where when it’s time to close the door and shut it, we’re going to develop that instinct,” coach Dan Quinn said. “We do not have it as we need to right now. But as it got down to it, that’s where we need more attention and more time.”

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