ATLANTA -- The Falcons were supposed to be carried by an explosive offense this season.
Sure, it would have been a tall task to ask the Falcons to duplicate what they accomplished during the Super Bowl run in 2016, when they led the league at 33.8 points per game. But when you have a one-time MVP in Matt Ryan, a five-time Pro Bowler in Julio Jones, an electric rookie in Calvin Ridley and a host of other capable weapons, points are supposed to come a little easier.
Such hasn't been the case for the Falcons over the past 22 days during a four-game losing streak that put any playoff talk to rest. They have averaged just 17 points per game over that span while dropping to 4-8.
Sunday's 26-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens magnified all that has gone wrong for the Falcons on the offensive side of the ball. They knew they had a challenge against the league's top defense in the Ravens, but no one would have expected the Falcons to gain 131 net yards, their lowest total in a game since managing just 106 in a 26-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 12, 1999.
Ryan, sacked three times and hit seven times by the Ravens, threw for 131 yards on 16 of 26 passes -- a career low when he has attempted 20 or more passes, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And once again, the Falcons failed to put together any semblance of a running game with 34 yards on 15 carries, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. During the four-game skid, the running back combo of Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith has combined for 159 yards on 54 carries (2.94 yards per carry). It emphasizes how much Devonta Freeman (groin surgery) is missed.
Say what you want about the Ravens dominating the time of possession against the Falcons, which they did by having the ball almost 20 minutes longer than Atlanta. And the defense helped the Ravens sustain possessions with four penalties on Baltimore's scoring drives, including an inexcusable flag for too many men on the field. The Falcons didn't take advantage of their opportunities when they did have the ball, converting only two of nine third-down plays and driving into the red zone just once.
"It was a point of emphasis for us to get the run game going. We didn't do a good enough job," Ryan said. "We didn't execute as well as we needed to.
"We had some [opportunities] that were closer than they might have looked. But consistently, when you're not making first downs, you're not moving the chains, it's hard to get that [run game] going."
Passes didn't work well, either, whether it was due to drops or poor throws. Give Ryan credit for pointing blame at himself for overthrowing Coleman on a wheel route early in the game that might have led to a touchdown rather than having to settle for a field goal.
"I'd love to have that one back," Ryan said. "Just throw it a yard or two shorter and let him kind of take it to the house. You never know if momentum changes from that point."
The Falcons have lost a lot of steam, and coach Dan Quinn has noticed. Quinn talked about the effort being apparent but there have been moments in which he saw the energy of his team dip. It would seem to be even harder to maintain a high level of energy over the final four games, starting with next week's trip to Green Bay. The Falcons don't have much to play for.
"Early on, you have that moment where it's 'OK, we will get it turned,'" Quinn said. "So I think when you hit the reality where you're fighting to get to .500, yeah, that stinks. And that hurts. ... It's never a group of guys that has been like, 'Let's back off and step away.' We're way more of, 'How do we go about improving and fixing what we need to get done?'"
Seeing Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones return to the lineup for the first time since right foot surgery and post 15 total tackles and a sack was a positive for the Falcons to build upon, as was seeing quiet first-round pick Vic Beasley Jr. returning a Grady Jarrett forced fumble 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the team's first fumble recovery of the season despite forcing six fumbles.
But from an offensive perspective, the Falcons have plenty of work to do to feel positive moving forward.
Critics will continue to point to offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian when they see failed run plays up the middle or a pass by Mohamed Sanu out of the Wildcat formation sail incomplete on third-and-1. But as Ryan said, there are plays the Falcons had to execute, and they didn't. And Quinn continues to support Sarkisian, just like owner Arthur Blank continues to support Quinn.
The Falcons already made one change on the offensive line by inserting Zane Beadles at right guard ahead of Ben Garland. The adjustment didn't necessarily keep Ryan off his back or open up holes in the run game, though the blame does not fall directly on Beadles. The line, as a whole, has to do better. And the backs have to pick up blitzers.
Ryan has sounded like a broken record in talking about the mindset that the Falcons have to possess moving forward. But there's not much else to say.
"We've got to get back to work," Ryan said. "We've got to find a good way to win. As far as stay together, I think we have a good group of men in our locker room, coaching staff and front office that are willing to work."