ATLANTA — Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White said he beat Aqib Talib off the line of scrimmage. He had two steps on Talib, whose coverage most of the game was extraordinary. White was in the slot and he was going to run a post pattern to the right corner on the Falcons’ last play of the game with 41 seconds to play.
But White, the four-time Pro Bowl receiver, one of the best receivers in the history of the franchise, said he blundered. “I had him and I should have flattened out the route, I should have stayed in it a little flatter,” White said.
White hung his head as if he was responsible for the Falcons’ 30-23 loss Sunday night to the Patriots. His right ankle still ballooned from an early-season sprain, White just shook his head.
“I kept going with the route,” he said, “and it gave him a chance to make the play. He’s tough man, good player, but I need to make plays for this team.”
Talib, trailing White, reached his left arm around White and knocked away Matt Ryan’s last pass.
“I need to give him a better opportunity to make a play on the ball,” Ryan said. “We felt like we had a decent look at it.”
It was fourth down from the Patriots’ 10-yard line and the Falcons had a last chance to tie the game. It was just another misfire in the red zone for the Falcons, who are 1-3 because they have had trouble finishing drives.
Atlanta was 1 of 6 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The Falcons’ inability to run the ball in the shadow of the goal posts is a factor, but Ryan also said he made mistakes. His second-quarter pass to White in the left corner, near the orange goal-line pylon, with Talib covering on that play, too, sailed past White. Ryan had rolled left and fired a hard pass that was uncatchable.
“It was a bad throw,” Ryan said. “Roddy ran a good route and I made a bad throw. Not our best effort in the red zone tonight, we all are trying to find out the reason why we’re not successful down there.”
Ryan threw for a career-high 421 yards. He completed 34 of 54 passes, including a spectacular 49-yard throw to Julio Jones with 1:50 to play that gave the Falcons a chance to tie the game when many of their fans had given up on them.
The Falcons fell behind, 30-13, in the fourth quarter and the Georgia Dome looked half-empty on that final drive.
This marks the first time in the Ryan Era the Falcons are two games under .500.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez had a career-high 149 yards on 12 catches. But where the Falcons were disappointed in the passing game was the inability of Jones to deliver a big play. Talib in the first half, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard in the second half, were physical with the 6-foot-4-inch All-Pro at the line of scrimmage because they could count on safety help over the top.
Rarely did Jones escape into the secondary with room to maneuver. He had six catches for 108 yards, but 49 yards came on one play.
“There could have been some calls for some of that,” Jones said when asked if he was slowed down by defensive holding. “You can’t control what the refs call. They doubled. They were playing two-man.”
Neither White nor Jones could get much separation from Talib or Dennard. Ryan, who lost left tackle Sam Baker to a knee injury in the second quarter, did not have time to wait in the pocket for his receivers to shake open.
Jones came into the game tied for the lead in the NFL with 27 catches. On Thursday, he told reporters that the Patriots played a lot of man coverage and could be beaten with a big play. He insisted after the game that double coverage took away the big play.
In the fourth quarter, after the Patriots had taken a 27-13 lead, Ryan tried to get a quick explosive play to Jones with a deep pass down the right side in front of the Patriots’ bench. Talib was stride for stride with Jones and inside of the Atlanta receiver, and easily intercepted the ball.
The New England offense came on the field and the Atlanta fans started marching toward the exits, certain the Falcons were doomed.
But a late scoring drive, a recovered onside kick, and the Falcons were one play from overtime. Each of their losses has been by the margin of one missed play in the red zone.
“We have to find a way to make plays,” White said.