PITTSBURGH -- Matt Ryan had no chance.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback made the play-action fake to running back Devonta Freeman, rolled left, then got swallowed to the ground by Pittsburgh Steelers pass-rusher T.J. Watt for a 9-yard loss. Ryan, obviously frustrated with Watt not being blocked by Ryan Schraeder, Freeman or whomever was responsible, threw his arm down with the ball in his hand to express his frustration.
It symbolized the kind of day it was, with a 41-17 loss to the Steelers. It was indicative of the kind of season it has been so far for the Falcons (1-4).
"I think everybody knows our production needs to be better than it's been," said Ryan, who spent much of the game under duress, as he was sacked six times and hit 11 times. The last of Ryan's sacks led to a fumble that the Steelers recovered for a touchdown. "The hardest part for players is having to watch that film and critically evaluate yourself. I think with the kind of guys that we have, there's not going to be a whole lot that needs to be said."
The Falcons' record after five games speak volumes. A squad that entered the season with thoughts of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium now has to wonder if it has enough resilience to finish with a winning record. Since 1990, nine teams have made the playoffs after starting the season 1-4, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The last was the Houston Texans of 2015, who finished 9-7 after such a start.
How do the Falcons salvage their season? It won't be easy, considering the circumstances.
First and foremost, the Falcons' significant injuries on defense -- a recurring theme every week -- continue to be a primary issue, though coach Dan Quinn insisted that there is a enough talent on that side to play well. Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal (ACL) and free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles) are finished for the season, while Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones (foot) won't be back until at least the Nov. 18 game against Dallas.
Being without star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett against the Steelers showed, as the Falcons generated no sacks against Ben Roethlisberger, and they let Steelers running back James Conner break loose for 185 total yards -- 110 on the ground -- and two touchdowns.
No doubt, there were times Sunday when Falcons fans needed a flip-card handy to know who was on the field defensively, with guys such as Bruce Carter, Sharrod Neasman, Steven Means and Jordan Richards seeing more action than anticipated. Plus, the familiar names such as Robert Alford, Duke Riley, Damontae Kazee and Vic Beasley weren't making the plays they needed to make.
"You just have to continue to trust yourself," Beasley said afterward. "I know we all made mistakes in the game, but all you can do is try to do better.
"As a defensive player, you want to get to the quarterback, and my position is to get to the quarterback. So I've got to be disappointed in myself."
It has been repeated for weeks now that the offense needs to shoulder the load based on the depleted defense. Well, scoring 17 points certainly won't get it done in such a scenario. Neither will having star wide receiver Julio Jones go without a catch until the fourth quarter, like what happened Sunday. Jones credited it to the defense the Steelers played on him in sending an extra defender his way. But as dynamic as Jones is, it shouldn't matter. He finished the game with five catches for 62 yards on nine targets but has yet to score his first touchdown of the season.
"We will find ways to continue to get him the ball regardless of coverage," Ryan said of Jones. "For sure we want to get him the ball throughout: first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, anytime of the game."
Getting the ball to Jones isn't the lone solution to the Falcons' problems. They obviously have to keep Ryan clean moving forward, with Gerald McCoy and the Buccaneers coming to town next. They need to establish a running game, with just 62 rushing yards on 19 carries against the Steelers. They can't afford to let opponents convert third-and-long situations, like the Steelers did on a third-and-13 from Roethlisberger to Conner for 28 yards. (Remember the Jameis Winston third-and-19 play from three years ago?). And they need to clean it up on special teams, with Matt Bosher getting another punt blocked Sunday, leading to a Conner touchdown.
In other words, the Falcons are failing in all phases of the game, coaching included.
"I think we're closer than what our record shows," right tackle Schraeder said. "You've got to go watch the film. You've got to make corrections. You've got to keep getting better. Otherwise, we're working against ourselves. I think we have a good group of guys. We'll come back strong. We're not quitters."