CINCINNATI (AP) — Marcus Mariota and the Falcons couldn’t keep up with Joe Burrow and the Bengals, and Atlanta’s 35-17 loss on Sunday erased the momentum it gained from last week’s win over San Francisco.
The Falcons (3-4) are still tied with slumping Tampa Bay atop the unimpressive NFC South, but their chance to take control of the division ended early. They fell behind 21-0 by the second quarter and never got closer than 11 points.
“We’ve got to be able to get out on the road against a team like that and start better,” coach Arthur Smith said. “Thankful it only counts as one (loss). It’s a long season. We need to get back to work.”
While Burrow passed for a season-high 481 yards on 42 attempts, Mariota attempted a season-low 13 passes for 124 yards, 75 of which came on a TD pass to Damiere Byrd just before halftime.
Mariota had 14 pass attempts — completing the first 13 — in last week’s 28-14 win over the 49ers, but the Falcons managed 168 rushing yards in that game against the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
The plan on Sunday was similar against a Bengals defense that was missing injured nose tackle D.J. Reader and allowed 228 yards on the ground last week in a win over New Orleans.
The Falcons rushed for 107 yards on Sunday but weren’t able to sustain drives.
“I felt the same (about the rushing attack) that I felt about our passing game: pretty average,” Smith said. “We didn’t do enough to sustain drives whether it was a run or a pass.”
Production by Atlanta’s receivers has been underwhelming. After being targeted eight times last week, they only had 12 targets on Sunday, including four to Olamide Zaccheaus, who finished with three catches for 31 yards. Byrd’s 75-yarder was his only catch and target of the day.
“They did a good job defensively to get us off the field and then sustain drives,” Mariota said. “They were throwing it around, but they were able to keep the ball and win time of possession.”
With Cordarrelle Patterson on injured reserve, the Falcons have used a committee approach to the running game. Four players had carries on Sunday, including Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for 50 yards and a TD. Mariota ran for 31 yards on six carries.
As badly as the game started for the Falcons, they trailed by only 11 points at halftime after scoring 10 points in the final 39 seconds of the half. But they were forced to punt on two straight possessions in the third quarter.
“You can’t go three and out like that, especially when you have momentum like that before the half to get us back into the game,” Mariota said. “We weren’t good enough on offense to sustain anything after that point.”
Smith said he did not consider replacing Mariota with rookie Desmond Ridder, a third-round pick from the University of Cincinnati.
“No, no. There was plenty of time left in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “If we would have gotten a stop late, we probably would have put him in there to hand the ball off. You could have gotten excited about that.”