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October 8, 2013

It's a long season: Falcons fall to Jets, now 1-4

ATLANTA — After a heartbreaking loss in the NFC championship game, the Atlanta Falcons made it clear what they wanted this season.

A Super Bowl championship.

At the moment, they’d settle for a win.

After rallying from a 27-14 deficit in the fourth quarter, the staggering Falcons couldn’t stop Geno Smith. The rookie quarterback calmly guided New York down the field, setting up Nick Folk’s 43-yard field goal on the final play to give the Jets a 30-28 victory Monday night.

Atlanta (1-4) heads into a bye week mired in a three-game losing streak — its longest since 2007, before coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan arrived to transform the Falcons into one of the NFL’s most consistent winners.

Stunningly, the defending NFC South champions are already four games behind the unbeaten New Orleans Saints in the division race.

Not exactly what Tony Gonzalez had in mind when he put off retirement and returned for one final season.

“What are we going to do, sit here and feel sorry for ourselves?” said Gonzalez, who became just the second player in NFL history with a catch in 200 consecutive games. “I’m not going to put my hands up and say the season is over. We’ve still got a lot of football left to play.”

The Falcons went ahead on Matt Ryan’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo with 1:54 remaining, but the defense couldn’t stop Smith. Having already thrown three touchdown passes, he completed four straight passes on the final drive, in addition to scrambling for an 8-yard gain.

“He’s a rookie,” Atlanta safety William Moore said, “and we make him look like a 10-year veteran.”

The Jets (3-2) have been waiting for this sort of performance from Smith, who came into the game leading the NFL with 11 turnovers, including eight interceptions. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and threw almost as many touchdown passes as the four he had in the first four games.

“My confidence is always sky-high,” Smith said. “Nothing can bring me down.”

Jacquizz Rodgers scored on a pair of touchdown runs, and Ryan also threw a scoring pass to Jason Snelling. But the Falcons will remember the points that got away at the end of the first half.

The Jets made a goal-line stand on the final play, preserving their 17-7 lead. That turned out to be awful big at the end of the game.

Atlanta actually had two cracks at the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The first attempt resulted in an incomplete pass, but the Jets were called for pass interference when they grabbed Gonzalez as he tried to get open. The Falcons again passed on a chip-shot field goal, and curiously decided to hand it to their smallest back — Rodgers is just 5-foot-6 and 196 pounds — for a power run behind their shaky offensive line.

Rodgers was swallowed up by the New York line, sending the Jets racing off the field in celebration while the Falcons staggered to their locker room to a round of boos from the Georgia Dome crowd.

“That can’t happen,” Gonzalez said. “It came back to haunt us.”

Rodgers and the Falcons rallied in the second half. He scored on a 4-yard run midway through the third quarter and broke off a 19-yard score to cut the Jets’ lead to 27-21 with 8:10 remaining. The Falcons finally surged ahead, taking advantage of a holding call on Demario Davis after the Jets batted down a pass to Rodgers. Ryan hooked up with Toilolo, a tight end known more for his blocking.

But New York had plenty of time to pull off the winning drive.

Smith completed a 12-yard pass to Stephen Hill, a 13 yarder to Jeremy Kerley, and went to Hill again on a 9-yarder. Smith scrambled around left end to the Atlanta 38. After one more Smith completion, the Jets let the clock run down and sent on their kicker.

There was no doubt about it.

Ryan completed 36 of 45 passes for 319 yards. Gonzalez hauled in 10 receptions for 97 yards and joined Jerry Rice (274) as the only members of the 200 club. Julio Jones had eight catches for 99 yards, including a brilliant one-armed grab.

The Falcons were missing six starters because of injuries, and the medical report grew longer. Receiver Roddy White went out with a hamstring injury, and Snelling didn’t return after sustaining a concussion. In the fourth quarter, Atlanta got so far down the depth chart that a trio of third stringers contributed — Kevin Cone caught a big third-down pass, Antone Smith broke off a key run, and Toilolo grabbed the go-ahead touchdown.

It wasn’t enough.

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