Since the beginning of the 2016 season, there have been 465 instances of an NFL team leading by at least 10 points at halftime of a regular season or postseason game. Combined, those teams have gone 422-41-2 in those games, good for a 0.910 winning percentage. Eight teams are undefeated with double-digit halftime leads, but only one has more than three losses.
Since the beginning of the 2016 season, there have been 555 instances of an NFL team leading by at least 10 points after the third quarter of a regular season or postseason game. Combined, those teams have gone 524-28-3 in those contests, good for a 0.947 winning percentage. Thirteen teams are undefeated with double-digit post-third-quarter leads, while eight teams have lost at least twice in that situation.
In case you haven't figured it out by now, there is only one team that fits both of those criteria: the Atlanta Falcons, who are 15-4 (0.789) since 2016 when leading by 10 or more at the half and 21-2 (0.913) when leading by 10 or more after the third quarter. The Falcons have lost one of each of these types of games in the last two weeks alone: they led the Dallas Cowboys 29-10 at the half in Week 2 before losing 40-39, then led the Chicago Bears 26-10 at the end of the third quarter in Week 3 before losing 30-26.
Of course, neither of those losses involved the Falcons' most infamous blown lead. That came in Super Bowl LI. Since the beginning of the 2016 season, the Falcons have blown a total of five double-digit leads at either halftime or the end of the third quarter: Week 7 of the 2016 season against the Chargers, Super Bowl LI, Week 6 of the 2017 season against the Dolphins, Week 2 of this season against the Cowboys, and Week 3 of this season against the Bears.
Taking a look at each of those games, there are some unsurprising commonalities.
The first is that after establishing their largest lead of the game, the Falcons rarely scored again. They led 27-10 against the Dolphins in 2016, only to lose 33-30. They led 28-3 against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, only to lose 34-28. They led 17-0 against the Dolphins in 2017, only to lose 20-17. They led 39-20 against the Cowboys, only to lose 40-39. And they led 26-10 against the Bears, only to lose 30-26.
Atlanta's drive chart in each of those losses looks horrendous. Here's what they did on their remaining possessions after establishing their largest lead of the second half in each of those games.
|Game||2016 Wk 7 (30-20)||Super Bowl LI (28-3)||2017 Wk 6 (17-0)||2020 Wk 2 (39-20)||2020 Wk 3 (26-10)|
|Drive 2||Missed FG||Fumble||Fumble||Onside Recovery||Missed FG|
That's a total of 18 drives, which yielded a combined ... zero points. Those 18 drives resulted in six turnovers -- a 33.3 percent turnover rate that would blow away the league high in any given season. Their only two scoring opportunities resulted in missed field goals, and they made two crucial special-teams errors: a fumble on a punt against the Dolphins in 2017, and an onside kick they allowed to be recovered by the Cowboys in Week 2 of this season.
Meanwhile, here's what the Falcons' opponents did with their drives once the Falcons established those sizable leads.
|Game||2016 Wk 7 (33-30)||Super Bowl LI (34-28)||2017 Wk 6 (20-17)||2020 Wk 2 (40-39)||2020 Wk 3 (30-26)|
In case you're counting, that's 23 opponent drives yielding 104 total points, for an average of 4.52 points per drive. If you take out the two drives ending in kneel-downs, the average jumps to 4.95 per drive. (By way of perspective, consider that the 2019 Ravens led the league with an average of 2.96 points per drive.) The Falcons forced a total of one turnover and one punt on these drives, while allowing a score on 19 of the 21 non-kneel chances. Add it all up and you have a 104-0 scoring margin, a minus-5 turnover differential, and nine more punts than the opponent despite having three fewer drives. The Falcons consistently set themselves back with penalties in each of these games as well.
After taking that 30-20 lead against the Chargers in 2016, Atlanta committed three penalties for 15 yards, one of which gave the Chargers a free first down. Against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Atlanta committed five penalties for 33 yards, one of which gave the Patriots first-and-goal at the 2-yard line in overtime. Another of which turned second-and-1 into second-and-11, which led to that drive ending in a punt and the Patriots getting a field goal on their ensuing possession.
Against the Dolphins in 2017, the Falcons took four penalties for 43 yards, including a neutral zone infraction that turned third-and-12 into third-and-7 and resulted in a touchdown on the next play, as well as pass interference and roughing the passer penalties on another Miami touchdown drive. And against the Bears, the Falcons took six penalties for a total of 60 yards.
That's 18 penalties for 148 total yards and several free first downs for their opponents. You can't win playing like that. Also an issue: the defense getting off the field on third down. Not that it's too surprising given that the defense allowed scores on 19 of 21 non-kneel drives, but Falcons opponents converted 21 of 34 third-down opportunities into first downs or touchdowns, and did not miss any field goals or fourth-down tries. The best teams typically convert somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of their third-down tries, but the Falcons in these situations allowed a 62 percent conversion rate. That's simply unacceptable.
Lack of discipline, inability to finish drives, special teams miscues... all of these factors point to coaching being a major issue in the blown leads. Some of it can be attributed to the play-calling of Kyle Shanahan, Steve Sarkisian, and Dirk Koetter, but Dan Quinn bears the responsibility for the defense, and ultimately, for the penalties as well. It's entirely possible they would have still blown massive leads under another coach, but I suppose we'll never know.