Coming off the bye, the Atlanta Falcons' hope of a late-season surge back into the postseason mix was always going to be a long shot with the NFL's toughest remaining schedule ahead of them.
On Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, that hope was buried under an avalanche of sacks as the Falcons surrendered 21 unanswered points on the way to a 24-9 loss. The defeat drops the Falcons to 3-7 on the season and for all intents and purposes puts any pie-in-the-sky dreams of a postseason run under interim coach Raheem Morris to rest.
The odds of the Falcons getting back into the picture were always slim after an 0-5 start but their recent signs of life since making the switch to Morris had, at minimum, offered confidence in a more competitive product. Of course, the 3-1 stretch under Morris also had come against the likes of Minnesota, Carolina and Denver.
Stepping back into the NFC South against the Saints quickly erased whatever goodwill those victories created. After the Falcons jumped to a 9-3 lead, the Saints harassed quarterback Matt Ryan for the rest of the day.
The biggest issue? An inability to protect Ryan or create lanes in the running game. In Atlanta's first nine games, it had allowed two sacks or fewer in eight of them. On Sunday, the Saints dropped Ryan eight times. On the ground, the Falcons mustered 3.7 yards per carry with a long of 7 yards.
At one point in the middle of the fourth quarter, Atlanta had negative-4 yards of offense in the second half. It didn't help matters that receiver Julio Jones was in and out of the game multiple times with an apparent left hamstring injury.
Now, the Falcons head into a home stretch in which they play the Raiders, Saints again, Chargers, Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bucs again. Finding more wins and a strong case for Morris to remove the interim tag figures to be a difficult proposition, especially if Sunday's protection problems persist.
QB breakdown: Ryan was sharp on the opening drive but once the Saints turned up the heat, Ryan's day went awry. He finished 19-of-37 for 232 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 48.5. It's the first game Ryan has finished with no touchdown passes and two interceptions since Week 5 of the 2015 season.
That comes after Ryan posted a QBR of 85 or better in four consecutive games, which was the longest active streak in the NFL entering Sunday's loss.
Eye-popping Next Gen Stat: Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo continued his strong season by hitting all three of his field goal attempts Sunday, including makes of 51 and 52 yards in the first half. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, both of those 50-plus-yard kicks had a make probability below 60 percent.
Koo has now made all seven of his field goal tries with a sub-60% make probability, the most makes without a miss in those situations this season.