FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons can point to at least one area to explain their lost to Miami: The red zone.
Atlanta fell to 1-2 after scoring two touchdowns and two field goals on five drives to the Miami 20-yard line or deeper. The Dolphins went 3-for-3 — all touchdowns — in their 27-23 victory.
The Falcons could argue they outplayed Miami, outgaining the Dolphins 377 yards to 285 on Sunday, and sacked Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill five times while Atlanta's Matt Ryan was not sacked. The Falcons also held the ball for 37 minutes, nine seconds to the Dolphins' 22:51.
Falcons coach Mike Smith wasn't all that impressed.
"We did not play very good situational football We're talking about red zone, two-minute and third downs," Smith said. "We gave up 10 points in two-minute situations — a field goal at the end of the half, and seven points at the end of the game.
"We weren't as efficient as we needed to be on third down; they were 7-of-12. We were 0-for-3 (defensively) in the red zone. We were only 2-for-5 in (offensive) red zone efficiency so you can just do the math."
It's adding up to losses.
Remember, Atlanta dropped its opener 23-17 at New Orleans when four pass plays from the Saints' 7 or closer failed to score in the final 1:09.
The Dolphins moved to 3-0 after Tannehill passed 1 yards to rookie tight end Dion Sims with 38 seconds left in the game for a four-point lead.
The Dolphins trailed most of the afternoon, and when they took possession with 4:46 left in the game after Atlanta's Matt Bryant sent a 35-yard field goal try wide right, they had just 210 yards of total offense.
Tannehill completed 9 of 12 passes, however, for the win.
"There were a number of plays on that drive where we weren't as tight as we needed to be in our coverage," Smith said. "We had third-and-3s and third-and-4s, and we need to play press coverage; we can't be off."
Atlanta hosts the New England Patriots on Sunday night.
For Falcons rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant the Dolphins game was a learning experience.
"I've got to be better with my technique," he said. "It came down to one-on-one battles, and they were winning them ... even when we were in tight coverages."
Trufant was one of three rookies on defense, joining undrafted linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow.
Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was not available for comment, and Smith dismissed a suggestion that Nolan may have been conservative in play calling because the injury-ravaged Falcons were deploying so much youth.
"Absolutely not," the head coach said. "Absolutely not. We've got to go out and execute, and we did not execute in those situations."
The Falcons, who rank No. 23 in NFL offensive efficiency (touchdowns on 50 percent of such possessions), had problems on that side of the ball as well.
They settled for a 20-yard field goal by Bryant with 2:04 left in the first half when Smith called for the kick rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Miami 2 after running back Jason Snelling was stuffed for no gain on first and third downs.
"There was discussions that if we got the ball inside 1 yard (Atlanta would go for it)," Smith said. "When we saw that the distance that we needed was closer to 2 yards right before the half . . . it was important that we get points. Obviously, we didn't think that we were going to give up the two-minute drive right after that."
The Dolphins answered with an eight-play, 60-yard drive, and Miami kicker Caleb Sturgis' 46-yard-field goal as time expired cut Atlanta's lead to 13-10.
The Falcons had a few things to be happy about even several starters out injured.
Atlanta rushed for 146 yards, and even though Jeremy Trueblood made his first start at right tackle as Lamar Holmes moved from right to left, Ryan was not sacked.
But with the Falcons' offensive line situation, they shortened their passing game and called for Ryan to throw quickly.
That de-emphasis of the vertical passing reduced the threat of big plays. That made red zone offense more important, and although the Falcons ran the ball well up to the Miami 20 or so, they struggled when the field shortened - in the red zone.
"We've got to do a lot more on offense. In the red zone, score touchdowns not kick field goals, and we'll be fine," said wide receiver Roddy White, who was limited to two catches for 16 yards. "We've got to find a way to find the end zone."