On paper, the Falcons were disciplined from a penalty standpoint. They committed just three penalties in their 15-9 overtime loss to the Steelers on Sunday.
It was the timing that was inopportune.
Having committed one penalty in regulation, the Falcons committed a penalty on the opening overtime kickoff, negating a 19-yard return an pinning them inside their own 10-yard line.
After advancing out to the 24-yard line, a converted 3rd-and-7 was called-back due to a penalty. The following pass was incomplete, and the Falcons punted. The Steelers broke a 50-yard touchdown run on the following play to win the game.
“It‘s very difficult to be efficient when you start your drive inside the 10-yard line,” head coach Mike Smith said about the overtime penalties. “That is a big concern, because that is crunch time. It’s really not overtime. It’s sudden death, and that’s how we have to look at it.”
Three penalties is hardly an epidemic, but Smith said special teams penalties are particularly calamitous, often halting offensive drives before they start.
“In terms of what we want to try to do on special teams each and every week,” said Smith, “we talk about our three musts that we must do, and one is to play penalty-free football on special teams, because the penalties on special teams are spot fouls.”
Unlike some penalties, spot fouls often negate big plays, such as long returns on special teams.
The Falcons look to eliminate special teams penalties when they host the Cardinals this Sunday at 1 p.m. EDT.