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ATLANTA – More time-management issues. A blown lead in the fourth quarter. Another loss outside the NFC South.
For the Atlanta Falcons, these are familiar themes.
The Falcons were in position to finally beat someone who's not in their woeful division after Matt Bryant came through again in the clutch Sunday, connecting on a 53-yard field goal with 44 seconds remaining against the Cleveland Browns.
But the Atlanta defense couldn't stop Brian Hoyer and the Browns, giving up four straight completions before Billy Cundiff kicked a 37-yarder on the final play for a 26-24 victory.
"You've got to finish," Falcons end Kroy Biermann said.
That's been a huge problem for Atlanta (4-7), which lost for the fourth time after leading in the final quarter. And this one was reminiscent of a hideous loss to Detroit, in which the Falcons left far too much time on the clock on their final possession and gave Detroit a chance to kick a winning field goal as time ran out.
After Matt Ryan's pass to Harry Douglas took it to the Cleveland 35, the Falcons called timeout to set up their third-down play. Then, a pass for Devin Hester was batted down, stopping the clock again without the Browns having to use any of their three timeouts.
"We wanted to get our best play," Falcons coach Mike Smith said, when asked about the timeout. "We wanted to get a first down. The look they gave us said to throw the ball. We did, and we didn't convert it."
Bouncing back from three interceptions, Hoyer guided the Browns (7-4) to the Atlanta 19 and spiked the ball with 5 seconds left. Cundiff trotted on to make his fourth field goal of the game.
Josh Gordon came up huge for the Browns in his 2014 debut after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He started, was targeted a game-high 16 times, and made eight receptions for 120 yards.
His longest play was a 24-yard catch down the middle of the field on Cleveland's final drive.
"How did I hold up? Pretty good," Gordon said. "The adrenalin will keep you going."
The Falcons (4-7) came in on a two-game winning streak and improbably tied for first with New Orleans. They are 0-7 against teams outside the division.
"It felt like it was our game to win," said Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant, who was assigned to defend Gordon much of the day.
Georgia native Isaiah Crowell scored a pair of touchdowns for the Browns, including a 26-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter that pushed Cleveland to a 23-14 lead.
Crowell was one of the nation's most sought-after players after high school but spent one troubled year at the University of Georgia before being kicked off the team. He finished his college career at FCS school Alabama State.
He looks as if he's back on track with the Browns, especially with Gordon joining the offense
"He opened up a lot of stuff in the run game by going deep on some passes," said Crowell, who had more than 50 family and friends cheering him on.
Hoyer, who was 23 of 40 for 322 yards, nearly gave it away for the Browns. In the fourth quarter, the Browns had first-and-goal at the Atlanta 6 and a chance to make it a two-score game when Hoyer, after scrambling out of trouble, inexplicably threw it up for Gordon in the back of the end zone instead of just tossing it away.
Trufant made a leaping interception to keep Cleveland's lead at 23-21.
Atlanta was forced to punt with just under 4 minutes left, and Hoyer made another huge mistake. This time, he floated a deep pass down the sideline, only vaguely in Gordon's direction, and Dezmen Southward came up with his first career interception.
Ryan took it from there, driving the Falcons into Bryant's range.
Turns out, he left too much time on the clock.
"When you have opportunities to close things out," Ryan said, "you've got to make them."
He threw for 273 yards and a pair of TDs, including a 24-yarder to Julio Jones for Atlanta's first TD.
Ryan also had an interception and a fumble on back-to-back possessions in the first half, leading to a pair of Cleveland field goals.
Notes: Cundiff came up short on a 60-yard attempt at the end of the first half, and Hester nearly took it back for an Atlanta touchdown. He went 75 yards before being dragged down at the Cleveland 31 with no time left. ... Falcons CB Robert McClain went out with a left calf injury and didn't return.
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