Atlanta stalled four times in scoring territory Sunday, and the missed chances proved costly when the Miami Dolphins scored a touchdown with 38 seconds left and win 27-23.
Rookie Dion Sims made a one-handed catch of Ryan Tannehill’s 1-yard pass for the winning score, but the Falcons said the game shouldn’t have come down to that.
“We had a ton of opportunities,” coach Mike Smith said. “We need to be more efficient in the red zone on both sides of the ball. We had way too many field goals.”
The injury-plagued Falcons, who were one play from the Super Bowl last season, fell to 1-2.
“We’re not where we want to be,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We’re on the wrong side of it now, and we’ve got to figure out a way to get back on the good side of it.”
Atlanta led 10-0 and 20-10 and lost despite advantages of 24-16 in first downs, 377-285 in yards, 5-0 in sacks and 37 minutes to 23 in time of possession.
“Statistics don’t always tell the whole story,” Ryan said. “We had a lot of opportunities to finish the game. We just didn’t get it done in the red zone. We have to find a way to punch it in.”
Three times their offense stalled inside the Miami 20. Bryant made three field goals but missed a 35-yard try with 4:46 left with Atlanta leading 23-20.
Miami then mounted a 13-play, 75-yard drive for the victory.
The Dolphins improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2002. An enthusiastic crowd of 70,660 reflected the buzz building about the surprising Dolphins, who are trying to end a streak of four consecutive losing seasons.
“We have a special team, a team with a lot of talent,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “We’re going to continue to improve. The sky’s the limit.”
Tannehill finished 24 for 35 for 236 yards and two scores. He shook off two turnovers and five sacks, and was at his best at the end of each half.
On the final drive, Tannehill went 8 for 11 for 69 yards, with two of the incompletions because of dropped passes. The winner came on second down, when Tannehill lobbed his throw over linebacker Stephen Nicholas to Sims, a backup tight end.
Sims scored his first NFL touchdown by pulling the ball in with his left hand because his right arm was tangled up with Nicholas.
“It was awesome. It was amazing,” Sims said. “The defender grabbed one hand, so I had no choice but to use the other one.”
Jimmy Wilson intercepted Ryan to seal the victory.
Tannehill’s other scoring pass was an 18-yarder to Hartline to make it 20-20 late in the third quarter. Tannehill also moved Miami 60 yards in the final 2:04 of the first half for a field goal on the final play.
Ryan threw for 231 yards, and in the absence of Steven Jackson — one of several sidelined Falcons — Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for 139 yards rushing.
“It was our duty to step in and have no letdown,” Rodgers said.
Lamar Miller had a 49-yard run to set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown, but they generated little running attack otherwise. Special teams made a pivotal contribution when rookie Don Jones’ jarring tackle on punt returner Harry Douglas forced a fumble the Dolphins recovered to set up a touchdown.
The Dolphins’ defense lost end Cameron Wake (knee) and linebacker Koa Misi (shoulder) to injuries, but Miami dug in after a slow start. The Falcons scored on their first three possessions, and at one point the Dolphins trailed in total yards by 127-3.
Atlanta had the ball for nearly 23 minutes in the first half but was up only 13-10 at halftime. Ryan led drives of 14, 11 and 13 plays on the Falcons’ first three possessions, but twice they stalled and settled for field goals.
Osi Umenyiora had two sacks, including one to force a fumble that set up a Falcons touchdown. William Moore ended a Miami scoring threat with an interception of a pass by Tannehill after it deflected off the hands of intended receiver Charles Clay.
Did the Falcons play well enough to win?
“The scoreboard,” Smith replied, “says we didn’t.”
Notes: Atlanta’s Matt Bosher, leading the league in punting, averaged 33.0 yards on two kicks. ... The Dolphins have scored at least 20 points in each game, the first time they’ve done that since 2002. ... Miami rookie Caleb Sturgis kicked field goals of 46 and 50 yards and is 6 for 6 this year.