The Atlanta Falcons were going to lose to the Tampa Bay Bucs.
You could see it in the way they were playing. You could hear it in the comments offered up by readers of this very site, readers who have learned over time that the Falcons have historically found a way to lose the games they're supposed to win. It was apparent from a series of increasingly despondent text messages tlozwarlock and I sent back and forth. It was especially apparent after Jason Elam missed another field goal, the final twist of the knife after a day of injuries and ineptitude.
But let us not forget that the Falcons didn't lose this game. It wasn't an inspiring win, the kind you're going to tell your grandkids while you bounce them on your bionic knee in your floating space condominium after the Great Mars Wars of 2073. This was just a win, an ugly win, that moved us to 6-5. It doesn't speak well to the future of this team, necessarily, but it's still a damn win. At the end of the day, we're one step closer to throwing off the shackles of our losing reputation, and that's the greatest victory of all.
So I urge you to keep some perspective today, especially after I finish telling you how badly the Falcons stunk on Sunday, with a little praise mixed in. There's the pit we've just come out of, and the pendulum which could swing back the other way at any moment. Makes it tough to plan out the next few weeks, doesn't it? You can find that after the jump, of course.
Chris Redman? More like Chris Reliable! Am I right?
Redman put the Falcons on his back. He doesn't have the arm Matt Ryan does or the long-term potential, but he played an efficient game of football, avoided costly turnovers and made throws when he absolutely had to. That touchdown strike to Roddy White was a thing of beauty. Given the circumstances and the fact that two-fifths of the starting offensive line had to leave the game, Redman played a terrific game. He had some miscues, but I find it difficult to aim too much criticism his way when he did everything he could to earn the W. Huge credit to Redman.
- Give huge props to the receiving corps, as well. Tony Gonzalez and Michael Jenkins were open often and made nice catches, and Roddy White sealed the win with a great catch in the end zone. Down to Marty Booker and Eric Weems behind them, the big three in our passing game stepped up their game and made things happen, and that goes hand-in-hand with Redman's performance. Awfully proud of them.
- Welcome back, Jerious Norwood. With a touchdown catch and a couple of nice runs, Norwood looked weapons-grade again and made a dent in the Bucs defense. Glad he's healthy, because we're going to need him.
- The USS Babineaux fired some serious fumble missiles at Josh Freeman, as did the SS Chevis Jackson. Babineaux continues to be the best the offensive line has to offer and Jackson delivered a pair of punishing hits yesterday, giving him the appearance of our most physical cornerback. Really, though, the team needs to figure out some way to help Babineaux out more so he can rush. He's got the nose for it.
- Michael Koenen can boot it. That kid's got more leg than a chorus line.
- Jason Elam did hit two field goals and both of his extra points, but....
- ...he also missed another field goal. There's a reasonable argument to be made that the change in long snappers has caused Elam some problems, and there have been bad snaps on a couple of his field goals. Still, he's converting field goals at well under the league average rate and that missed field goal Sunday could very well have cost the Falcons the game. If the coaching staff has any trust in him left, it had to have been struck with a heavy hammer yesterday.
- There are no words that can properly express how angry I was with the decision to play Michael Turner before he got injured, and the fact that he got injured again—same ankle, mind you, regardless of which part of the ankle—made me apoplectic. There was no need to trot him out there when he would've benefitted from another week of rest, no matter how much of a warrior he is, and aside from one admittedly very nice run he had zero luck moving the ball down the field. I know he probably wanted to play and the Falcons are treating each week like it's the playoffs, but playing Turner against the Bucs cost us far more than it helped us. Still pretty pissed off about that one.
- The injuries in general hurt a lot. Matt Ryan's loss didn't end up being as terrible as it might have been, but we need him down the line. Sam Baker and Harvey Dahl are critical pieces of in pass protection and absolutely must get healthy or we're boned. This has been a problem all year and it actually got worse in a hurry Sunday.
Jason Snelling. Four carries isn't nearly enough to get a good rhythm going, but he also managed to fumble the ball at a very, very bad time and lose it. That will hurt the coaching staff's confidence any day of the week.
- I happen to think that Josh Freeman is a promising young quarterback with a very bright future in the NFL. I do. That doesn't lessen the sting of allowing him to put up his best game as a pro, a game which saw him pass for 250 yards and two touchdowns without a single pick. John Abraham can point the finger all he likes, but outside of a few hurries later in the game, the line got little to no pressure on the quarterback today and Freeman had more time than a clock factory. And the secondary? Let's just say inserting Chris Owens into the lineup didn't cure all of those very noticeable woes.
Game MVP: You could make an argument for either the wide receivers and Gonzo or Redman, but I'm going with Rojohombre. Just an inspired performance from the backup.
Game Theme Song: This one because it's semi-relaxing and hey, we could all stand to find a little beauty after Sunday's game.
One Thing To Take Away: There are 100 ways to win and lose the game of football, and the Falcons experimented with a lot of them. It's going to be awfully tough to beat a team like the Eagles if we can't get our act together.
Final Word: Whoa.