On paper, this was about as exciting a matchup as you can draw up. A young team fresh off a miracle season, starting out 2-0 and with a potent offense matching up against the struggling dinosaur of a squad that has been the NFL's most successful over the last decade. The drama was there, the talent was there, and we seemed destined for a shootout.
Unfortunately, we spent a lot more time watching the Falcons and Patriots shooting themselves in the foot than charging down the field with guns blazing. This loss exemplified everything the Falcons do not do well as a football team, and it introduced some uncomfortable subplots which we could be talking about in the weeks ahead.
Part of me understands that this was a game nobody expected us to win regardless, but that in and of itself doesn't make the loss any easier to swallow. As we go into a much needed bye week, there's still plenty of reasons to feel optimism about the season, and none of us should believe the worst based on one week. Let's balance reality with our hopes and dreams.
Follow the trail of wreckage after the jump.
- Despite the invisibility cloak thrown over Tony Gonzalez and a pretty decent pass rush, Matt Ryan looked about as composed as ever. There were a couple of times where he simply couldn't find an open man and elected to hit the sidelines, a cautious move but one that was probably warranted. His numbers don't jump off the page at you, but he played a solid game of football. On Sunday, that was enough to make you take notice.
- Michael Jenkins did some very good things. He was sure-handed and his penalty, which I'll acknowledge was a killer, was not egregious. He just wanted the damn football, and he was going to make sure he got it. On afternoon where not much went right offensively, it was comforting to see Jenkins making things happen as our third option in the passing game.
- The defense lacked big plays, so our nod today goes to the guy who seemed to be in on every stop: Curtis Lofton. You'll be hard pressed to find a guy who pursues as well he does. Of course, if the entire front seven had done their job properly, he wouldn't have had to do that. So that's a bit of a mixed bag, I guess.
- Credit goes to the secondary. Brady overthrew a few receivers and there were drops, but Brian Williams leapt in front of a sure touchdown and Thomas DeCoud prevented a couple of long plays (and almost picked two passes) with a mix of athleticism and good instincts. He's living up to his billing as a pass-defending safety.
- Finally, let's give props to Eric Weems. He looked explosive and tough to bring down on returns, and if he's got any sort of hands at all he really should be mixed into the passing game. I was very impressed with what I saw from him on Sunday.
- The offensive playcalling has to go first. We were maddeningly conservative today when we really should have been attacking a Patriots defense that had a couple of holes. They played us pretty well all day, but I reached my absolute boiling point when we were down by double digits and the Falcons were punting the ball away on fourth and short yardage. The absolute worst thing this team can do is go timid and give the impression that they're giving up. I'm not accusing them of doing that, but it's hard for fans, the media and the other team not to think so when you're not expressing enough faith in your high octane offense to try to convert a fourth down in a game you're probably going to lose anyways. Playing an aggressive game of football to save some dignity or go for the miracle win is never a bad idea. That was unquestionably my biggest disappointment of the day.
- It wasn't Michael Turner's fault that on that fateful jarring hit, a helmet popped the ball right out of his arms. You have to get props to the defender on that one. It is getting more than a little worrying that Turner can't seem to go off on opposing defense and help us control the clock, and it's time for a serious appraisal of whether it's the burly running back or the even burlier dudes blocking for him that are causing the problem. If the run is stopped, it's pretty clear that Ryan & Co. can step up in a big way a lot of the time. If the passing game is completely shut down, however, it's not clear the ground game can rescue us at this point. That's enough to worry the calmest Falcon fan.
- I dearly love Roddy White. He has been an enormous bright spot for the Falcons over the last two season, and no one can deny his talent. You ever notice how people say nice things to soften the blow of a really cruel thing? Well, I'm doing that right now. Because Roddy White had two terrible drops and has not been the 1A or 1B option in the passing game we all expected him to be. I don't understand exactly what's going on here, but hopefully it's nothing a bye week can't fix.
- The normally infalliable Michael Koenen had a terrible punt. While this is likely an exception to the steadfast rule, it's a noteworthy addition to the litany of evil spirits that possessed our players yesterday. Ye gods!
- We've got to get a better performance out of the front seven. It would be simplifying things to the nth degree to suggest that the loss of Peria Jerry is killing our rush defense, but the numbers don't lie: The Patriots put up over 150 yards on the ground with a running back corps comprising guys who are either considered to be role players or guys past their prime. There's talent there, yes, but 150 yards worth of talent? Not against a good defense. Again, the bye week should give us the time we need to determine whether this is a personnel question or a question of putting players in the position to make plays, because there were times where the entire defense might as well have been in my living room watching the game with me.
- Did I mention I hate the fact that we were punting that late in the game? Because I really, really hated it.
Game MVP: I'm tempted to revoke the Game MVP entirely, but we'll let Matt Ryan, Michael Jenkins and Thomas DeCoud split it three ways and take it home for the week. Can't do much else with it.
One Thing To Take Away: The defense is not a finished product and the Falcons are not perfect. Forgive me for my blasphemy.
Next Week: The bye week. We'll still have some great content for you and the usual litany of bizarre ramblings, so make sure you stick around.
Final Word: Oof.