There are stretches where we lead charmed lives. You get the promotion, you marry the girl of your dreams, you find the house you've always wanted. Or maybe you score a free pizza, win your online Madden franchise and your buddy buys you beer.
Those stretches have to end. It's part of the human condition. We deal with loss, misfortune and pain. If you haven't experienced that, you live an insulated life.
It's odd, then, that we have so much trouble dealing with the Falcons' meltdown. For the past three weeks, this team has squeaked out last second wins, muddled through first halves and generally looked like a team destined for something less than its 4-1 record. As much as anybody, I wanted to believe the Falcons had the drive and the talent to close out games, and that their struggles would correct themselves.
Like all those charmed stretches, this one had to end.
The Falcons were terrible Sunday. The 31-17 final score doesn't begin to tell the story of how the Falcons played, confronted with a tough Eagles team that applied constant pressure and played an extremely aggressive brand of football. Confronted with that, the conservative Falcons crumbled. If you saw this game and thought the Eagles weren't the better football team, your capacity for self-delusion is pretty nifty.
There are no easy fixes. It's impossible to say how long Dunta Robinson might miss after his hit on DeSean Jackson, and it's hard to know if the NFL will react and suspend him, despite what is in my mind a clear lack of intent to cause injury. The offensive line and Mike Mularkey aren't magically getting better. Confronted with a big-play offense that dared to strike downfield often, Brian Van Gorder and the defense could come up with no answers. The entire team is culpable, and everyone must improve before the Falcons take on the Bengals next weekend.
As grim as that sounds, the Falcons only have one or two more teams on their schedule who offer the Eagles' mix of punishing defense and dynamic offense. They're still 4-2, on top of the heap in the NFC South and our next game against the decent Bengals are followed by a bye week. We don't have to talk about turning things around, because the Falcons have already seen success this season.
This is a miserable blip on the radar screen of excellence. One hopes, anyway.
Join me after the jump and we'll stick our hands in the fire.
- The run defense continues to be a standout. If you had told me before the game that LeSean McCoy would've averaged just a hair over three yards a carry and his backup, Eldra Buckley, would've averaged under four, I would've bet on the Falcons. That would have been a mistake.
Still, this defense is showing me a lot. The Falcons have an active front seven and they do a fantastic job of limiting opposing grounds games. That should serve them well against Cedric Benson next week.
- Big Michael Jenkins returned and hauled in five passes for 99 yards. It was not a spectacular performance, but it could have been: Matt Ryan and Jenkins failed to connect on six other throws, largely because Ryan had nanoseconds to get off his passes. Encouraging performance, though, and a sign that he'll be asked to shoulder some of the burden in the passing game.
- Curtis Lofton is my hero. The Police put up 14 tackles, 11 of them solo, and tipped the pass that William Moore intercepted. He also got hurt near the end of the game, but it looked like it was relatively minor. The Falcons need him.
- William Moore had a dumb penalty late in the game, but that was a nice pick. Despite not starting the entire year, he leads the team in interceptions with three. I'm anticipating a monster year when all's said and done.
- Peria Jerry finally made an impact, notching the team's only sack of the game. Kudos, Peria!
- From here, the individual achievements need quantifying. Roddy White had six catches for 83 yards, but unfortunately most of that came later as the game was unraveling before our eyes. It was still a nice performance.
Considering he was under more pressure than Captain Nemo, Ryan deserves props for putting up even reasonably decent numbers yesterday. He had some bad throws and I'm not willing to excuse those entirely, but the guy barely had time to snap sometimes before Trent Cole was punching him in the throat.
Tony Gonzalez is a red zone weapon, even if he didn't do much else. Nobody screws with Gonzo in the end zone.
- This isn't a highlight, per se, but I've limited myself with this format. Don't excoriate Brian Van Gorder for this one—at least not for things he doesn't deserve. The Falcons generated no pass rush against a merely decent line, and clearly he should've adjusted in-game. For those that think he was magically going to stop Jeremy Maclin (a rising star in the NFL, in my opinion), DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Brent Celek by waving his Scheme Wand of +10 Stopping, you need to recognize how talented the Eagles offense is.
It didn't get any easier for BVG once the Falcons lost Dunta. I love me some Chris Owens, but he and everyone else were being toasted. We thankfully do not have to face a passing attack of the Eagles' caliber every week, but I did think they put in a game effort. The D just wasn't good enough to stop them.
BVG and the Falcons defense will get back on track. Bank on it.
- Going to touch on the Dunta Robinson hit on DeSean Jackson first. I don't for one second believe there was malicious intent on the part of Robinson. If you watch the hit a few times, you can draw your own conclusions, but it looks to me like Dunta picked a very bad time and way to brace for impact. I'm sure the NFL and many others will debate the angle Robinson took there, and the penalty will be debated, but if it's not malicious that's not what concerns me. What concerns me is the aftermath, which was horrific for both teams.
DeSean Jackson has a severe concussion and some memory loss, and that's awful. My thoughts go out to Jackson and Eagles fans, who are understandably angry but should probably stop wishing harm on Dunta because A) he's already hurt and B) that's more than a little cruel. I'll be anxiously awaiting news on his condition, because he looked like he got his bell rung pretty badly.
On the football end of things, the Falcons will miss Dunta a lot if he has to sit out games, which is likely. Expect to see a lot of Chris Owens.
- God, the offensive line is excruciating. The Falcons won't have to face Trent Cole every week, but they utterly failed to protect Ryan throughout the game. He was sacked three times and harried on seemingly every other pass. The protection has to improve, and the Falcons need to take a more active role in preserving their franchise quarterback's health, not to mention avoiding the kinds of fumbles that result from him getting trucked over by a giant lineman. Have Jenkins throw a couple blocks if the team believes he's so good at it, for Christ's sake.
The run blocking didn't seem much better. Michael Turner once again turned (!) in an uninspiring performance, but he was nailed in the backfield a couple of times, which certainly didn't help.
- Speaking of Turner, it's become apparent to me that we're probably never going to see the same back that ran roughshod over the league in 2008. Whether he's a step slower, a little less decisive or just aging at three times the rate of normal humans, Turner's not getting it done. It's time to start working Jason Snelling (three carries, 17 yards) into the rotation more.
- Matt Bryant missed a field goal. Isolated incident, hopefully, but a disappointing one.
- What a crappy game from Michael Koenen, who was obviously struggling with the wind at times. His usually strong leg faltered on numerous occasions in this one, leaving the Eagles with good field position. I don't have to tell you how that turned out.
- The matchups were bad, but the secondary got eaten alive. The Thomas DeCoud of last year is mysteriously absent, replaced by a body double with the soul of Bruce Pickens. And yes, I'm aware they play(ed) different positions.
- I blame the entire team, from Mike Smith down to Shann Schillinger, for their pathetic showings in first halves this season. It should not take Smith dropping F-bombs and stacking furniture with the team to make them realize that hey, they're a professional football team and they need to show up for work. I'm truly baffled as to why this team can't seem to extract its collective head from its collective ass before they head to the locker room for the first time.
- At a fundamental level, this game confirmed everything we knew about the 2010 Falcons. They're a team with poor pass protection, an inconsistent running game and a penchant for allowing big plays on defense.
It's foolish to pretend these problems don't exist. Dismissing critics of the team out of hand when they deserve criticism is expressing blind faith while your car drives down an embankment. The Falcons need to spend the Bengals game and the bye week figuring them out.
At the same time, people who act like the season is over are beyond foolish. I know I've said that at least once in this post alone, but let's get a damn grip. This team will win at least one more game, I promise.
Game MVP: Curtis Lofton. This week's MVP award is an ice pack, which I'm sure The Police will appreciate.
Game Theme Song: I don't have a specific song for this game, but if you need to relax and think about something else, why not listen to one of the greatest hip hop tracks of all time?
One Thing To Take Away: Balance in all things, grasshopper. Don't panic and don't be a Pollyanna.
Final Word: Shaz.