The Atlanta Falcons are incapable of playing four quality quarters of football.
You can point to the injuries, which were no insignificant. The Falcons did lose William Moore for the game, never had John Abraham and got dinged up along both lines. You can point to the Packers, who are simply an otherworldly football team that makes great adjustments mid-stream. Ultimately, though, the Falcons have to stare in the mirror and see their own fingers pointing back at them.
For a half, at least, the Falcons seemed to have the blueprint for beating the Packers. They ruthlessly moved the ball down the field, played tough defense and got after Aaron Rodgers. They held the Packers to field goals and hung 14 points on Green Bay. An eight point lead is not insurmountable, but there were reasons to be extremely optimistic.
Then the second half happened. The Packers came out with a more aggressive defense and decided to go hard after the Falcons' secondary on offense, basically abandoning the run. Those adjustments got them 16 points in quick succession. The Falcons, on the other hand, did nothing, and a game but overwhelmed defense was on the field way too often thanks to a lackluster offense.
It's hard to put into words just how frustrating it is to watch a talented, smart football team shoot itself in the foot with its refusal to make smart changes to its gameplan. The changes they did make--going pass heavy in reaction to Turner's ineffectiveness, for example--did not pay off, and the execution was poor. The defense did not account for Rodgers' crazy passing ability and the sudden effectiveness of the Packers' offensive line. And so, once again, the Falcons saw a first half lead whittled away, this time against one of the best teams in the NFL. The results were both predictable and all too familiar.
Look, this wasn't a game I expected the Falcons to win. But they showed they could do it, and then they flopped hard. It's become the most frustrating theme of the season thus far.
There's so much work to do before the Panthers game next week, work that I am sure will begin today. As frustrated as I am, this season is far from over, so let's not act like it is. If the Falcons start playing full football games, they're going to win a lot of them. If.
After the jump, highlights, lowlights and the wrapup, as always.
- Tony Gonzalez did his best. Four catches for 46 yards only, yes, but he put in a heroic effort all game long. It's unfortunate that one of those efforts led to a tipped pass and an interception, but I don't blame him for it considering he was stretched out and the defender made a nice play.
- Roddy White had a couple of nice catches and flashed a wizard-like ability to get open. If he could just do it all game long, we'd have ourselves an unstoppable force of nature. If wishes were fishes, I'd be having tilapia right now.
- I give Brett Romberg props for stepping in at guard and playing well. He really did.
- The defense, at least in the first half, was great at getting at Aaron Rodgers. They finished with four sacks, split between Sean Weatherspoon, Corey Peters, Ray Edwards and Lawrence Sidbury. It was an uneven effort, yes, but you have to give the D credit for getting after one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league. It was encouraging, to say the least.
- Credit to Brent Grimes for forcing a fumble, and Vance Walker for recovering it. The only turnover of the game for the Falcons, and it warmed my craggy heart.
- Big ups to Mike Smith, Mike Mularkey and Brian Van Gorder for their respective first halves. They both called brilliant games, for the most part, and put together schemes that could beat the Green Bay Packers. The wheels fell off, of course, but it's reassuring to know they're at least capable of calling some very good football.
Also, to be fair to BVG, I thought the pass rush not executing was less his fault than it was the players'. The D held up better than the offense, so he gets one gold coin. None for you, Mularkey.
- Matt Ryan had a bad game. All season long, I've made excuses for Ryan because of the performance of the offensive line, but I'm not in the mood to do it today. Yes, Ryan was under pressure. Yes, Ryan didn't have a lot of open guys. But he also forced throws, was wildly inaccurate on more than one pass and just had a shaky game overall. He finished 18/32 for 167 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
That's accounting for the fact that neither of those picks were really Ryan's fault, too.
- Michael Turner suffered behind the line, too. He had a typically uneven performance, finishing with 56 yards on 16 carries, or just over three yards a carry. I'm equally tired of defending his inability to shrug off defenders or dial up extra speed when he gets a head of steam, though. A guy who is 5'10" and 245 should not struggle to push ahead against a linebacker twenty pounds lighter.
- Roddy White's drops are starting to become a real issue. His drive-killing bobble in the fourth led to Ryan's second interception. The Falcons probably would've lost anyways, but this is officially a concern.
- Julio Jones struggled to get separation and then got hurt. In fact, let's just note that having Garrett Reynolds, Jones, William Moore and Sean Weatherspoon all hurt in the same game is awful. Especially because we don't know if Jones and Moore, in particular, are going to be long-time losses.
- Matt Bosher was incrementally better, but it's not good enough. A 37.8 yards per punt average is still abysmal. At some point, the Falcons are either announcing to the world that they're okay with suffering through a learning year or they dump the Boshinator.
- The line was completely incapable of getting to Rodgers in the second half, with two reserve tackles in the game. Watching Kroy Biermann and Ray Edwards get manhandled off the edges was...unpleasant.
- The secondary struggled all the way around, but that's somewhat understandable given the caliber of the passing game the Packers were playing. Frankly, holding the Packers' prolific offense to 25 points was a minor miracle. Frankly, in coverage, they make the best of unenviable matchups.
This defense's tackling is killing me, though. Cornerbacks whiffing, linebackers falling down, defensive ends farting around....we really saw it all.
If you didn't see Dunta Robinson, for example, try to make a tackle that involved a lunge, two gently encircling arms around the head area and then a tumble to the ground, then you probably still have sight and sanity. I am currently typing this on a Braille keyboard from a padded room.
- Wrap up, Thomas DeCoud! Please!
- At what point is Mike Mularkey going to either lose his job or be told to do his job differently? This offense is hamstrung by his inability or unwillingness to keep a creative, up-tempo offense going. The players aren't executing, either, but it's not like Mularkey is giving them gold in the first place.
Game MVP: Frankly, I don't want to give this to anyone. If I was forced at gunpoint to choose, I'd give it to the defense for not allowing the Packers to run all over them. Oh God, that's so sad.
Game Theme Song: Sometimes, the angst of the Violent Femmes says it best.
One Thing To Take Away: We root for a football team that cannot consistently play great football.
Next Week: The hated Tealcats and magic running quarterback Cam Newton! Visit Cat Scratch Reader for more.
Final Word: Toughloss.