EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 08: Corey Peters #91 of the Atlanta Falcons hangs his head dejected on the bench against the New York Giants during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at MetLife Stadium on January 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The GIants won 24-2. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
After consuming more than my fair share of beer, I think I'm in the proper frame of mind to write about this game.
It was awful. It was horrendous. It was an embarrassment and one of the most miserable experiences of my life as a Falcons fan. I'm mad as hell about it. No team with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez should ever score two points in a game. Especially because those two points were scored by the defense.
I've given them a pass for past playoff performances because I saw them as a team still growing and locking in the final pieces. With something like ten quality free agents in the year ahead--including John Abraham, who said it was his last game in Atlanta, and Brent Grimes, who is no lock to return--this was the year to at least start making noise in the playoffs. Instead, this team exposed all its glaring weaknesses for the world to see on national television. Again.
The defense wrecked for the first four drives of the game, and despite a handful of bad plays, they were solid throughout. That's especially impressive when you consider that the Falcons were without top cornerback Brent Grimes and starting linebacker Stephen Nicholas. That's a big part of the reason that I believe Brian Van Gorder shouldn't be canned, along with the fact that the Falcons defense was much better than most people believe this season.
On the offensive side, the Falcons should be sending Mike Mularkey packing. A team that is ranked poorly against the pass and run should not be able to hold an offense as dynamic as the Falcons to zero offensive points. The fact that the team has so many weapons and was still pretty unremarkable much of the season says a lot about Mularkey's ability to squeeze quality play out of his offense. I don't think he'll last through the off-season, whether he gets fired or he inexplicably gets hired for a head coaching job.
I will always love the Atlanta Falcons, no matter what they do, but I can no longer sit here and talk about pride in a regular season record. The Falcons have to get to a point where they are not embarrassed 24-2 in the wild card round of the playoffs by a team that seemed to be fairly similar to them. Whether the talent is already there and it's merely changing the coaching or the Falcons need new players altogether, I don't know. But something has to improve.
So when I look back at 2011, will I see a team suffering a setback that was on the cusp of greatness, or a team melting down and turning back into the Falcons of old? Obviously I hope I see the former, but only time can tell that. It's going to be a long eight months.
A handful of individual performances after the jump. I couldn't stomach much more than that right now.
- The defense deserves props. I realize not everyone is enamored with Brian Van Gorder--I'd like to see the Falcons tighten up that zone significantly--but he called an aggressive game out of the gate and put the Giants on their heels. When you consider that the score was 7-2 at the end of the half and the Giants' potent passing attack managed only 24 points all game, I'd say this was a great effort.
You cannot blame the defense for starting to fall apart down the stretch, either. They were on the field all game and had to watch their offense put up zero points drive after drive. If the Falcons were actually playing quality offense, the defense would have kept them in it.
- John Abraham had the game's lone sack and was a factor all day, fighting off double teams and getting close to Manning. On a day where the pass rush was only firing about half the time, Abe's effort was superlative. Considering it may have been his last game as a Falcon, it was also pretty poignant.
- James Sanders took advantage of a lack of blockers in the first half to pick up a safety. He never wavered in his pursuit of Manning, and wound up giving the Falcons their only points of the game. If he's willing to come back on a reasonable two year deal as a backup, I'd welcome him. His versatility recommends him.
- In the first half, Matt Bosher had 43.8 yards per punt and never gave the Giants a real chance to return. I'm thrilled to have him as the Falcons' punter in 2012 and beyond.
- Julio Jones wasn't always open, but when he was, he hauled it in and tried to make plays. Still very excited to see the rest of his career.
- The entire offense. Matt Ryan was skittish, Michael Turner couldn't make things happen, Tony Gonzalez was disappearing during the first half, Roddy White dropped passes and the offensive line couldn't block. That's not even mentioning Mike Mularkey, who called plays bizarrely out of sequence and cost his team first downs. Any time you don't score a single offensive point against a middling defense, you deserve every ounce of criticism you get.
The Falcons are due at least a pound. I think the problems start with Mularkey, so I want to see him gone. I fully expect it will happen.
- The pass rush was good for the first quarter, decent for the second and nonexistent after. It's on BVG and Dimitroff to find quality pass rushers and put them in a position to succeed.
- I don't think Mike Smith will be fired, but he coached a terrible game.
There was the clock management at the end of the first half, when he had multiple timeouts and only called one with four seconds left. There was the fact that he did not force Mike Mularkey to suck less. And there was the fact that this team, excepting the offense, came out flat as hell.
At some point, you start to blame the head coach when teams can't get up for a playoff game and raise their collective level of play. I think we're at that point.
I hope Smitty gets another year with new coordinators, but if he can't get it done, there's going to be questions. And there should be questions.
- This whole game was a lowlight. Depressing, to say the least.