Kevin C. Cox
As they say, it's never as good as it looks and never as bad as it seems.
Growing up, I was always taught that failure is only ever experienced when you refuse to get back up. Even now, as I raise three boys, I make it a point to tell them that it is far more important to be good at finishing things than it is at starting them. That doesn't mean, however, that you should make it ugly getting there.
Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals was ugly. Very ugly. It also happened to be the first game that I took my entire family (wife, 3 boys) to see live. And it had to be THAT ONE? Thankfully, the entire experience was a great one, even if the game was straight out of QB nightmare central.
That said, when I logged in that evening to see what people had to say about the game - whether fans or journalists - I was surprised at the strong reactions. I was also very disappointed in the performance of the offense and count it no small miracle that they walked away with a win. However, I don't think it's time to make predictions about the post-season based on this one performance.
In his career, Ryan has only had two games where he had 3 or more interceptions. Statistically, what happened Sunday was the definition of an outlier - a fluke. Don't get me wrong - he had a terrible day - but historically, that is not how our QB performs. He has a better than 2-1 TD to INT ratio over his career, so until we begin seeing this every week, we shouldn't be overly concerned. Don't forget, Arizona's defense is largely to credit for the 4-0 start they had to the season. That was one of the best secondaries you'll see in the NFL.
Additionally, many fans and analysts agreed in the preseason that this could be a year of adjustment for the Falcons. Many writers thought that the Falcons wouldn't make the playoffs, as they adjusted to a new offense and defense. Many fans thought the same. The fact that we are 9-1 is impressive, considering we have new coaches at almost every position. Both Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan are likely still learning the extents of the talent they have on the field. They're likely still installing more of their schemes and finding great success (and failure) with the different things they try. It was just a few weeks ago that Nolan unveiled his Big Tackle 3 line up. Koetter has already installed a successful screen game, but is rightly looking to do more each week. All of this to say: this team is still a work in progress.
Don't get me wrong - this football team has some issues. And these issues could become bigger problems in the playoffs. We all get that. But at the same time, that statement applies to all 32 teams. Across the board, every team is struggling in some area. Our issues are to be concerned about, but we are by no means the most flawed team in the NFL. Ask Bears fans or even 49ers fans if they feel like they're team is unbeatable right now.
Don't forget recent NFL history either - regular season performance is not always indicative of playoff performance. The Giants limped into the playoffs last year at 9-7. They had some outright terrible games during the season. The prior year, the Packers barely made the playoffs as well. Obviously, both teams went on to win the Super Bowl, while teams that looked dominant in the regular season - Saints, 49ers - did not.
Nothing would make me happier than to see our Falcons light up the score board every week. And like every other Falcons fan, the inconsistency we're seeing drives me nuts. I wonder why we didn't use the screen more on Sunday. Why were we so good at stopping the run in the second half, but so terrible in the first? Why don't we use more of the short passing plays to compliment our running game like we have in our best games this season?
Remember though, we're still in the 3rd quarter of the season, and there are likely more bumps in the road coming. The payoff will be to see what we do in the last 4 games. I personally believe that our coaches will continue to improve and refine our schemes. I believe our QB will review the tape so that he doesn't repeat his mistakes. And I believe that our players will not be satisfied with games like Sunday. More importantly, I'm encouraged by the aggressiveness that we're seeing on both sides of the ball. We're taking shots down field and our defense is playing with swagger and passion. It hasn't all gone right, but it certainly hasn't all gone terrible either.
We're 9-1 folks. It hasn't been pretty, but it doesn't have to be. There's no reason to jump off a ledge, and it's too early to hoist the Lombardi.