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Now that we've had ample time to digest Sunday's brutal loss in Charlotte, it's become easier to put everything in perspective.
A nice way to gain this perspective is to look back on the recent Super Bowl Champions and see how their regular seasons panned out. Yes, the Falcons loss to the 3-9 Panthers has raised some legitimate concerns, but you might be surprised how many bad losses the 2011 New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers had en route to winning the Lombardi Trophy.
Eli Manning and the G-Men fell to the Redskins on Opening Day of the '11 campaign by the score of 28-14; New York also lost to the 'Skins again on Week 15, 23-10. Washington finished the year with a 5-11 mark.
Additionally, the Giants were blown out by the Saints, 49-24, on Nov. 28. While New Orleans was an impressive 13-3 in 2011, losing in such a fashion is hardly indicative of a future Super Bowl Champion.
Back in 2010, the future champion Green Bay Packers lost on Week 1 to the mediocre Cleveland Browns, who finished the year at 5-11. The Cheeseheads also fell the the Redskins (6-10), Dolphins (7-9), and Lions (6-10).
The point I'm trying to make here is that almost every team in the NFL has off games—regardless of how strong they finish. As the old saying goes: Any given Sunday.
How the Falcons Lost
Pat Yaskinskas provides a few key bulletpoints on how the Panthers managed to upset the Falcons on Sunday.
Among the most important aspects of the loss, Atlanta allowed 172 yards off play-action passes and gave up first downs on nine of Carolina's 15 third down opportunities.
Running Game Stagnant Once Again
This is starting to sound like a broken record.
The Falcons were unable to generate much offense on the ground this week, gaining just 35 rushing yards in total. Michael Turner scored for the fourth straight game, but he also averaged just two yards per carry. Jacquizz Rodgers was a bit more effective, gaining 21 yards on four carries.
Simply put, it's hard to win football games when you run just 11 times in 60 minutes. Yes, the Falcons fell behind early and had to amp up the passing plays, but that wouldn't have been as big of a problem if they could just gain some solid yardage via Turner and/or Rodgers.
It's reaching the point now where I think Turner should be utilized almost exclusively in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Rodgers certainly can't handle the rest of the load, but why not give Jason Snelling a shot? It's not like he's going to be any worse.
Falcons Came Out Flat at Wrong Time—But Not the Worst Time
This wasn't exactly the ideal week for the Falcons to fall apart at the seams. Having already sealed the division championship, Atlanta was poised to perhaps earn a first round bye in the 2012 playoffs—a task that will obviously have to wait following Sunday's drubbing.
While timing wasn't perfect here, the Falcons still have three weeks to sort everything out before the postseason starts. That may not be much time, but it's better than none at all.
Next week won't get any easier, as the reigning champion New York Giants come to town for a 1 p.m. showdown at the Dome. The Giants are coming a dominating win over the Saints by the score of 52-27. If the Falcons wish to compete against New York, they're going to have to fix a lot of problems this week in practice.
New Stadium Receives Approval
Looks like the Falcons are going to get the new stomping grounds they've been craving.
The Georgia World Congress Authority has officially approved the financing for a $1 billion retractable roof stadium for the Falcons to call home in 2017. The agreement for the stadium will be for 30 years, with an option to add 15 more on as well.
Personally, I'll be sad to see the Georgia Dome demolished; I'll also be excited to see the new-aged stadium we'll be able to enjoy in the future.