Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Too bad that little kid from the Play 60 commercial didn't actually start for the Panthers on Sunday.
This is not a traditional recap, because there isn't much to recap. The Falcons played poorly on Sunday, and when they stopped playing poorly, it was too late to make a difference, and then they lost. That's an accurate summary. It was abysmal.
If the Falcons want success this postseason, they are talented enough to make it happen. But, I really don't want to hear, "We didn't play our best," and "we didn't do a good job," and "we didn't play up to our standards."
The Falcons have considerable talent on both sides of the ball. Early in the season, Matt Ryan was dominating defenses. Sure, teams have more film on our scheme now, and they've figured out that the interior combo of Todd McClure and Peter Konz is a weakness. But it also seems at times like the Falcons have regressed to Mike Mularkey-esque playcalling. Michael Turner up the middle for no gain on first down all day? No thank you. It is not working, so please stop.
The Falcons need a rushing attack of some sort to take pressure off of Ryan and balance out the offense, but Michael Turner is no longer the answer. It's not like the Falcons don't have other options. Jacquizz Rodgers is averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 72 carries. Matt Ryan has the same average yards per carry, 3.7, as Michael Turner, and Matt Ryan, bless his heart, isn't what anyone would describe as a running quarterback.
Michael Turner is not an every down back, and the Falcons don't need him to be. The Falcons have evolved into a passing offense. They just need Turner, Quizz and Snelling to do enough. The Falcons need to accept their identity as a passing offense and use the run accordingly. If they can have just enough success running the ball to keep defenses honest and make them hesitant to blitz, we all know how effective Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez can be.
Defensively, the talent is there, but why--WHY--is the tackling, or lack thereof, so stupid? The Falcons clearly missed William Moore and Asante Samuel on Sunday, but it should tell you something that the defensive player who received the highest overall positive grade from Pro Football Focus premium stats for Sunday's performance was Christopher Owens. Owens has consistently performed well this season, but every other defensive player, on a roster with several Pro Bowl-caliber players, had either a nominal or a negative impact overall on Sunday, according to their grading criteria.
It goes without saying that this kind of sloppy, lackluster performance on both sides of the ball isn't going to cut it in the playoffs, and I have no interest in being heartbroken in January again. I know I'm being repetitive, but the talent is there for the Falcons--this is objective fact. And, I believe in Mike Smith as a coach. I've seen some fan discussion about firing Smith, which blows my mind. Under Smith, the Falcons have enjoyed five consecutive winning seasons, and four playoff appearances in five seasons. Smith has been fundamental in establishing a culture of winning, the likes of which this fan base has never seen. The guy is 11-2 right now, and first in line for the top playoff seed in the NFC. Again. To even discuss firing Mike Smith at this point seems reactionary and irrational to me.
However, I believe Mike Smith lacks, and this Falcons team lacks, killer instinct. Smitty is an old school coach and a gentleman on the field, at least when DeAngelo Hall isn't all up in his business, and these are admirable qualities. But, I really don't care about our opponents' feelings when it comes to football. Run up the score. Make them regret they even took the field to face the Falcons. Let Atlanta's opponents be the ones to sheepishly declare in their post game press conferences, we just didn't execute. The Falcons were the better team today.
The Rodney Dangerfielding of the Falcons continues, and who thought it wouldn't after Sunday's catastrophe of a performance? The Falcons get no respect, and who cares? Analysts don't want to like the Falcons. Analysts don't want to respect their talent or their potential, so they won't. If the Falcons win against the Giants on Sunday, it will be labeled a fluke. Somehow, the perception will be that some variety of factors other than Atlanta's execution led to the win. But, it still goes in the win column. The overarching discussion will continue to be "but the Falcons implode in the playoffs" until they don't implode in the playoffs.
The Falcons have to correct a lot of things to ensure they don't implode in the playoffs. But, every potential playoff team has flaws. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 42 times. The Bears seem a little less formidable with each week that passes. San Francisco somehow managed to tie with and then lose to the Rams. The Giants have lost to every other team in the NFC East this season, including the 4-9 Eagles. Seattle lost to Miami a couple of weeks ago.
It's not like every team that wins playoff games, or even the Super Bowl, always has a dominant regular season and decisive victories against every single team they play. That's a fairy tale. In 2003, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, but opened the season with a 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills. They also lost to the Redskins, who finished the season 5-11. The 2006 Colts started the season 9-0, and finished 12-4, losing to the Cowboys and every team in their division, including a 44-17 beatdown in week 14 by the Jaguars, who finished 8-8. And the mighty Giants, the team the Falcons face next--in 2007, they were embarrassed by the Vikings at home 41-17. At the time, the Vikings were 4-6. In 2011, the Giants lost to their entire division, with the Redskins securing two of their five total wins last season against the eventual champions.
A dominant theme throughout the NFL this season is parity. It has been proven time and time again that any team can win any game on any given Sunday. If they didn't actually play the games, I guess the Cowboys and the Patriots--perpetually crowned in preseason--would meet in the Super Bowl every season, and save us all a lot of time, energy and frustration. Based on what we have seen from this Falcons team most of this season, I have confidence that they are capable of defeating any playoff team they may face. Here's hoping they learn from Sunday's disastrous game. Forcing the Falcons to acknowledge and address their weaknesses prior to playoffs may end up being the best thing that could possibly happen to the Falcons at this point of the season.