The consensus of football analysts had never been clearer: the Falcons are a terrible team and they were going to get steamrolled. On the road against the 49ers, in the last game ever in Candlestick (if you didn't hear enough about that last night), Atlanta was going to get their faces smashed in.
Instead, Atlanta looked like a real team. The Falcons looked like they wanted to win. The coaching wasn't lacking and it finally looked like the right lineup was in. So many young players stepped up and even veterans played well in this inconsequential game. The team had that fight in them and played angry.
The last few months there have been so few positives seen in these Falcons games that it looked like we were years away from being competitive again. Now it looks like Atlanta may need just one offseason to get healthy and regroup for a playoff run.
Matt Ryan looked very sharp under pressure and excelled now that he has more than Tony Gonzalez to catch the ball and the offensive line has improved to being only below average. While he has had an uneven season Ryan is still improving. Return Julio Jones and settle down the offensive line and this offense should be ready to go.
The defense, starting about fifteen rookies, put together a nice effort to slow down the 49ers offense. While we have previously seen good plays from Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, Desmond Trufant and others, the defense seems to be gelling, a bit like the offensive line. The unit still needs an infusion of talent but lots of these guys have developed well this year.
It is hard to know exactly what our team will look like next year. Gonzalez will be gone. Harry Douglas will be relegated to doing nothing more important than cleaning bathrooms. Julio will be back, along with Kroy Biermann and Sam Baker. But there is undoubtably a good bit of talent the coaching staff was finally forced to find.
Maybe most importantly, I think if Matt Ryan has just a little bit of help, this is still a team that can compete, assuming no important passes go towards Douglas.