The beaten-down Atlanta Falcons might as well be spiteful this Sunday and let the Carolina Panthers win the final game of the regular season. What have the Falcons to lose anyway? Their season record is 4-11, and being 5-11 won’t garner them any more respect around the league. These wingless birds will not be flying into the playoffs this time around, and that’s that.
But wait. The Falcons are in a very good position to spoil things for a couple of conference teams that they’re surely holding grudges against—New Orleans and San Francisco. So as unorthodox as this is going to sound to the Coach Mike Smith regime, why not urge quarterback Matt Ryan to throw a couple of his signature interceptions to the Panthers? Or encourage running back Steven Jackson to get balled up like a roly poly during his rushing attempts, the way he always does? Or ask any of the defensive players—pick one—"Why bother to tackle your opponent now?"
Then again, the coaching staff might not even need to consider the proposition of losing a game on purpose; after all, several key Falcon players will be sitting along the sidelines on Sunday. Injuries seem to have been the Achilles heel of this club’s 2013 season, and please pardon the pun in that defensive end Kroy Bierman and defensive tackle Corey Peters are both on reserve for Achilles injuries. In addition, running back Jacquizz Rodgers bumped his head in the last game against the 49ers and is banished to the league’s concussion protection program; linebacker Sean Weatherspoon’s knee still hurts; wide receiver Julio Jones hasn’t played since early in the season when he required surgery on an injured foot. A win over the Panthers, who, by the way, beat the Falcons 34-10 in Week 9, isn’t looking hopeful anyway.
But there’s a morsel of satisfaction to be gained from a loss to the Panthers in the Georgia Dome on Sunday: the birds’ defeat can knock New Orleans and San Francisco off of their foundations. While the Carolina Panthers are a substantial division rival for Atlanta, they are not quite the hated adversary that the New Orleans Saints are. By allowing Carolina to win this upcoming game, the Falcons assist the Panthers in clinching the NFC South, keeping the Panthers at the Number 2 seed and earning them a first-round bye in the playoffs. Why not just spoil things for the Saints who beat up on the Falcons in both regular-season division games, and at the same time lend a helping hand to Atlanta-born and -bred Cam Newton?
To add a little sweetener to these sour grapes, a Falcon’s loss to Carolina would also keep the San Francisco 49ers from gaining the Number 2 seed and from having the advantage of playing their post-season games in Candlestick Park, the scene of the crime of a Falcons slaying last Monday night. That game between Atlanta and San Fran was bitter, as acrid as the NFC Championship game back in January when the 49ers flattened the tires on the Falcons’ sure-bet ride to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Colin Kaepernick and Company have already secured a playoff spot, but the Saints have a few more Hail Marys to pray. If they lose to NFC South division rival Tampa Bay and the Arizona Cardinals tie or win over San Francisco, then the Saints fall out of the playoff lineup altogether. That there would equal sweet revenge, sweet peaches for Atlanta fans!
For deflated Falcons followers who swore early in the pre-season that "this is our year," one more loss will barely bother us now. We’ve spent all of 2013 on a roller-coaster—rise up, sit down…rise up, sit down—and now we’ve moved on, placing our hopes in 2014 and beyond when the team should perform better to justify a new $950 million stadium. Most of the fans are not willing to suggest that the Falcons purposely lose this last game of the season to the Panthers just to watch the Saints go marching back home, but some of us low-down fanatics are, and they don’t call us ‘dirty birds’ for nothing.