This was a game with relatively small stakes, but it ended up feeling like a very big game indeed.
It was the last game of a lost season and the last game of Tony Gonzalez's career, and the Falcons came out swinging. They got after Cam Newton early, had a stellar first drive and generally looked like the Falcons that took the league by storm over the previous five seasons. If nothing else, it was a lot of fun to watch, and it was good to see the Falcons treating this like an important game despite having relatively little to play for.
They didn't win, of course. The Falcons haven't managed to win a lot of games this season, and while most games have been close, the results have been both sad and predictable. Seeing the Falcons hang in against a motivated, quality opponent for the second week in a row, even if it was ugly, made me happy. Even if Matt Ryan had to die for our sins.
Oh, and regarding that last comment, the Falcons had better fix that offensive line.
Any way you slice it, the Falcons sent Tony Gonzalez out the best way they could this season, with a touching tribute, a couple of nice catches and one hell of a competitive game. They fell short in this one and in so many games this year, and we go into this off-season with some decidedly mixed feelings about the future of the franchise. We'll have plenty of time to sort through those feelings. For now, let's say a fond farewell to Tony Gonzalez and bid the season adieu.
Black Monday is tomorrow, so we should know how good Arthur Blank's vote of confidence really is. Agh, depression sets in.
Finally, and most importantly, thank you to all of you. It was a tough season for the fans, as well, and while we had a few bumps in the road, I love The Falcoholic and our readers. Thank you
Individual breakdowns below.
- Matt Ryan was as crisp as a fresh fall apple. He started off the game 7/7 for 62 yards and a touchdown against the vaunted Panthers defense, showing a comfort level that had to make even the most jaded Falcons fan happy.
It got tougher from there, but that's not on Ryan. I'm glad he hung tough.
- Tony Gonzalez went out with a bang, reeling in three catches for 47 yards. That sounds like a modest line, but two of those receptions were big ones, in the characteristic Gonzalez fashion. He somehow manages to get open over the middle of the field despite the
Roddy White was much better over the last month of the season. He had a beautiful 39 yard touchdown and showed he's still a legitimate playmaker despite his injury and despite being over 30. The Falcons should get that extension done as quickly as possible and save themselves a little cash next season.
That said, those drops were mighty costly. A couple of those nailed him in the hands, and we're all hoping we're not going to see drop-happy White into the future.
Antone Smith is one of the most underrated special teams players in the NFL. He had a big hit and a heads-up play to start the Panthers off from inside their own 10 yard line. Now if only he could run the ball, right?
- Joplo Bartu looks like someone who will be a member of this team for a while. He's had his ups and downs, but an undrafted free agent who sniffs out run plays in the backfield like him are mighty useful.
- William Moore didn't have his finest year, but that pick was a thing of beauty. He's still the author of many a big play, and he'll be here in 2014 doing work.
- Desmond Trufant had some excellent coverage. This team suddenly has real, young talent, the kind you can rely on to at least provide quality depth on a good football team. If nothing else good has come from this wreck of a season, at least we've got that.
- That pick six from Ryan. Not a great route, not great protection, but just a poor decision and poor throw from Matt Ryan. He's had a vastly underrated year, but he'll have to cut down the picks next season if he's going to have the huge season we're all hoping for.
- The offensive line blocked like absolute garbage for the passing game. Considering the quality of the opponent and that Lamar Holmes, Joe Hawley, Harland Gunn and Ryan Schraeder were playing, it was slightly more forgivable. It still was a horrendous performance, one that saw Ryan get sacked an incredible nine times, tying the NFL record nine the Cheifs managed earlier this year.
The offensive line was the single biggest reason the Falcons failed this season. It must be improved.
- I don't know if Thomas DeCoud will be a Falcon a year from now or not, but the horrendous missed tackle on Cam Newton late in the second quarter was all too typical of his season. He did not go out on a high note, sadly, and it's a question we'll be discussing for a long while now.
- The Falcons predictably did not do as well after the first drive, but once more, you saw every obstacle standing in the way of the Falcons being a good team laid out in excruciating detail. Ryan threw a costly pick, the pass protection was awful, the run game was a mixed bag, the defense was prone to big plays and players committed penalties and had costly drops. Adding talent will help, of course, but there's work ahead.
- There's more, but we've all had a long season.
Game MVP: Tony Gonzalez. It's an honorary MVP, but screw it. He's earned one after 17 seasons of sustained excellence.
Game Theme Song: Bring it on, off-season.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons grew and got better as the season went on, but there's much work to be done on this roster in the months ahead.
Next Week: A long, cold off-season. Hold me.
Final Word: It'sover.