The Atlanta Falcons came into Sunday Night Football in dire need of a win. They didn't play like it in a 30-23 loss.
We're at a point where this team's troubles need to be acknowledged. We can't keep pointing out what this team has done in previous years, because thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, this team bears little resemblance to the teams that were perennial playoff contenders from 2008-2012. The Falcons are playing uninspired football, they look anemic and sloppy on defense and they hurt themselves on offense constantly with penalties and poor execution. There's a ton of talent on this team, but there's also major weaknesses along the lines, and ultimately those are swinging relatively close games into the "crushing loss" column.
The injuries are absolutely getting ridiculous, sure, but unfortunately there's nothing the Falcons can do but play through them.
The Falcons simply couldn't sustain quality play for an entire quarter, much less four. The defense did well to limit the Patriots early on, but things went south and they just got worse and worse as the game went on. On the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons were once again disappointingly prone to mistakes, bad blocking and errant passes. You guys have all been watching football long enough to know that when you play poorly on both sides of the ball, a loss almost inevitably follows, especially when you're playing a team that has a history of winning these kinds of games.
Sure, the Patriots are a good, well-coached team, even with injuries. You can't dwell on that too much when the Falcons are also supposed to be a good, well-coached football team. The furious, ultimately futile rally aside, they just didn't look like the Falcons we're used to seeing. Whether you believe this is a correction or the team's actual talent level, there's so many questions going forward.
Now that the Falcons are 1-3, where do they go from here? There's not an easy answer. They're got a ton of injuries, they're not playing very well and the Saints have a chance to open up a three game lead in the NFC South. Best case scenario has these Falcons winning two winnable games against Jets and Buccaneers, getting healthier during the bye and raising their level of play considerably en route to a 10-6 season and a playoff berth. Worst case has them continuing to flounder and dropping out of the playoff race entirely. I'm not giving up hope on the former, but certainly if you have a grim outlook right now, you're far from the only one.
Personally, I see this team rebounding a bit, but whether that's going to be enough is an open question. Knowing they have the capacity to play better than this is worth something, certainly, and as dejected as I am you won't hear me write off the season just yet. But The only thing you can say for them? They mounted a mighty impressive rally late in the game, showing the kind of heart and fire and all that other intangible stuff that everyone's been clamoring for. It's something to build on, but for once, the Falcons have to start laying bricks and mortar instead of just saying they're going to. Actions, not words, or there's going to be a mighty shakeup in Atlanta by 2014.
A breakdown of individual performances follow. Put your goggles on.
- Matt Ryan didn't have his best game by any stretch of the imagination, and that'll come out in The Ugly. But I'll be damned if he didn't play like a man on fire for a while there as the Falcons tried to get back in it. We're too quick to hang blame around his neck and too slow to recognize that he's dealing with some fairly serious limitations this season.
- Jacquizz Rodgers picked up where he left off last week, running and catching the ball with aplomb. He finished with over 80 yards between the ground and air, and his ability and willingness to extend plays with his agility is awfully refreshing. The Falcons need to keep him involved.
- Roddy White is making tangible progress in his recovery from a high ankle sprain. He continues to look better and better, though he still can't get separation frequently. He made some ballsy grabs in traffic, at least.
- Tony Gonzalez looked fantastic splitting two defenders for a 25 yard catch down the middle of the field, and he finally looked somewhat like the Gonzo of old this week, finishing with a touchdown and a total of 12 receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He had to be given the way the Patriots were covering Julio Jones. It was hugely refreshing to see him playing that well again.
- Malliciah Goodman looked good as a pass rusher in this one, getting close more than once. It's not what we're all hoping for, obviously, but it's nice to see signs of life from a defense that hardly got near Tom Brady.
- Akeem Dent is deadly against the run. With Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu starting, Dent is quite literally the closest thing to a veteran presence available at linebacker. I hope he continues to play well.
- The Falcons went for it on 4th and 2, finally. That's great! Then Matt Ryan sailed an awful throw to a fairly open Roddy White. That sucked! You have to give Mike Smith props for actually going for it and calling a decent play.
- Matt Bosher is a phenomenal punter. That one little bounce kick put the Patriots on the seven, and one of his kickoffs went right out of the back of the end zone. He's a weapon.
- Ultimately, this team is still just a play or two away from winning every single damn game this season. That's not worth much to a reeling fanbase right now, but certainly if things start breaking the other way the Falcons could be getting some close wins. It just has to happen, I dunno, now.
- Matt Ryan had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde night. At his worst, Ryan is someone who hears footsteps that aren't there and either throws the ball away or throws off-target passes, and there was plenty of that last night. He simply couldn't find the open man, his throws were consistently not where they needed to be and he had three bad throws on the last, potentially game-tying drive.
That said, was he facing constant pressure? Yes. Did the Patriots take away his top receiver? Yes. He was, again, not the primary reason the Falcons struggled so mightily. But he was part of the reason, and it was the first game of the season where I can say that.
- What is with this team in the red zone? Again, the Falcons struggled to convert touchdown opportunities. They can't continue doing this and have a chance to win. They need to be more willing to run the football. They went, somehow, 1 for 6 inside the 20. The team with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Jacquizz Rodgers and living Frost Giant Levine Toilolo went 1 for 6. Lord.
- The Patriots simply took Julio Jones out of the game. They covered him with Aqib Talib and safety help, and the opportunities he got he didn't do much with. it's a rare off game for #11 that shouldn't be considered a worrisome sign, but the Falcons certainly would have had an easier time if they had him rolling. He got going a bit late, but it wasn't quite enough.
- The blocking just can't get there. The Falcons rolled out Sam Baker and Jeremy Trueblood at tackle and got better results...but then the interior was decent at best, with Justin Blalock and Peter Konz struggling to block effectively for Ryan, with Konz . This is a problem that isn't going away.
Once again, while Matt Ryan did the best he could with it, the Falcons were allowing consistent pressure. Matt Ryan is tired of being turned into a diamond by all this pressure, and it was particularly egregious at times from Blalock, Konz and Garrett Reynolds. Excruciating to watch.
- The tackling was a massive problem. Guys trying to arm tackle, guys taking bad angles, and so on and so forth.When you're not covering well for long stretches, you can't afford to fail at tackling. The Falcons seem to every week, and given that this problem is about six years old, I'm pretty much resigned to it not being fixed.
- Both teams were heavily penalized early last night. The Falcons need to start playing the disciplined football they're known for, because they can't keep getting backed up ten yards or giving free yardage to the Patriots. Sam Baker was particularly egregious, with two penalties on one first quarter drive, but both sides of the ball got in on that. Considering this team built a reputation for playing pristine football, it's hugely disappointing.
- The coverage was consistently poor. The pass rush didn't get there. When you combine those, it's not a surprise that the Patriots were getting open all day, despite having a lot of rookies and castoff types at wide receiver. It was a miserable defensive effort, and if the Falcons come up with one more sack or one turnover, maybe this is a different game.
- This team is being outcoached and outplayed for long stretches every week. It's time for the team to recognize that they simply can't play like this and continue to win. If they've already realized that and this is the best they can do, they're screwed. Sorry, they are.
Game MVP: Nobody. You play a game like this, nobody gets an MVP. Tony Gonzalez is the closest thing for one hell of a gutsy performance.
Game Theme Song: This one.
One Thing To Take Away: This is a 1-3 football team, and they're not playing like they deserve better than that. That stings.
Final Word: Strugglingfootballteam.