All year long, the Falcons have been talking about playing better. Mike Smith has been talking about keeping the team's foot on the gas even though they locked up the NFC South. The Falcons have talked, in short, about how they're going to be better and why the close losses haven't mattered and what they're going to do to ensure the playoffs don't end in the same disappointing way in 2012.
They're just words, though. In football, the results on the field are what matter. That's why I've been able to shrug off a season's worth of analyst doubt, close wins and that stupid loss to the Saints. The Falcons have won, and that's what matters.
Against a motivated Panthers team and playing at Bank of America Stadium, the Falcons fell behind 23-0 by the third quarter. They played a rough game on defense, a horrible game on offense and looked basically uninterested until they came alive in the third quarter and started moving against a weak Panthers defense. Thanks to a lack of time and one egregious call by the referees, they simply couldn't pull even by the end of the game. They only came within ten points.
While the latter part of the second half was good enough that I'd be tempted to dampen my criticism, I find myself unable to do so. We know these Falcons can play like an 11-1 team with ample talent and win the tough games. What we saw in this one is what happens when the Falcons are simply too timid and too error-prone to make that happen, and it's something we should all pay attention to.
If the Falcons had simply decided to throw the backups in and be content with their division win, that would be one thing. If they had taken care of business, that would be one thing. To throw most of the starters out there and lose to the Panthers—after Greg Hardy openly and laughably disrespected them, no less—is not a lot of fun to endure.
Look, I know that teams of all stripes have bad games. I know that the Falcons haven't blown the doors off any opponents in 2012. I still came away from this football game feeling like a clearly inferior team beat the crap out of my favorite team, a team that was 11-1 coming in and was trotting out most of its starters. To commit penalties, allow big plays and fudge third down again and again is something none of us wanted to see. The fact that I went over my Tweet limit was the only thing that kept me from having a very public aneurysm.
And yet I do think this game is an outlier. I do think the Falcons are better than they showed themselves to be today, and I think the Panthers had all the motivation in the world. We know that the 49ers have lost to inferior teams this year and the Bears have too, which makes lasting angst over
At the end of the day, I hope the talk stops, one way or the other. The only thing that matters are the results, and the Falcons are going to need those results next week against the Giants.Beating them not only goes a long way toward locking up home field, it goes a long way toward easing concerns about this loss.
And in case you want to accuse me of being overly pessimistic, I know the Falcons are 11-2. I know they're still a terrific football team. I really do expect them to make some noise in the playoffs. I just want to see them play as well as they're capable of playing, and I want them to do it once the post-season rolls around.
Enough, though. It is just one loss. It's time to get into the individual performances.
- Roddy White was insanely effective, as always. Nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. He was the most consistent performer on the field yesterday, as he has been for much of the season. The Falcons should've tried to lean on him sooner.
- Jacquizz Rodgers needs to be a bigger part of the offense, he said yet again. He carried the ball four times for 21 yards and caught 6 passes for 43 yards, proving to be a reliable outlet for the offense. The Falcons seem reluctant to hand him the ball, which is foolish.
- Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez managed to get open after the first half, doing a great job of getting open and reeling in catches. It's just too bad it took the offense a little while to get going.
- Honest question: Should the Falcons start getting Vance Walker more snaps? Given his performance in this one (the team's lone sack of Cam Newton), it seems like it might be a good idea. He slashes into the pocket about as well as anybody on this team.
- The corners were in a difficult spot with Asante Samuel out, and it showed. Still, Chris Owens did force a fumble and Robert McClain had a couple of really nice open-field tackles. They did their best.
- The Falcons still have the division. Period.
- Matt Ryan fought with pressure all day and had an awful first half as a result. His second half was excellent and I don't hang the blame for this one around his neck, but you have to admit he was tentative and struggled throughout the first half. Considering the Falcons fell into a 23-0 hole before he got going, that's relevant.
- Michael Turner was awful in very limited carries against one of the worst run defenses in the league. The Falcons didn't have many chances to run, but the way they deploy him is stupid and those runs up the middle resulted in seven carries for just 14 yards. At least he got a touchdown?
- The offensive line has officially jumped the shark. They've given up way too much pressure to teams four weeks in a row now, and it's fair to wonder if teams have simply figured out that they need to attack the middle of the line or push hard on one side to cause a collapse. They simply aren't giving the Falcons enough time to get the long passing game going.
- Where was the pass rush today? The Panthers' makeshift line protected Cam Newton well and allowed him to both pass and run with impunity. Without such a successful performance from Newton, it's worth wondering if the Panthers would have been able to pull this one out.
- Did the Falcons get boned by the referees? I'll let you decide, on this possible two point conversion attempt. Keep in mind the Falcons wouldn't have won because of this play.
- Point blank, the Falcons didn't come out ready to go against the Panthers. They played conservatively and saw the Panthers eat the clock and put up a huge lead early. I don't mind that they lose a game or two along the way, but the Falcons need to be able to beat teams better than the Panthers if they're going to go far in the playoffs. It was a disappointing effort.
Game MVP: No one's getting it today. Sorry. Roddy White's the closest.
Game Theme Song: Weeping? Maybe?
One Thing To Take Away: The Atlanta Falcons are a great football team capable of absolutely excruciating performances. They need to do away with those.
Final Word: Disappointing.