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Falcons vs. Panthers Recap: Things Fall Apart

Another ugly loss for the Atlanta Falcons, who drop to 2-6 against the Carolina Panthers.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons played the worst kind of game Sunday: One that they might have actually won against all expectations if not for a series of mistakes, poor plays and missed opportunities that turned into a blowout late. That was the tale of the 34-10 loss to the Panthers

That's the story of these 2013 Atlanta Falcons. Down to their backups, playing loads of rookies, they exhibit stretches of quality play that seem unbelievable considering everything working against them. They then pair those stretches with awful, game-changing mistakes. That's what has made this year such a delight complete pile of excrement to watch: The Falcons are always in it, until they're not.

At 2-6, whatever faint hopes you harbored for the Falcons to make the playoffs more or less have to be gone. It's time to face the reality that the best this team can do this year is win a handful of games and reload going into 2014. It's painful to acknowledge that, but the alternative is that you keep hoping and keep getting disappointed until the Falcons reach their 8th loss and the reality truly sinks in. There are a variety of reasons the Falcons are sitting here right here, but ultimately it comes down to this: They're not good enough in their current form to win many football games.

So now we adjust our expectations. Those of you who were thinking playoffs, start thinking competitive football. Those of you expecting a total meltdown, start updating those off-season wish lists. Those of you writing for The Falcoholic, prepare yourselves.

All we can do now is find the bright spots gleaming from under the manure, stop watching football for the season or (and this is most likely) complaining about the Falcons the rest of the way and then getting excited all over again once the new year rolls around. The Panthers did more than beat Atlanta yesterday. They all but officially ended their season, and we're left to sort through what the rest of this year will mean. It's not going to be pretty.

The breakdown, below.

The Good

  • Tony Gonzalez is a champion. A week after all that trade talk distraction, he just went out there and abused anyone trying to cover him. With the exception of the ill-advised throw into triple coverage to him, Ryan found success hitting Gonzo all day, including a beautiful touchdown strike in the second quarter.
  • I owe the offensive line an apology. They were far from perfect yesterday, but originally I slagged them under the ugly. Turns out they turned in a pretty credible performance yesterday by the stats, and watching the first half over again, I can confirm that they did a pretty good job keeping Matt Ryan safe with Sam Baker back in the lineup. It's just that Ryan struggled regardless.
  • Paul Worrilow came to play today. You can see him turning into a very solid linebacker, and he's already one of the surest tacklers on the team. He was at 13 at one point, as noted below, and finished with 19. That's crazy.
  • Desmond Trufant is still going to have up-and-down games as he continues to adjust to the game, but boy was that a beautiful interception of a deep Cam Newton ball. There's no reason he can't get a handful of those every season. He was even solid in run support today, making him better than Dunta Robinson in literally every way.

    Both of the PI calls against him were borderline, in my opinion. He shouldn't have been getting called, but I'm not going to hang it too heavily on him. He's still a rookie, but he's got the potential necessary to become one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL.
  • Asante Samuel exited the game twice with injuries, but hung in to do some real damage. He remains fragile yet effective.
  • Robert Alford is a little more raw than Trufant, but he still makes plays on the football like he's a veteran. The pick of Newton yesterday was a lot of fun to watch, and you don't have to squint very hard to see these two forming an elite tandem.
  • The defense in general was much, much better than it had any right to be. Matt Ryan handed the Panthers two interceptions, Carolina's a difficult offensive team and the D had struggled for weeks. Give them an enormous amount of credit for stepping up and delivering a good game against the Panthers, considering what was working against them.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan is in trouble. For the second straight week, he was forcing throws, reacting to real and imagined pressure by bailing on the pocket and just generally looking like something less than the terrific quarterback we all know he's capable of being.

    For those calling for his head, be quiet. He's a great quarterback working without his two top receivers and a ton of weight on his shoulders. It doesn't excuse the last two performances—Ryan's got to make better decisions with the football, and he can't made terrible throws when there's no pressure—but you have to look at the receivers and the line as well. Ryan's the one locked-in building block for this team, so we just have to hope he gets back on track well ahead of 2014.
  • Harry Douglas came crashing down to earth a bit yesterday. He wasn't open often, missed at least one opportunity and just generally wasn't the same HD that lit the world on fire the last two weeks. That's going to happen—HD didn't morph into an elite wide receiver overnight—but the pass that bounced off his hands for an interception was an absolutely backbreaker.

    He still wound up with 3 catches for 82 yards, so the potential in this offense remains sky-high. He's just got to be more consistent.
  • I'm starting to think the problem with the pass rush is due to defenders not being able to change direction whatsoever. Cam Newton was able to juke guys out of their shorts in the pocket throughout the day, ensuring the rush just didn't get home.
  • This team continues to make so, so many boneheaded mistakes. Young players are a contributing factor, because they tend to make more mistakes in general, but you can't talk about fielding a winning football team if you average four-plus penalties a game. You just can't.
  • Overall, this team just didn't play well, with the defense collapsing late while the rest of the team collapsed early. Good times.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: I'll say generally the defense, because they kept the Falcons in this one. For the second straight week, though, tough to pick one.

Game Theme Song: Uh huh.

One Thing To Take Away: This team is finished for 2013. Everything from here on out is gravy, and drastic improvement in 2014 is the goal.

Next Week: The Seattle Seahawks come to Atlanta! Thank goodness they're not the same team on the road. Visit Field Gulls for more.

Final Word: Season'sover.

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