The Falcons defense came out firing, limiting the high-powered Bears offense to three points on their first three drives. The offense stumbled, floundered and bumbled their way to three points on their first three drives, and the Falcons blew an opportunity to seize an early lead. The game went downhill from there.
The receivers were plagued by drops, slowing the offense to a standstill in the first half. The defense was broken by big plays, among them the 47 yard grab by Brandon Marshall over Robert Alford. After the strong start, the defense began having trouble tackling, issues in coverage and the infamous long third down struggles. Late in the game, when the Falcons needed a ton of offense for a comeback, Matt Ryan found himself under pressure and sacked again and again. If you're arguing the season is lost after six weeks, the Falcons gave you all the supporting evidence they could muster.
Six weeks in is early, I'll acknowledge, but chances are this game sealed the fates of the current regime. There's no way to know if Arthur Blank will fire Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith this week, after the bye or the end of the season, but that kind of loss at home, following the early season returns and the 2013 season, more or less sounds a death knell for the brain trust. I don't think Arthur Blank has enough faith to assume that they'll turn the ship around in 2015 and beyond, which means what lies ahead is unknown. You can't have watched the last three games of this season without getting the sinking feeling that the team's biggest holes are irreparable in the here and now.
Sometimes the unknown is preferable to the known, however, and we know what these Falcons are: A lousy football team, again. I was optimistic that better health and small but tangible improvements would lift this Falcons team by between 3 and 5 wins, and while that outcome is still technically on the table, it no longer appears particularly likely. It's not too early to say I was wrong, and I will, because this team didn't improve much, has all the familiar troubles with the pass rush and offensive line thanks to ineffectiveness and injuries, respectively. There's just no way to look at the way the team is playing right now and come to the conclusion that they're going to rebound and make me eat those words. Believe me when I say that I pray they do.
On to the individual performances.
- There's no question that Antone Smith is a beast. He reeled in a 41 yard touchdown pass, which was actually kind of a short score for him, and that got the Falcons back into the game after halftime. Then he went out and made a special teams tackle to follow it up.
Just give the ball to Antone Smith on every play. I suspect the Falcons would score 30-plus per week with that plan in place.
- Ra'Shede Hageman was in early in the game, and it looked like the light's starting to come on for him. He broke into the backfield multiple times, including one late first quarter play where he swatted the lineman out of his way, got close to Cutler and then changed directions and chased after the receiver. It's just a couple of flashes, but there's no question this defense will be improved up front if Hageman can be the kind of player I anticipate he will be sooner rather than later.
Oh, and he blocked an extra point. Nice little day for the big guy, who the team will be counting on next year and beyond as they rebuild under new management.
- There was a little bit of a pass rush. It evaporated, but it was nice to remember what one looks like.
Dezmen Southward is miles ahead of where I thought he'd be in his development, too. He had some nice coverage when he was on the field in this one, and we're going to be at the point where he's going to need to get more snaps to ensure he's ready to go in 2015.
- The Falcons are still one game back on the NFC South. I can't even wrap my head around that, because after three straight ugly performances, it feels like this team is at least medium-rare.
- The receivers were generally off their game, with eight drops by the end of the game. Julio Jones had drops and a fumble that luckily the Bears did not recover, Roddy White had a handful of drops and Levine Toilolo dropped three. This team could have had more points early had they not scuffled so badly catching the football.
Julio Jones has been stellar most of the year, but you have to call him out in particular because he struggled so mightily against Kyle Fuller, in addition to the drops. This was just a lousy effort from the corps, though, one that had to be deeply dispiriting for the entire offense.
- The offensive line was okay, but Gabe Carimi's two holds and some shaky protection at times put Matt Ryan in an even worse spot than he was already in. Any hopes that the return of Justin Blalock would stabilize the line appear unfounded, though it's fair to note that the line got much worse when the team was more or less forced to air it out in the second half to catch up. That's not to excuse the pass protection, however.
- That damn Paul Worrilow would-be sack turned out to be pivotal. The Bears had a false start, but Worrilow blew into the backfield untouched and didn't hear the whistle blowing the play dead, nailing Jay Cutler. The referees called a personal foul that was, in my opinion, unwarranted. The Bears managed a field goal on the drive, and things proceeded apace from there.
- Trufant may not have been assigned Alshon Jeffery on the third quarter play where he blew by him and scorched Kemal Ishmael, but it sure looked like he may have let him go. It was an unfortunate moment in an otherwise solid game for Trufant, but we'll have to watch the game again to be sure. Either way, coverage breakdown that left Jeffery on an island against an overmatched, if game, Ishmael. Pair that with another blown, big play for Robert Alford and the team's struggles to contain Jay Cutler and the passing game in general and you've got trouble. We saw trouble.
- The referees were not exactly stellar. Let's just leave it at that, because it's not an excuse.
Game MVP: Ha ha ha HAHAHAHAHAHA. No.
Game Theme Song: Stony silence, maybe an audible sniff.
One Takeaway: Gonna be a long, painful season. We'll do the best we can to keep the atmosphere around here relatively light, but I can't see it being anything but grim from here on out on the field.
Next Week: The Falcons hit the road to take on a Ravens team that just blew the Buccaneers out. Check out Baltimore Beatdown for more.
Final Word: Anotheruglyloss.