No matter what your final conclusion of Sundays game - burn it all down, fire everyone, hit the reset button - your visceral reaction was justified. The Falcons went up against a vastly improved Browns team, but one that has given up a ton of yards on the ground. But you can forget all of that when it comes to this Falcons team, because they're finding new ways to lose, and new ways to destroy our hopes and dreams. With that said, here are my three key takeaways:
1. Long standing issues have not gone away
Failure to make adjustments. Second half collapse. Poor clock management. Conservative or inexplicable play-calling. Inability to tackle.
If those things sound familiar - and frustrating - it's because we've heard them all for years now. And yet again, Sunday saw all of those same issues reappear in typical fashion.
The team was outscored 10-0 in the third quarter, after going into halftime with a 1 point lead. In one of the worst series of coaching decisions in recent football memory, Coach Smith failed to properly burn out the clock at the end of the game, and helped the team lose in the final seconds. The team repeatedly had opportunities to make defensive stops, only to see themselves completely whiff on tackles over and over again.
I could go on, but we all know the story at this point - and it has gotten extremely old.
2. The offense has not looked good for several weeks now
For what was supposed to be a strength of the team, the offense has looked lethargic in recent games. Granted, the talent level on the OL is not what we thought it would be, but James Stone and Ryan Schraeder have performed decently (not great) since taking over several games ago.
Likewise, the Falcons key offensive pieces - Julio, Roddy and SJax - have all been mostly healthy.
So why has the offense struggled to put points on the board?
The reality is that the blame goes around equally. At times, even when Ryan has had a pocket, he's struggled to make reads or has been strangely inaccurate. That held true again on Sunday, with him missing several passes to Julio or throwing into traffic. His stats looked decent, but his actual play was not up to his normal standard.
Likewise, the receivers again added more drops to their near league-leading total. And lest we think the offensive line is a good unit, they have definitely had some struggles and allowed far more pressure on Ryan on Sunday - including on the strip-sack that lead to a turnover.
Finally, the play-calling has been strange/bad/bizarre for a while now. I don't have to tell you how efficient the offense looks in the no-huddle, so I won't beat that drum again. For whatever reason, the plays coming out of the huddle seem to be the death of offensive efficiency and they seem to disrupt the rhythm of the offense. And while the team over-used the WR screens the past several games, they went in the complete other direction Sunday - not using any at all.
The offense appears to be struggling to find consistency, and everyone shares some blame in it.
3. Mike Smith has to go
I won't completely rehash the late game follies that lead to the epic last minute collapse for the Falcons. But I do want to share this:
Mike Smith also said that had he not called the time out with 44 seconds, the #Browns would have.
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) November 23, 2014
When this first came across my timeline, my jaw dropped. And I was furious. I was also hoping that it was a misquote - one that needed the proper context. Then I saw this exchange:
True story, @Espngreeny.
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) November 23, 2014
Nope. Nothing was going to explain away this comment. It was clear that Mike Smith said and meant it and if you were on the fence on whether Smith needs to be fired, this lone comment should shine light on one of the key reasons: he's just not a very good coach.
You can make arguments about the talent level of this team that points to the front-office. You can make arguments about how guys are utilized and the calls on the field, which points to the position coaches and coordinators. But when it comes down to basic clock management - that falls solely on the head coach. And it would be one thing if this was the first time something like this happened, but it's not. There are numerous examples, including the 2012 playoff game against the Seahawks.
Mike Smith has repeatedly failed at one of the most basic responsibilities of his job. You can find ways to justify every other argument for this man, but there is simply no way to assign blame elsewhere for what happened on Sunday. It falls squarely on his shoulders. It's hard enough to win games in the NFL, but when your head coach is putting your team in situations it need not be in, it's unacceptable.
So, as the Falcons continue their slide to the end of the 2014 season, what are the things you took away from Sunday's game?