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Falcons vs. Panthers: Three Key Takeaways

All the four letter words won't do justice to that game.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I'll be honest: putting this article together has been difficult. After the absolute shellacking on Sunday, my emotions are drained and my mind has already moved onto what the off-season is going to look like for the Falcons. But I do think it's important to look at these games and to consider the successes and failures, as it will largely drive what is done in the off-season. So, with that said, here are my 3 key takeaways:

1. Smitty is done

This one seems self-explanatory, but this game was definitely the nail in the coffin. There was some thought that if the Falcons were able to win this game and again in the playoffs that Smith might actually survive. Given that the exact opposite of that happened, it's not surprising he was fired.

In his time here, Smith failed to build a top-defense. While the team has had it's most successful run under his leadership, there were persistent issues with the team that showed in 2008 and were never corrected. Issues like poor tackling, inadequate 3rd down defense and a tendency to play down to competition plagued the team over 7 years. Poor development of depth and younger players also seemed to be a consistent theme.

Many will point out Dimitroff's failures, and I'd be hard-pressed to disagree. But fans may need to brace themselves for the reality that Thomas' time with the Falcons may not yet be over.

While I greatly appreciate all that Smith has done with the team these past 7 years, it is clear that the time has come.

2. Don't let overreactions cloud evaluations

Watching Ryan get hit on every single play against the Panthers seemed like a complete regression of the offensive line. In fact, I saw people throwing around terms like "Jake is a bust" or "Bench Schraeder" going around during the game. But here's the reality we need to remember: Jake is a rookie LT and showed continual improvement once he got healthy. Schraeder has also been one of our best offensive lineman over the past 8 weeks, so one game shouldn't discount his overall good performances.

While the OL had a horrid game, they were also playing from behind very early on. That allowed the Panthers to focus on rushing the QB, and with a non-existent running game in tow, the Falcons OL was setup for failure.

As we go into 2015, I still believe we have most of our OL pieces already in place. An OL with Jake, Blalock, Hawley, Asamoah and Schraeder could be a very good unit. But the team needs to get better in the running game to help protect their QB.

So, before people go and demand an overhaul of the OL yet again, we should take a step back and consider the season as a whole. This was one game, albeit a terrible one. But still - just one game.

3. All the team issues were exposed in one debacle of a game

The defense couldn't get to Cam, while giving up big plays and failing to cover the tight end adequately.

The offense was unable to establish the running game, leaving it exposed to consistent pass rushing pressure.

Some key drops killed drives and forced the team to play from behind.

These issues were all exposed in this one game, and the result was the debacle we got on Sunday. I wish I had more to say about it, but I think the game speaks for itself.

So with the season finally over, what are your thoughts?