As Falcons fans, we have plenty of practice gearing up to panic, panicking, and resigning ourselves to defeat and doom. Predictably, there was a lot of that gearing up happening last night, when the Falcons dropped a horrendous game to the Saints by a deceptive score of 31-21. I say deceptive because it didn't feel that close.
Let's not mince words: That loss was putrid, and it took all of my restraint to be reasonable in my morning recap, because watching the Falcons lose to the Saints always gets me frothing at the mouth. Should you let this loss change your expectations for the season, though? No.
The improvements the Falcons have made enabled them to run their record out to 5-0, and one lackluster performance does not erase those improvements. The offensive line is still a run-blocking force of nature after being utterly incapable of opening holes in years past, and the pass protection is at least still decent when Mike Person is in the middle of the line. The defense has been terrific all season, and while Drew Brees did carve them up last night, they remained stout against the run and won't be playing a quarterback of his caliber again for quite some time. Fumbles—and losing fumbles—tend to be some of the most random acts in the football world, and Atlanta's not going to fumble five times and lose three every week. And so on.
With the Carolina Panthers traveling to Seattle to play the Seahawks, it's very possible the Falcons will still be on top of this division after the smoke clears, and they remain in excellent position for a playoff run more than a third of the way through the regular season. This loss and the close games that preceded it indicate that this is not a great Falcons team by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a talented one with the time and schedule necessary to get things sorted out.
In other words, if you thought this team was going to be a playoff contender...well, they probably still are. They'll need to rebound, but there are no more short weeks against a division rival on the road on the docket, and they have ten days to rest up and plan for a Titans team that has a rich history of blowing games already in 2015. If you thought they were a rebuilding team and a paper tiger at 5-0, chances are you saw plenty that confirmed your perspective, but I don't believe this Falcons team is headed for a tailspin. They are better than they were in 2013 and 2014, and it's going to take a lot more than one game to convince me otherwise.
As always, Charles McDonald will have a full tape review later in the week, and we'll have plenty of time to consider this game and the Falcons' season with a little more distance from our collective disgust and rage. For now, rest assured that it is not time to panic.