I was at the gym on Monday evening. While I was switching songs, something caught my ear. Behind me, two men were having a conversation about the Falcons’ heartbreaking loss to Kansas City. “They fell apart just like this last year,” I heard one of the men say.
Now, I respect the right for every person to have their own opinion, especially if they can tell me why they have that opinion. But I have my own opinion, and it is this: 2016 is not 2015, and these Falcons are not the same ones that collapsed last season. Let me tell you why.
Last year’s 5-0 start was fool’s gold and gave us a false sense of how good that team actually was. Remember, Atlanta was breaking in a first-time head coach and was just coming off a 6-10 season. It only looks like the Falcons collapsed because the wins and losses came in stretches. In reality, Atlanta lost games to teams that had the talent to take advantage of its many weaknesses.
This year, the Falcons have beaten some of the NFL’s best teams. They’ve also lost to some talented squads. Injuries are the one main concern moving forward. The defense still has plenty of experience-related lapses, but they’ve held each of the last to offenses they’ve faced under 20 points. Atlanta is a playoff-caliber team this season, which wasn’t the case last year.
The way the Falcons lost on Sunday was a punch in the gut, and there was plenty of blame all the way around. But there haven’t been many games like this in 2016, and Atlanta has shown it is capable of bouncing back. It’s okay to be upset with the team’s performance, and you should be, but it’s time to free this team from last year’s ghost.
Let’s get to the reason why you’re all here.
One reason to celebrate
Devonta Freeman: Both Matt Bryant and Vic Beasley warranted consideration for this spot, but it’s time to give Freeman the credit he deserves. For the first half of the season, he and Coleman worked in tandem and it was hard to discern who was the better back. In recent weeks, however, Freeman looks like he did during his breakout season last year.
The third-year back gained 105 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chiefs. He consistently made several moves to turn losses into decent gains. Freeman’s ability to make moves in the hole is something truly enjoyable to watch. There weren’t many open holes against Kansas City’s stout front, but Freeman created a few opportunities out of nothing.
Against Arizona, Freeman had 77 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 touches. Those numbers are far from the eye-popping ones he had last season, but it might not be his fault. In 15 games last season, Freeman had 73 catches. This year, he’s got 37 receptions through 12 games. The extra weapons in the passing game have made Atlanta’s offense better, but Freeman may be the biggest casualty.
devonta freeman appreciation tweet pic.twitter.com/ThYLDKx7ro— charles (@FourVerts) November 29, 2016
Still, he’s shown his patented tenacity when holding the football in back-to-back weeks, and it might behoove the Falcons to get him some more touches moving forward.
One reason to worry
Injuries: There’s not much that needs to be said about how quickly a team can go from contender to out of it because of injuries. We already know that Desmond Trufant is out for the season, and the secondary’s performance has taken a step back without him. Adrian Clayborn is out for at least a month, and three more Falcons starters were banged up on Sunday.
Julio was on and off the field in the second half, and it appears the all-world receiver is dealing with turf toe. Jake Matthews was rolled up on early in the game and never returned to the field, and Mohamed Sanu strained his groin. Fortunately, none of these injuries look to be serious, but that’s how it looked at first with Trufant.
Bottom line is that Atlanta needs to collect itself for a playoff push, and this four-game stretch looks like the perfect launching point. To do that, though, the Falcons need their best players on the field. Atlanta is talented enough to make noise in the postseason, but too many injuries could cause it to miss the playoffs altogether.