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It’s Finally Clear – 2017 Falcons Stuck in a Fog

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Bogged down by a sputtering offense, the Falcons are in a haze after their third-straight loss.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Something ain’t right with this here picture.

You saw what happened. You don’t need a post-game column to regale you with the nitty-gritties. You saw poor Turbo Taylor blown up by Kyle Van Noy all the way back to Marietta. You saw Tom Brady carve up a trying-but-tired Falcons defense to milk off the clock. You felt your heart pound as hard as the drum solo on Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” in palpable palpitations of anger, nerves and hysteria. You know the score. You saw *that score* draped over the edge of the end zone seating. Hulk smash.

You saw that awful, horrifically apt metaphor fog set in over the attempt at an Atlanta comeback.

The Falcons are stuck in a fog. They crapped the bed against the New England Patriots on primetime television again, but this time, they didn’t wait around until it would be historical to do so.

No, no, this wasn’t a collapse – this was a spanking where the spanked got in a few wallops. This was the nightmare that stopped being scary after it got repetitive. This was the great comet that wiped out some poor fans’ hopes and dreams of a Super Bowl return. This was the overreaction Blue Light Special on Black Friday.

The next week is not going to be the best week for anyone with a Matt Ryan jersey in their closet to try and give a level-headed analysis of where this football team is right now. The last few weeks have been a shock to every expectation every Dirty Bird citizen had after the 2016 season. This is Droopy the Dog stuff. This is sad.

The 2017 Atlanta Falcons aren’t that great right now. That’s the sinking salutation we all now must make after the team’s poor Foxboro showing. They just aren’t themselves, or at least who we knew them to be in the 2016 season, and by some cruel twist of fate, it’s the offense that’s holding them back.

There’s no snake oil salesman running around the bend with a magic elixir to sell you to wash away the problems with the Falcons’ offense right now. They should not be this bad. There are no excuses, but there is a reason.

The reason is: the team replaced a prolific veteran play caller with an unproven pro talent. They lost Peyton Manning and went with Trevor Siemian. New OC Steve Sarkisian is as raw as ground round, and he’s showing in the team’s last three losses.

Sarkisian is frustrating because he’s got the ability to rebound next week against the Jets. Seriously. The Falcons will probably win that game. Tonight, he had to out-duel Bill Belichick, and he wasn’t on his A-game. After the Gabriel sweep, it’s not even fair to say he was on his D-game. He flunked, and the Falcons O stunk.

A year ago, this unit was a high-flying, jet-setting, Rick Flair “Woo!” Tonka truck that scored points at an alarming pace for opposing defenses. It was a Tesla Model X. The crème de la crème. The toast of the town.

The Tesla has careened into a swampy marsh, and right now, we’re all hoping the stupid thing isn’t totaled.

The Falcons struggling to move the ball against a statistically piss-poor defense missing three of its better players is, putting it mildly, inexcusable. Don’t kid yourselves – this offense is, talent-wise, still one of the best in the NFL. But, they just don’t have the guidance right now to execute consistently and effectively.

Sarkisian is riding shotgun on the struggle bus, and all you can really do is give the guy some breathing room and let him figure it out.

The “#FireSark” crowd is woefully misinformed. The easy answer is “well, who replaces him, dingus?” Offensive line coach Chris Morgan going to start calling plays? How about Charlie Weis’ kid? Raheem Morris, who made his career as a defensive coach? Bush Hamdan? Do you even know who Bush Hamdan is? (He’s the QBs coach, and an admittedly handsome fellow.)

Sarkisian is the best play caller Atlanta has right now, and he’s, like it or not, going to at the very least be here through the 2017 season. Probably longer.

And, really, don’t act like you didn’t have a “Fire Shanahan” Tweet draft waiting in the wings after he pulled that cutesy little “throw the ball to Roddy White three straight times to prove a point” crap. That was more of a fireable offense than anything Sark has done so far, to be rather blunt.

We all thought Shanahan had broken Ryan and had tanked any hope of offensive success after the 2015 season was over – was this offense too far gone to be repaired? Well, we found out in 2016.

Sark’s struggles are different, to be fair – he’s not been able to really utilize the skill-sets of his players, has a hard time really finding the right play in his pocket for the moment (particularly third down) and isn’t nuanced enough to really exploit the weaknesses in any opposing defense yet.

The keyboard-clinker has been vocal in his support for Sark, and no, that support will not waiver, even though, no, he’s not doing a great job right now. This Falcons offense has just completed the worst stretch of Ryan’s tenure (nearly ninety minutes of game play with no scoring). It’s mind-boggling to think that’s even possible with this roster.

The weight of the world is on Sark’s shoulders, and to be very up front, there is no guarantee this gets totally fixed this season. It very well could because the NFL is weird and wonderful like that sometimes, though. Don’t let anyone paint you a picture that’s needlessly doomy-and-gloomy right now. There’s just no reason to. But, don’t buy into anyone saying it’ll be fixed tomorrow, either. The fact of the matter is, it’s a mystery. All one can do is hope the potential Sark has – that Dan Quinn saw in him when he hired him – can be at least somewhat lived up to by season’s end.

The crux to Atlanta’s success and failure in 2017 comes down to Sark and whether or not he can get this offense going to at least half of where it was in 2016. The Falcons have the talent to the best team in the NFC. It’s high time they cash in on that.

The positives from Sunday: Their defense really is a lot better than it has been in years (sincere credit to Marquand Manuel). They got stops early in the New England game and put the team in a position to strike early. Not their fault Atlanta’s offense couldn’t meet the opportunity. His guys play a little undisciplined at times, but it’s not enough to be an epidemic. They’re the bright spot of 2017.

Also, the NFC South right now is wide open. The Saints have the best record, but they didn’t exactly put down the Aaron Rodger-less Packers convincingly, and let’s all hold off on declaring this defense a threat. The Panthers are too hot and cold to really know who they will be any given week. The Buccaneers are 2-4. Things, oddly, could be worse.

So, somehow despite the clear-and-present offensive dangers, the Falcons are still very much alive, and are still undefeated against NFC opponents. A win next Sunday gives them a winning record heading into division play, and with the literal same record they had after seven games in 2016. Yes, yes, this a different team (woof), but they very well just might be playing in January, despite that and Sunday’s fiasco.

This is a disappointing season so far for everyone in the ATL. The Falcons only have one win under their belts that any of us are proud of. We’re all upset, ticked off, in a slump. They are very much in a fog.

Quinn is the guy who must right the ship, as the team’s skeletal structure goes through him. A team takes on the persona of its head coach, and one’s got to hope the guy who got Atlanta to its second-only NFC title can pull them out of a three-game drag.

Quinn installed “the Brotherhood,” and this is the time where that comes in handy. Thankfully, the problems for Atlanta don’t seem to be culture driven at all. They’re on the field. The typist still sees a team in a mental haze after the Super Bowl – but hopefully, getting New England out of the way, no matter how messy it was, can be the motivator to get this team past 28-3 if there is anything lingering there.

The schematic issues? We’re on a wait-and-see basis. Sark is the focal point of all fans’ ire going forward, and it’s on him, Ryan, the offensive roster and corresponding coaching staff to get it figured out. New England is hopefully the waving red flag that whatever’s been done so far isn’t working.

I’m rooting hard for Sark, primarily because he’s climbed a massive mountain to even be able to call plays in football again, and his success could do a lot of good for a lot of people who have gone through the same fight of addiction. There is sincere societal good to Sark performing well that goes past football, and we should all be in unison in hoping he gets there. “#FireSark” is foolhardy, and the OC’s success will do way more than give us all a great offense to watch on Sundays. Though, fielding a good offense is going to have to be the thing Sark figures out how to do, and do well. He’s certainly got the tools, and honestly, the potential.

So, the Falcons are 3-3, and no one knows how this movie ends. The fog still lingers. But, the nice thing about fogs?

Eventually, they lift.

Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.