Ever since the narrow loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 4—a game which, arguably, should’ve been a win if not for a blown call on the “incomplete forward fumble”—the Falcons have entered a death spiral. Against Miami, Atlanta played well for a half only to come out flat for the rest of the game and blow a 17-point lead. Against the Patriots, it’s almost like they didn’t even show up at all.
What has happened to this team? Early in the season, we saw them fight for narrow wins against Chicago and Detroit and thoroughly dominate an NFC favorite in the Green Bay Packers. Those wins seem very far away after three straight losses and a downright abysmal performance against New England. Atlanta has looked sloppy at best and like a team that’s completely quit at worst.
Why? Is it really all the fault of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian? After all, it’s not Sark’s fault that Matt Ryan regularly overthrows his receivers on anything deeper than ten yards. Is it because the team isn’t targeting Julio Jones? Not completely, because Julio received 13 targets in the Patriots game and the Falcons scored a whopping 7 points. Even that touchdown play—without a doubt the only ray of sunshine in that fog-covered mess—probably should’ve been an interception.
The defense, while improved, can’t stop the run and has a penchant for committing dumb penalties at the worst possible times. A resurgent pass rush disappears completely for long stretches. Big free agent acquisition DT Dontari Poe isn’t making much of an impact. Rookie LB Duke Riley is hurt now, but was pretty awful when he was on the field. EDGE Takkarist McKinley has shown flashes, but he’s not making much of a mark either.
Nothing is working for this Falcons team, and it’s impossible to blame just one coach or player for the entire team looking this poor. Emotionally, they seem detached and frustrated. On the field, they are not executing like they could be. And yes, the coaching—particularly on offense—is severely lacking. But this team has a tremendous amount of talent, and even with poor coaching, should be putting up more of a fight than they did against the Patriots.
So, where do the Falcons go from here?
At this point, it’s hard to see Atlanta going anywhere but down. Their schedule only gets harder after this week’s game against the Jets. It’s then a trip to Carolina to face the 4-3 Panthers, the 3-3 Cowboys at home, and then the 4-2 Seahawks on the road. It would be a miracle to see the Falcons win one of those games, based on how they’ve played in the last three weeks. Hell, I’d even be surprised to see the team come out and beat the Jets on Sunday.
But, as easy as it is emotionally to extrapolate a season based on a few games, that’s never going to be a particularly accurate assessment. Practically speaking, the Falcons are still very much alive in the NFC South and in the hunt for a wild card spot at 3-3. They haven’t played any divisional games yet. Outside of the 6-1 Eagles, there doesn’t appear to be a “complete” team in the NFC. Every squad has their warts and has struggled at times this season.
In that way, the Falcons are no different—they just happened to experience their escalating struggles in three straight games. As painful as that is to watch, there’s still plenty of football left. There is still time to right the ship and go on a run. After all, the 2016 Falcons were at 4-3 after seven games, and they managed to fix their issues and reach the Super Bowl. This 2017 squad, for all its difficulties and abysmal showings, is more talented than that historic 2016 team.
That’s why I have some hope. Talent usually wins out in the NFL, sooner or later. I only hope that the Falcons’ coaching staff can do enough to help that talent thrive. One thing is certain: if there aren’t going to be any coaching staff changes, then the coaching itself will have to change.
This week’s contest against the Jets is no pushover. The Falcons hopefully realize that they’ll have to play hard to get any W this season. They better start showing signs of improvement this week, though, because I’m not sure how many more piss poor performances I or any other fan can take.
2017 is far from over, but the Falcons will once again have to prove their worth—to the fans, to the league, and to themselves. This week’s game against the Jets could be a good start, or it could be the continuation of a decline which may not have an end in 2017. We’ll hope for the former.