The Atlanta Falcons are not 3-4.
They are not in a catastrophic freefall of 2015 proportions, looking at a game in Carolina as the make-or-break match for 2017’s postseason prospects. They do not fall to 3-5 after a loss there, essentially smacking a big “expired” stamp on whatever the team was in 2016.
These Falcons are not cooked – but they sure could use a towel.
Sunday’s malevolent monsoon of a matchup with the New York Jets was full of botched snaps, missed kicks, faulty fouls and overall sloppy sloppiness. It was Beethoven from the film Beethoven shaking his muddy self all over Charles Grodin and the family bedroom (Bad dog! Nobody does that to Charles Grodin!).
Thankfully, in this scenario, the Falcons are the shaggy dog, not the nice ‘90s wallpaper.
After three games in the frying pan, the Falcons avoided the fire. Lose here, you might as well break out the mock drafts. Even a win at Carolina gets you to an uninspired 4-4, with “America’s Team” (quotes on purpose) heading to town. Instead, win next Sunday, and you’re 5-3. The world seems to get a bit easier to live with then. Beat Dallas? You’re 6-3, and you can really start to think about January. No guarantees there, obviously, but winning against the Jets and breaking the three-game losing streak makes those thoughts possible.
Shout it from the rainiest of rooftops – in the Meadowlands, the Falcons just saved their season.
The Jets win was not pretty by any means, but it was a sign of logical progressions. After New England, there was no reason to expect this Falcons team to burst out the 2016 capes and storm the gang green with paddles and poke sticks. No, no, that Falcons team last week was a shell of its former self. The Falcons team this week was one who was willing to make the difficult climb back to normalcy.
Credit to Dan Quinn: his guys don’t quit. There really doesn’t seem to be any danger of this roster folding under the pressure of poor results in a season of raised expectations. That’s not always the case in the NFL – losing multiple games in succession of each other is a most dangerous haze, but Quinn appears to have conditioned his Brotherhood to withstand the storm. That new-fangled Super Bowl hangover may be finally starting to fade away after hitting its roughest point last week.
Credit also to 2017’s “Most Hated Falcons Person” Steve Sarkisian, who seems to be trying to understand the criticisms coming his way as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. Sark’s game plan Sunday made decent sense for what the Jets were good at on defense – he got the tight ends involved, relied on his run game even when the stout trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Steve McLendon were making plays and didn’t have too many moments that made you question his general ability to call plays. They even dialed up a deep pass that worked! Who knew Matt Ryan could throw it deep to Julio Jones. The team needed to be a sharper in the red zone, but progress is progress.
Sark’s Falcons offense withstood four fumbled snaps, a surging Jets front seven, multiple dropped passes and the literal pouring of rain to put up 25 points – a number that could have been even higher if not for miscues. The first-year OC is still not there yet, but that’s what you want to see from someone so obviously positioned in the hot seat. Maybe lay off on “#FireSark” for a bit, huh?
Defensively, the team still struggles to be fully consistent. The run defense was highly commendable going against a mighty fine backfield, and the pass rush did its job when it mattered (three sacks, which is a good thing — how about Grady Jarrett and Takk McKinley). The secondary took some lumps (speedster Robby Anderson went over 100 yards on the day, which might both indicate he’s pretty good and Atlanta’s back end may need to tighten up a bit), but it was far from a liability. The guys on defense haven’t “come together” yet, but with more reps and more consistency, they just might hear Sir Paul McCartney’s bass line kick in before the year’s over.
So, progress is progress is progress is progress. After whatever flurry of feces the team waded through to get here, the Falcons have a winning record and are done with the AFC for the rest of the regular season. If they can keep the loss count to two from here on out, they’re 11-5, and have a great shot at winning the division. But, as topsy-turvy as this team has been all year, who knows where this all lands.
It starts in Carolina next Sunday. If this Panthers game feels important, that’s because it is. The Falcons have a little ball of momentum in their hands right now. It ain’t much, but goodness knows it’s better that what they had going in. To keep a long story short: this Carolina game is a playoff game in every sense of the phrase, and the Falcons need to win it to keep postseason hopes alive.
The 2017 season hasn’t gone how any of us thought it would – it’s a sullen disparity from visions of a top NFC seed and a waltz back to avenge 28-3. After that disastrous Super Bowl, the road to recovery has taken its jagged twists and turns.
Wins like Sunday are ugly, and there are a million things you wish you could fix or do different. But, sometimes, when you’re over the hill into happier pastures, wins like this are the ones you look back on as the most important.
Onward to Carolina, so goes the faithful flock. Maybe, a week from now, New England is firmly in the rear-view, and the postseason feels all the more obtainable. Until then, the only thrown towels will be dirty ones in the hamper after a nice, hot shower.
For all that these Falcons have been through over the last few weeks, they deserve a good rinse-off.
After all, they did just save their season.
Cory is an editor of fellow Falcons site Rise Up Reader, where you can find more Falcons coverage. He is a cohost of the new Falcoholic game-recap podcast that airs weekly.