Not to get all Aesop’s Fables on you, but it might be time to tell the story of The Falcons and The Gun Range.
Ah, you know, the classic childhood fable The Falcons and The Gun Range! My father used to plop me in his lap and read it aloud to me as a child. I’ll see if I can dust off my copy and read it to you.
*clears throat* Let’s begin.
Once upon a time, there was a flock of mighty falcons who were trying to fly over a gun range to go south for the winter. The majestic birds nearly flew over it without being shot last season, but a moron from New England named Brady shot wildly into the air on the day of their flight, preventing them from achieving their ultimate goal of reaching the Florida Keys. Instead, they were grounded up north.
The main falcon, Quinnington, loved to fly as fast and physically as he could. He told his brother-flock that this season, it was all air, no feathers. Quinnington’s flock had flown further down south last season than any had ever expected. But, after falling short, the flock still was excited for what was to come.
But, there was the matter of the gun range. If the falcons could not fly over the gun range, they would not reach the south for winter. They fell short last season. Could they muster up enough strength for a flight this season?
“Why don’t we just fly around it? Or wait to fly at a different time when they are not, you know, shooting into the air? And why didn’t we just fly when Brady took a break last season? We would have been right there.”
Quinnington squawked loudly, “Because that would ruin the moral of the story! And, we were trying to stay aggress…wait, no! No. We’re not going back to that. It’s a new season.”
This year, Quinnington had chosen a new falcon to lead the flock in the flight – Sarkisian the falcon. Shanahan the falcon had decided to pick up a career in mining on the west coast, so the flock needed a new wingman to lead them to glory.
Poor Sarkisian the falcon, who had never done this before, didn’t do so hot at first in leading the flock. The birds got impatient. “Fire Sarkisian! He is so bad! We miss Shanahan! What about Kubiak the falcon? He would be better.”
But, Quinnington preached patience, and on the day of the flight, the falcons successfully flew over the gun range and made it down south. Sarkisian wasn’t perfect, but he did the job as best he could, and it ended up being enough to not make the flock lose their way. He even had some creative moments! He’s alright!
So, there the flock was for winter in the Florida Keys. One bird died on the way because he caught the avian flu, and another may have gotten attacked by an eagle. No one is exactly sure. There are a lot of birds to count. You try keeping up with all of them.
The moral of the story? Patience is a virtue, and no one is ever going to offer me a contract to write children’s fables. Aesop, I am not.
So, after the Seattle game, patience. Patience is the virtue.
It admittedly was easy to think about closing up shop on the team after they faceplanted against the Carolina Panthers roughly two weeks ago. They just didn’t look like the Falcons we knew and loved last season – a team stymied by the ghosts of Super Bowl’s past and in the midst of coaching growing pains. A team destined to end up 8-8 or 9-7, decent enough to rattle off some wins, but lacking enough to look poorly in the process.
But then, Dallas and Seattle happened.
The offense has scored 54 points the last two weeks, which is only 12 less than they’ve scored in the four games prior. Matt Ryan is playing very well. The creativity has skyrocketed with Steve Sarkisian, which is to say there is more than one creative play per game, and the idea well doesn’t dry up at halftime. By some wonderful twist of fate, the offense is chugging right now, somehow without Devonta Freeman in the lineup.
The defense? They have, right now, one of the more formidable pass rushes in the NFL. Led by a rejuvenated Adrian Clayborn and a consistently-improving Takk McKinley, the Falcons – the Atlanta Falcons – are creating problems for other teams by affecting the quarterback. Like, *the* Atlanta Falcons. A pass rush. A good one! The secondary is tighter than it has been all season, and the linebackers are making plays. What bizarre world is this where the Falcons defense is arguably playing…pretty well, all things considered?
No, special teams aren’t so great right now, but if you take away the muffed punt return and that bizarre defensive collapse at the end of the game, the Seattle score doesn’t look so bad.
But, can you really, you know, take those away if you lose?
Therein lies the fantastic and frustrating situation right now for the Falcons in 2017.
They’re beginning to consistently click as a team for the first time this year, and none of us really know what the ceiling is. It could be much higher than any of us realize. It could be lower than any of us want to admit. Seattle showed both ideas might be right. Tampa Bay won’t really indicate…anything. The team should win that game no matter what, considering the current state of affairs for the Bucs.
Some could argue that the Dallas and Seattle wins were made possible because both teams were missing key pieces. That’s true, but winning can ignite your own flames. Maybe the Falcons just needed some good sparring partners to really get cooking. We’ll know soon enough.
The real brouhaha starts with the Vikings/Saints home stretch here soon. If they can manage to win both of those difficult games, the Falcons might really be built to last. If they can split, they can continue their march to trying to nab a wild card spot. If they get swept, they’re really not good enough to make a run this year with the way the NFC has shaken out.
Minnesota and New Orleans are two of the best teams in the NFL right now. Atlanta is gaining some steam. Clash the titans, and see how it all stands.
If they somehow lose to the Bucs at home with Ryan Fitzpatrick, well, that will really answer it all, won’t it?
The mistakes, struggles against the run and lapses in play calling still persist. The team is going to have to check themselves before they wreck themselves on the mental aspect. The hangover appears to be fading away (the Seattle game could have been a jolt down their spine with the way it ended), but goodness knows that thing flares up here and there.
The run defense may just be what it is right now (thankfully, there are no mobile quarterbacks left besides another date with Cam, unless Case Keenum becomes a frisky runner overnight). The coaching? It’s better. Who would have thought Sarkisian would be here at this point?
Who would have thought the Falcons would be here at this point after Carolina?
Patience is a virtue. As the last stretch begins, be patient with the Birds.
No one knows how this movie ends, but boy, has this taken a turn none of us expected.
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.