I let my lack of respect for Nick Foles dictate what I thought of this matchup. The Eagles have a lethal defensive front, a solid secondary and a potent ground game, but I figured the Falcons would be able stop Foles in his tracks, make the Eagles one-dimensional, and gut out a win.
Instead, I got a useful reminder that talent alone is not always a decider. Playing a rested, aggressive Eagles team at home, the Falcons showed they were not the better football team. They had the better quarterback and (arguably) the better overall talent, but it hardly mattered on Saturday. Philadelphia overcame some early shakiness to play a dominant defensive game. They then attacked a very good and very game Falcons offense better than anyone expected, with Jay Ajayi piling up yards and Foles playing a genuinely good football game. The Falcons weren’t able to capitalize enough on their opportunities, as Dan Quinn put it after the game, and now we face the offseason.
It doesn’t matter that the Eagles got a bounced Keanu Neal play for a reception that helped set up a field goal, or that the Falcons just missed on a couple of plays, because Atlanta didn’t make the plays they needed to. Despite their obvious resilience, Atlanta found themselves coming up short this season because they couldn’t call the right play at the right time and execute it. It’s a simple, devastating shortcoming, and it cost them this game.
As predicted, it was a close game. There’s little doubt that the Falcons had a real chance to win it, considering they had a first and goal situation down five points late in the fourth quarter. Had they scored a touchdown, we would be talking about how they escaped an ugly game with the Eagles to continue on, but they would have probably run into the buzzsaw the next week. Neither the Saints nor the Vikings would have been easy. That last, doomed series showed that skill can’t carry the day when you don’t have a good enough plan to beat a dominant defense, and the Falcons very clearly didn’t.
This makes it very clear that the Falcons, despite all their very obvious talent, will not be able to coast on it. The Saints, the Eagles, the Vikings, the Rams, and other teams will still be on the rise a year from now, and simply maintaining the status quo for this roster and coaching staff is not going to be an option, even if I think they’re a virtual lock for double digit regular season wins against a third place schedule. This is a team that will need to choose what it wants to be this offseason, and the answer has to involve some way of beating teams like the Eagles and Vikings, who truly bedeviled them in 2017.
The good news is that the Atlanta squad that returns will have enough talent to contend. The question is whether they’ll be able to make a Super Bowl run again, and that question may determine the future of an awful lot of Falcons.