Just like that, the season comes to an end.
In what has been an interesting season to say the least, it seemed somewhat appropriate that the Atlanta Falcons season comes to an end at the Philadelphia Eagles 2-yard line with an end zone shot to Julio Jones on 4th down with the game on the line. Which came after the Falcons put together a 74-yard drive up to the point to put the Eagles on their heels. Ironically, the Falcons defense made defensive stands to win games similar to the Eagles on Saturday night. Fate, I guess you can say.
It was easy for the Falcons and their fan base to feel quite confident coming into the NFC Divisional Round matchup against the Eagles. After a road win against the talented Los Angeles Rams last week, it appeared that the Falcons were the hottest thing smoking with more than enough talent to pull off another road win and advance to their second straight NFC Championship Game.
It definitely started that way. A fumble by Eagles running back Jay Ajayi on the second play of the game led to an early 3-0 lead for the Falcons. Another special teams takeaway in the second quarter led to a 10-6 lead after Devonta Freeman hauled in Matt Ryan's houdini-like pass. The day looked as if it belonged to the Falcons.
Instead, what we encountered was a reminder that the Falcons are in dire need of going back to the drawing board. At several junctures during the season, the offensive play calling by first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was met with criticism, confusion, and downright disbelief. During Saturday's matchup, it reared its ugly head once again and eventually played a key part in Falcons coming up short.
It wasn't the only thing that showed itself that the Falcons will likely work on during this early offseason. The team is still a playmaker or two away from having an elite-level defense. When the unit needed a play to be made late, that one game-changing play never arrived.
Late in the contest, interior Eagles defenders made themselves comfortable in the Falcons backfield. So of course, the team will have decisions to make in regards to the development of right guard Wes Schweitzer and the future of veteran left guard Andy Levitre.
As I have done in past "What We Learned" columns, I gave credit when it was most definitely due. Despite what this team endured throughout the regular season, the Falcons did not lie down and die amongst millions on national television and thousands within Lincoln Financial Field. They fought and scrapped and gave the #1 seed a true test.
With an improving defense and an offense that still has a number of weapons, it's perplexing to say that the championship window has closed for the Falcons. This is a team that will likely be a contender in 2018 with a definite number of improvements on the roster from top to bottom. That also includes probably the coaching staff. What was learned was that there is still work to be done and that proper modifications this offseason may be the difference in a team who scrapes their way into the playoffs and team that is hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.