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Defending De’Vondre: Why criticism over his comments is misplaced

His words were merely a symptom of a larger problem.

Atlanta Falcons v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In a professional sports atmosphere dominated by carefully crafted talking points and coachspeak, candor is a rarity. Too often, post-game press conferences are couched in platitudes and cliches devoid of any real meaning, the true story unfolding behind closed doors — especially after a loss.

Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell shattered that norm after Sunday’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Browns, offering a glimpse behind the curtain to Atlanta’s inner workings. Beyond all of The Brotherhood jargon lay the plain truth of the matter: The Falcons did not take the Cleveland Browns seriously, and appeared to assume they’d emerge victorious on talent alone. Campbell spoke with 92.9 The Game following the loss and provided this wave-making quote:

“We didn’t come out with the energy we’ve been coming out with the past couple weeks, you know. And you know, I feel like it was one of those situations where, like as a team, we were just like ‘It’s the Cleveland Browns and we didn’t take them serious.’”

His comments kicked off somewhat of a social media firestorm, with many echoing the same worn traditionalist bromides that cause my eyeballs to rattle in my skull from exasperation. The real issue here is not with his words themselves, but with the wing-scorching hubris that resulted in them.

The Atlanta Falcons were not ready, full stop.

Campbell’s remarks were borne out of frustration after a gut-wrenching — and potentially season-ending — loss, and the team’s seeming unwillingness to properly prepare. By making them publicly he effectively put the rest of the Falcons on notice going forward.

You should be seething after Sunday’s loss in Cleveland. I know I am. The Falcons looked like they were on first gear autopilot through four quarters, playing a lifeless, uninspired brand of football. For a team that had clawed and scratched its way out of the NFC South cellar with a legitimate shot at a postseason run, they simply “came out flat,” as rookie linebacker Foyesade Oluokun said.

But heaping scorn on De’Vondre Campbell for violating some kind of antiquated public relations gag order is foolhardy and misplaced. Campbell laid out the naked, embarrassing truth: The Atlanta Falcons took their opportunity against Cleveland for granted.

Don’t be upset with De’Vondre; be upset at the prevailing reason for his words.

So the next obvious question is: Why? Why were the Falcons lackadaisical and complacent when their season was on the line? That’s a question that could — and should — be asked of Dan Quinn. Any team in the league has the propensity to make you look silly on a Sunday, and taking any opponent anything less than absolutely serious should be an indictment of the entire locker room.

The 2018 season has been defined by resilience as much as chaos. To have the team shoot itself in the foot when it was on the verge of overcoming so many early obstacles is hurling insult on top of all the injuries. These Atlanta Falcons are still clinging to life, barely, and if they fail to sneak into the playoffs you can look back to their performance in Cleveland and know why.

That won’t be the fault of De’Vondre Campbell’s comments. The fault will lie in the fact that they were necessary in the first place.