And that’s where it gets tricky, because depending on which version of this team shows up, you may be celebrating and feeling truly thankful for this one single win that makes the rest of a down season feel a little less devastating. Or if it’s the team that lost in consecutive weeks to the Browns and the Cowboys, you and your Falcons fan family and friends are going to have some painful conversations about the team we all love.
The Panthers aren’t in nearly as bad of shape as Atlanta, but they are are coming off back-to-back tough losses to the Steelers and the Lions. Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer wrote a handy guide for Panthers fans on how to discuss the current state of the team with their families this holiday season, which is great, and you should read it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I’m borrowing Rodrigue’s approach to work up a little service journalism for Falcoholics this Thanksgiving.
I can’t help you with contentious political discussions, but talking about the Falcons is definitely in my wheelhouse. Let’s get started.
Matt Ryan is the problem
If Ryan throws a single incomplete pass, you know your uncle who irrationally hates him and blames him for every lack of success is going to have a lot to say. Remain calm: Your uncle is wrong, and you can tell him that in such a way that it doesn’t disrupt family harmony.
The easiest thing to do is point to Ryan’s stats. He’s been playing near his 2016 MVP levels for most of the season. He’s done that without the top running back on the depth chart and no run game to speak of and with both of his starting guards on injured reserve. He’s averaging 330-plus yards per game, ranks third in the NFL for total passing yards, and has 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
And the offense in general hasn’t been the problem. Catastrophic injuries on defense have kept Atlanta from being able to stop any team. It’s not only unfair, but irrational, to pin all of this on Ryan, a steady presence behind center since the second he stepped on the field in 2008.
You may not be able to convince your uncle to agree with you. But ask him to explain to you exactly what about Ryan’s game is holding this team back. Given the facts, he won’t have a valid answer, and you win.
Dan Quinn should be fired
Dan Quinn has led the team to two playoff berths, including a Super Bowl run, in his first three years on the job. But your cousin sees Atlanta’s inconsistent play and insists Quinn is holding the team back.
Remember when Bobby Petrino had a staffer leave notes in players’ lockers in the middle of the night and then snuck out of town under cover of darkness to take the job at Arkansas? That’s precisely why Dan Quinn should not, and will not, be fired during the season.
That snowballed a depressing 2007 season into a doomed one, and coupled with Michael Vick’s dogfighting arrest and conviction, forced a rebuild. It worked out OK for the Falcons that time. They brought in Mike Smith, drafted Matt Ryan, and actually clawed their way to a wild card spot that year. But there’s no guarantee that someone else could come in here with the players Quinn has brought in to run these schemes and be more effective than Quinn has been — which is actually a high bar to clear.
The counterargument here is Quinn’s game management, and you’ll lose credibility if you’re not honest about the fact that he has made some detrimental decisions. But his overall body of work is so strong that it’s still not a fireable offense.
Any coach would struggle this season with the injuries this team has faced. Firing Quinn won’t fix this team and would almost certainly be a massive setback. The end.
The injuries aren’t an excuse
This is what your cousin is going to tell you when you make the case for Quinn. But again, your cousin is wrong. Any team would struggle losing three of its four best defenders for the bulk of the season. Losing both guards has put a lot of extra strain on both tackles and Alex Mack. I doubt Devonta Freeman would be having more success behind this line than Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith are, but it still doesn’t help to have him out.
Pull up some Deion Jones highlights on your phone and watch them with your very incorrect family member. Then pull up a couple of Duke Riley plays and rest your case.
Julio Jones is an overpaid diva
Julio Jones is a demigod. Who can place a price on talent like this?
But Jones’ holdout this offseason rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way, and your sister-in-law won’t hold back about how that drama is the root cause of the team’s 4-6 performance this year.
It probably won’t help to explain to her that Jones is currently leading the league with 1,158 receiving yards or that he’s broken his scoreless streak with touchdowns in consecutive weeks against Washington, the Browns, and the Cowboys. Explaining to her that Jones’ value goes beyond numbers and is part of the reason Calvin Ridley is having such a strong debut season. When teams have to account for both Jones and Ridley on any given play, it’s a nightmare scenario. Jones’ veteran influence and leadership in such a rocky season should not be discounted, either.
But if she’s set her mind to believe Jones is a diva, that won’t matter. So just show her this play and get yourself some more mashed potatoes.
Who cares about football anyway?
Your brother is a contrarian. He’s already gotten the whole family fired up about politics, and now he’s tearing down this sport we love. Maybe he thinks the risks of CTE outweigh the fun, and to be fair, that’s a valid perspective. Perhaps he’s mad online about players who kneel during the national anthem. Maybe he just wants to talk about Premiere League or tennis or the NBA instead.
But you love football, and you want to defend its honor. Here’s what you do: Ignore him.
That’s right. Ignore him. You don’t have to justify what you like to anyone, and he’s distracting you from a very important game. If you don’t give him the satisfaction of a response, he’ll lose steam and go debate your grandmother about her views on Donald Trump instead.
[Insert player name here] is a bust
This is a very special section devoted to Falcoholic Matt’s family. Cousin Matt will see Vic Beasley fail miserably at getting to the quarterback or Desmond Trufant getting burned by Michael Thomas or Austin Hooper dropping a ball or Tevin Coleman trying to shoot a nonexistent A gap for a loss of 2 and he’ll proclaim that player a bust.
You can tell him that one bad play does not a bust make. But frankly, depending on what prompted the comment, you might be tempted to go ahead and agree with him. This team, and many of its players, can be frustrating as hell. Both of you just go ahead and vent. It builds camaraderie.
The Falcons can still make the playoffs!
If the Falcons lose, you can just go ahead and shut down your mom when she tries to put a rosy outlook on this season. Atlanta probably sealed its fate with those losses to the Browns and the Cowboys, and a loss on Thursday is a death knell for this team’s playoff hopes. Mom just wants everyone to be happy and enjoy the holiday, but that doesn’t mean she can just sell a bunch of bold-faced lies to the whole crew.
But if the Falcons manage to pull off a win against the Saints — as unlikely as that seems for 13-point underdogs on the road against one of the most talented offenses in the league — go ahead and loudly agree with her. An improbable win over New Orleans is plenty of reason to hope that the Falcons can keep rolling — and it would truly be something to be thankful for.
Whatever happens with the Falcons on Thursday, our team at The Falcoholic wishes you and your family a happy Thanksgiving.