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Falcons vs. Packers recap: All aboard the tank train

The Falcons might as well not be trying, so all our energy bends toward the best possible outcome.

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

There were moments of naked hunger for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, few and far between as they were. They were there in Matt Ryan’s cluster f-bombs on the sideline, in Mohamed Sanu’s frenzied push for a first down, and in De’Vondre Campbell’s unwillingness to let Aaron Rodgers slip away as he has slipped away so many times before. They were moments that were sort of startling, because they reminded you of a truth that’s not really all that comfortable: That the Falcons aren’t tanking.

They may as well be. In their 34-20 loss to the Packers, the Falcons once again showed themselves to be a team without a rudder, without a clue, and without hope. They parlayed some officiating aid on their first drive into a touchdown, but then immediately allowed 34 unanswered points from a Green Bay team that largely looked like it was having a ball out there. The Falcons could run a little and they could pass a little, but they made nightmarish mistakes along the way, and a game pass rush sort of dried up after the first half as the Packers scored at will on both sides of the ball.

It’s easy to be angry at Dan Quinn for being befuddled after this game, but in some ways, you can’t blame him. The Falcons fumbled on a snap that hit Mohamed Sanu, who was in motion. Matt Ryan let not one but two passes slip out of his hands, to disastrous results. And this team rang up boneheaded penalty after boneheaded penalty and even saw Deion Jones drop interceptions, something the sticky-handed linebacker rarely does. The Falcons were bad in conventional ways, but they were awful in the little, bizarre ways that have come to define the season, too.

There is nowhere to go from here. At 4-9, the best the Falcons can hope for is a 7-9 record that takes them out of the running for a top five selection, which could be transformative for one of their struggling lines. There’s no stirring rally to be had here and nary a sign that Atlanta is capable of returning to scoring 28 points and holding teams under 30 going forward, even if their next opponent is a pretty putrid Cardinals team. They’re just there, squatting and stinking up our Sundays.

The Falcons won’t tank—there are jobs at stake here, to say nothing of pride—but they’ll likely continue to play like they are and get a real shot at a Nick Bosa or Quinnen Williams or Ed Oliver. In the end, that’s about the cheeriest thought about this team that I can muster at the moment.

On to the full recap.

The Good

  • Foye Oluokun made a tremendous play near the end of the first quarter, following Jimmy Graham all the way to the goal line and breaking up a pass at the last second that would have otherwise been the latest in a long line of Aaron Rodgers bombs. Oluokun hasn’t been great, but he’s been solid with flashes of much better than that, and considering he’s a sixth round rookie I think he’s got an extremely bright future.
  • Ito Smith ran well and actually got enough blocking to go somewhere. The Falcons need to continue to give him work, because chances are very good he’ll be the #2 back next season.
  • Julio Jones hasn’t been immune to the team’s downturn, but he still manages to be a bright spot most every week. Bouncing back in a huge way from a miserable day against Baltimore, Julio reeled in several big catches and scored twice, and he was an outstretched arm and a better-placed ball from Matt Ryan away from having a third earlier in the game. He keeps making history, regardless of how good or bad the team around him is.
  • This team tried dialing up some different blitzes and pressure packages in this one, and in the first half they managed a pair of big sacks by Desmond Trufant and De’Vondre Campbell and closed out the half with two more from Vic Beasley and Bruce Irvin. It’s a shame that production didn’t lead to more—and that things got quiet in the second half—but it was a sign of life at last.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan’s worst tendencies and a spot of bad luck converged on the pick six for Green Bay in the second quarter. Feeling a little jittery in the pocket, Ryan tried to make a borderline throw to Austin Hooper when it looked like Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu would’ve offered a higher percentage play, and the throw wasn’t quite zippy enough to overcome that. Ryan said later that the ball slipped out of his hand, and that happened more than once in this one, plus some real overthrows. His final stat line was fine, but it was not his finest game.
  • Robert Alford played so poorly early on that he found himself benched, but he was back out on the field later. While Ryan Schraeder was benched, perhaps permanently, and Ben Garland suffered the same fate, Alford has been lousy most of the season and still isn’t a reserve just yet. It’s hard not to feel like Alford could bounce back from this season, but with a big cap hit coming up, Blidi Wreh-Wilson hitting free agency and more question marks than we’d like at cornerback, the Falcons really have to get a longer look at
  • The criticism of Dan Quinn is not going to slacken in any way, given the way he handled a couple of crucial situations in this one. The first was the long field goal try for Matt Bryant, which was fine devoid of context given that Atlanta is bad and just needs to score if they want to feel good about themselves, but was bad because the announcers reminded us that Bryant hasn’t looked like he could hit distance in practice and warmups this week.

The second was his decision to call a timeout as Green Bay was driving late in the second quarter. I can only guess at his motives until he addresses them—my guess would be getting the “right” personnel on the field—but it did absolutely no good as Rodgers embarrassingly scrambled for a huge first down and Green Bay ultimately booted the field goal. Quinn remains safe, but there’s no question he needs to build better scaffolding around his in-game coaching if he’s going to avoid these kinds of potentially fatal mistakes going forward. I’m genuinely hopeful this year’s going to be a wakeup call for a coach who isn’t going to be nearly as secure heading into next season.

  • Our final word of the day goes for Steve Sarkisian. Marquand Manuel is Dan Quinn’s guy and has three critical injuries to point to this season, so I think he’ll survive with a shakeup of his staff. Sark was Dan Quinn sticking his neck out a bit for a guy he respected and thought would do well in the NFL, and while you can’t hang anywhere near all of this offense’s ineptitude on him, the fact is that they’ve been a major disappointment for the better part of two straight seasons now. No assistant should be considered safe, but Sark rises to the top of the list because he’s got the firepower and not the results.
  • Jeez, man, even Matt Bryant had a tough day. Dealing with a back injury, in the cold and on the road, Bryant missed the long field goal Dan Quinn probably shouldn’t have even had him trying and whiffed on an extra point, which was legitimately surprising. If Bryant’s being held back by an injury, Giorgio Tavecchio should probably be kicking, but hopefully it was just a blip.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

It’s you. You watched this, and frankly, you deserve some recognition for that.

One Takeaway

This Falcons team is bad and has no clear path to improvement except for real changes this offseason.

Next Week

The gulp Arizona Cardinals come to town, having recently knocked off the Packers and kicking off the Mike McCarthy firing. They’re bad, sure, but so is Atlanta, and I’m wary of this one.

Final Word