Your level of investment in the last three games of the Falcons season might be hovering around zero, and we’d hardly be able to blame you for that. This is a listless, lousy Falcons team that needs to just get to the offseason and get under the hood, and we’ll be there in just three weeks. But in the meantime, football goes on, and we’re all hoping to have something worth watching on Sundays.
Here are five things worth watching the rest of the way, if you need them to tune in on Sundays.
#1: Julio Jones’ history-making campaign
Try to imagine how brutally bad this offense would be without Julio. Nevermind, we’ve suffered enough.
While it’s going to feel hollow given the season happening around him, it’s worth noting that Julio continues to put together one of the finest wide receiver careers in NFL history. He’s managed five consecutive 1,400 yard seasons, the best streak in league history, and
Julio’s clocked in at #41 on the all-time yardage list and is destined for the 30s before year’s end, is at #49 for receptions, first in receiving yards per game by nearly five full yards, and is finally moving up the touchdown leaderboard with 48 after piling up five so far in 2018. He could finish this season with something like 1,700 yards and eight touchdowns, and what’s really remarkable is that those numbers would hardly raise an eyebrow given his past production. One of the few truly fun things to watch in this season, in my opinion.
#2: The young guys carving out roles
Ito Smith ran for 60 yards on just 11 carries against the Packers. Calvin Ridley’s up-and-down campaign continues apace, but he’s still getting major playing time. Eric Saubert appears well on his way to earning #2 tight end duties in 2019, Foye Oluokun stays making at least one terrific play per game, and Damontae Kazee remains a force to be reckoned with at free safety. None of these guys look like elite players just yet, but all of them look like genuine contributors, and chances are the Falcons will continue to ramp up their collective playing time with the season completely lost and looking more lost by the week. It’s a glimpse of the future that’s way better than watching Logan Paulsen and Terrell McClain putter along for another week.
#3: The sheer spectacle of failure
For a certain subset of fans who appreciate aesthetically bad football or want to see people get fired (out of a cannon, into the sun), this is the main attraction. The Falcons don’t just fail in conventional ways, of course, because they are the Atlanta Falcons. They fail in ways so uncharacteristic as to defy belief (less than 100 passing yards against the Ravens) and burdened by random chance (having a snap bounce off of Mohamed Sanu, who is jogging by). They fail in expected ways, too, and often this year at such a high level of failure that you would think they practiced it.
This season has brought out a level of resentment and resignment I haven’t experienced in a while, but I’ll freely admit I laughed out loud at some of the team’s dumber plays on Sunday. Viewed as vaudeville, these last three games might very well be worth watching.
#4: The possibility of some improvement
It’s tricky: The Falcons don’t want to win their last three games, not really. That might get them toward the back end of the top ten of the draft, or even out of it entirely. Yet they would very much like to stop being yelled at and shamed for being a lousy football team, one assumes, and for that to happen they have to show something like improvement in the final weeks.
Now, is it a given we’ll see that? No. After they reeled off three wins, I thought the Falcons would at least be somewhat competitive to the end, even if the playoffs were more hope than goal. Instead, they’ve cratered and lost five straight, losing the faith of the fanbase along the way. Seeing something out of the likes of Takk, Ridley, the offensive line in general, and so forth would at least give us the possibility of 2019 improvement to cling to. They don’t need to win to show us they’re not totally a lost cause.
#5: A coaching staff that finally says the hell with it
The Falcons have moved away from their preferred ideas with glacial slowness. You still see three man rushes on third down, running in obvious situations on second down, and giving playing time to veterans who do little to prevent the Falcons from getting their clocks cleaned. Over the last couple of games, the Falcons have finally signaled a willingness to take a harder look at guys like Steven Means, Ty Sambrailo (which isn’t exactly inspiring, I’ll grant you), and so forth.
They also are trying things, more on defense than offense. Marquand Manuel dialed up some blitzes for Desmond Trufant (which resulted in a sack), De’Vondre Campbell (which resulted in a sack and almost resulted in another), and generally just was more aggressive for a half before the team lost its way again. I retain some small hope that the last three games will be treated like a sandbox for this Falcons team heading into 2019, especially since Dan Quinn is evidently not getting fired and has very little to lose with a 4-9 football team.
Marvin Hall and Russell Gage getting increased snaps? Sure, why not. Matt Gono playing some tackle? Hey, what the heck. Duke Riley at linebacker? Well, okay, I’ve gone too far.
What will keep you watching these Falcons?