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Falcons vs. Ravens recap: December begins with Atlanta’s eighth, most boring loss

The Falcons haven’t been this bad in a while, and the end result is a largely boring, depressing product we’re going to be done with in a month.

Baltimore Ravens v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I held out hope that the Falcons might right the ship at last and, if not beat a surging Baltimore team with perhaps the league’s best defense, at least give them a battle. Instead, they played an offensively poor game of football, and I mean that in multiple senses of the word.

I fully recognize how good the Baltimore defense is, and I don’t want to rob them of credit. But this Ravens D surrendered 30-plus points to the Panthers and 17 to the Raiders, for god’s sake, and yet the Falcons managed just 16 points and didn’t even get over the 100 yard mark until near the end of the game. They scored just one offensive touchdown on the day, and if it hadn’t been for Vic Beasley’s fun and insane fumble return for a touchdown, they might have gotten truly blown out. For all intents and purposes, they did.

A season this bad invites justified blame for just about everyone, but it’s beyond obvious that Atlanta did not have the overall talent level to survive key losses, or the coaching staff necessary to overcome that. Dan Quinn is coming back next year—Arthur Blank has made that abundantly clear to this point—but the biggest naysayers in this fanbase have been absolutely correct about this team’s numerous flaws, and the Falcons lose a little more of the ability to wave away these mistakes every week. It’s going to be a key offseason after the Falcons tiptoed through a cap-strapped spring in 2018, and the list of things that need upgrades or internal improvements grows every single week.

But smaller picture, this team is bad and appears to have no answers to what ails them. The offensive line is a catastrophe and the playmakers aren’t good enough, the defense is a handful of stars and a lot of quiet, mediocre performances, and special teams is not nearly good enough to make us forget about any of that. If Dan Quinn didn’t have the Super Bowl appearance in his history and the Falcons hadn’t nailed some of their recent draft classes, this would be a death march. The fact that it’s not for this coaching staff and front office ought to be regarded as the last chance it is, and these last four weeks ought to be an opportunity to clear away the brush and give chances to young players who have even a small chance of helping this team out in 2019. In many cases, they can’t possibly be worse.

If you’re the Falcons, you do nothing for the next week but reflect on the latest ass kicking and try to do it better next time. If you’re a Falcons fan, you brace yourself for as many as four ugly losses the rest of the way.

Take a deep breath and we’ll work our way through the good and the ugly from this game.

The Good

  • Austin Hooper had sticky hands and was ready to run through contact on a day where the Falcons desperately needed somebody to have both attributes. He led the team in receiving, which was beyond sad given that he had 44 yards, but Hoop did fine work.
  • Deion Jones didn’t look like he was at the height of his powers, but he was so much better than just about anyone else on defense that it was laughable. He finished with 15 combined tackles and a sack, looking fast and (critically) making the kind of open field tackles virtually nobody else has made in 2018. It was so good to see him back and to be reminded that Atlanta might actually look competent on defense with him back in the fold in 2019. Might.
  • Grady Jarrett got a sack and two forced fumbles, one of which led to a huge play by Vic Beasley, which we’ll discuss in a minute. Jarrett is still one of the best players on this haphazard defense.
  • Vic Beasley made one of the best plays of the year, scooping up a Lamar Jackson fumble forced by Grady Jarrett and running it back a very long way despite taking contact along the way. Beasley has had a very disappointing season overall, but he’s shown some signs of life of late, and that was the kind of play he can make with his speed and awareness when the opportunity knocks. He still is a long way from showing the Falcons that he’s the kind of pass rusher they want to hand a giant contract to, but it was a very nice play.
  • The defense finally looked like it had a plan against Baltimore, keeping things in front of them, slowing down Lamar Jackson effectively, and capitalizing on a couple of big plays. The difference maker here was probably the return of Deion Jones, but especially early on, the Falcons looked more disciplined. Unfortunately, that didn’t last.

The Ugly

  • We’ll spend some more time with this thought going forward, but I honestly think Steve Sarkisian might be the man who falls on the sword for the performance of this offense. The Falcons have been between unlucky and very bad on offense for a solid month now, not managing to score even 20 points in each of the last four weeks, and against Baltimore they couldn’t seem to find even a semi-successful recipe. Injuries to the offensive line have legitimately hurt, but this team has been borderline inept at times, and with their talent that just can’t happen. Execution has been a huge problem, but Sark’s still the guy the blame is likely to land on based on how awful the O has looked, and if this continues he may be looking for a new gig in 2019.

If the Falcons think they have a real shot at Gary Kubiak for offensive coordinator, perhaps by keeping Greg Knapp, chances are that’s a done deal. I don’t think Sark can do an awful lot about the horrible blocking up front, but it may doom him just the same.

  • The entire offense showed its butt on Sunday, but it was definitely led by Atlanta’s offensive line, which allowed Matt Ryan to get sacked three times and surrendered pressure frequently. The addition of Zane Beadles to the offensive line did nothing positive from what I could see, Wes Schweitzer got destroyed, Ryan Schraeder was up and down and Jake Matthews and Alex Mack had their struggles. The Falcons will have to make changes to this unit in 2019 to avoid these kinds of struggles.

Yet you shouldn’t let anyone off the hook. Matt Ryan threw some lousy balls in this one, the ground game was virtually nonexistent yet again, and Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley had drops and miscues, with Ridley’s aggravating unwillingness to just dive forward for a first down topping the list. With the defense, talent is a question, but it genuinely should not be for the offense.

  • Of course, the defense isn’t off the hook either. They had moments of discipline and genuinely impressive play, but it was sort of buried in an endless, agonizing slog toward the end that saw them repeatedly fail to stop the run. Baltimore’s capable of bullying up front, yes, but again and again the Falcons fell well short. Couple that with a pass rush that allowed Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin ample time plus some coverage adventures by Robert Alford, Sharrod Neasman and Damontae Kazee and you’re not astonished to see the Ravens putting up 26 points and winning this easily. The defense was the better unit, but man, that’s not saying enough.
  • I’m never going to be the guy to question the effort level of professional athletes, or frankly much of anyone. That’s hard to judge. But what isn’t hard to judge is the end result, and no matter how much the Falcons are up against the wall, they continue to wilt. That’s a brutal indictment of a team that has done such an admirable job of holding together against advertsity, and it suggests that either the injuries are too much, the pressure too heavy, or both. Again, regardless of the scenario it does not reflect well on this team.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

No, sir, I won’t do it.

One Takeaway

The Falcons are bad in a way they won’t fix until next year.

Next Week

The also bad Green Bay Packers, who just unceremoniously fired Mike McCarthy. It’s gonna be a brutally bad game.

Final Word