The Atlanta Falcons didn’t quit Sunday.
Somehow, it was worse. They just didn’t look like they cared if they lost. Or, somehow even worse, they couldn’t care if they tried.
As much as this columnist is excited about the future of this franchise (a good team having a bad season in the NFL is its own sort of reward), the present doesn’t warrant that.
This version of the Falcons has given up on the 2018 season. Dallas was the end of it, and the last time we’ve seen this team come anywhere near close to playing every down.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure noted that Dan Quinn said in the press conference that he thought the energy wasn’t always quite where it needed to be. If you know anything about Quinn’s brand of football, that’s the cardinal sin.
If you’re not fast and physical, you’re basically nonexistent in this era of Falcons football.
So perhaps that’s what this moment in the team’s history is right now: nonexistent.
The End of the Road
It’s admittedly hard for guys to go out there and throw their bodies on the line for kicks and giggles when a season is over. Yes, there’s the consumer relationship to consider. The ticket-holders who effectively paid good money to watch paint dry Sunday, which isn’t ideal. But look past even that. The Falcons are playing for nothing right now but pride. And pride might not be the strongest of motivators for a team with its unique history.
One wonders just how burnt out this Falcons team is after so much unique, dispiriting disappointment in recent seasons.
You have a 2015 year where you start 5-0 and basically fall of the edge of the league. You have a historic year in 2016, get up to a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl and suffer the worst collapse in sports history. You come a play away from advancing to the NFC Championship the year later and see that opponent go on to win the big game against the team you couldn’t top the year prior.
In 2018, all the promise of what you could’ve been starts to wash away in the Philadelphia rain with key injuries, and the downpour only gets worse from there.
It’s their job to go out every week and compete, but there’s a point where the fallen snow falls through the roof. We might’ve hit that point in the Thanksgiving fiasco in New Orleans with the Dan Quinn era of Falcons football. There might’ve only been so much adversity this team could’ve faced, only so many little mistakes here and there expound grander things beyond their control and anyone’s expectations.
The Atlanta Falcons might need a bit of a jolt in the 2019 offseason to spark back the rushing waters we all know this team can cascade down.
The DQ Falcons can be Niagra Falls if things fall the right way. Right now, they’re a broken water fountain in a rundown workhouse, a quiet hosepipe on a balmy Tuesday afternoon.
The Difficult Realities
In total fairness to this team, they don’t necessarily look like quitters. The sobering reality may be that the players and coaches are trying their best right now to win, and are just coming up woefully short of the goal on repeat. Maybe they’re just exhausted.
That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence going ahead to the end of the season, even if there are about to be a lot of good things come this team’s way to compound the good that’s already there.
It’s okay to have any myriad feelings about this team for not giving its all on every play. They’re, emphatically, not. But 2018 feels like the end to the 2015 promise this team showed. It feels like Phase One of Operation: Brotherhood is over.
This team doesn’t look like it’s trying to lose. It just looks like it’s given all that it has to give, and that the well at Flowery Branch is now dry. We might be at a bit of a conclusion here.
That doesn’t mean you set either the roster or coaching staff ablaze; that would be foolish, and Arthur Blank’s patience with his team has come through for him on more than one occasion, sans an actual Lombardi Trophy.
They’ll probably refresh the trenches and tweak the coaching staff a bit, but don’t expect any big heads to roll. The Quinn-Sarkisian-Manuel trio will no doubt live to see another day, as it should.
Though, the future is inevitably bright, and Phase Two might be where things finally click.
The Journey Ahead
What this team needs is rest, perspective and luck. They’ve been through a lot over the last few years, and we all know Quinn can get them through the hard times. They could use a good offseason just to smash the reset button and focus on getting healthy.
You can’t control the latter once the ball kicks off, but you can control how you approach coming back. That never seems to be the Falcons’ problem. They always respond to adversity the best they can. They just can’t ever seem to escape it.
They need perspective to amend what doesn’t work about the roster that health won’t solve and what needs to be left alone. But every football team has problems to fix in the offseason.
They’re no different. The things they couldn’t avoid highlighted the things that they have been able to get by with in the past. Maybe that leaves little room to finally solve those mistakes, like turgid trench play at spots and questionable situational coaching. Maybe that’ll mean something once the roster heals up.
They’ll also just need the ball to bounce their way a few times over, which is just up to happenstance. Maybe give that wooden dresser a few extra taps for good luck before you go to bed tonight, or avoid walking under any ladders on the way to lunch.
For now, the Falcons look roasted. They look like a team that’s just had too much to deal with, and one that could only fight for so many rounds before tapping out.
They might need to throw in the towel and get ready for the next match. There’s no shame in that, but it might also call for an adjustment of the general game plan and give them reason to give some of the younger players more run.
We won’t point fingers or get too angry here. We’ll just scoot over on the bench and offer what looks to be a weary team a spot to sit down and catch its breath.