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Falcons vs. Titans: 5 things we learned

Well, there were takeaways for certain.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Trying to learn things about the Atlanta Falcons right now is akin to learning about what your report card grades are after you know you slacked off all semester.

You’re going to learn things, alright, and it won’t be pretty.

The team sinks to 1-3 after a poor effort against a Titans team with a middling offense, and now looks to be one of those “coach on the hot seat” teams that angles for a high draft pick by the end of the year.

Perhaps they’ll get things turned around, and we all know they have the talent to do so. But right now, the gutter is home, and we only have so many positives to take away from this declining team.

1. Austin Hooper is 2019’s early MVP

One of the few bright spots for the 2019 Falcons right now is the play of tight end Austin Hooper.

He has 307 yards so far this season and two touchdowns, 130 of those coming against a quite good Tennessee defense. He’s quickly becoming one of the surest bets on this offense, and a favorite of Dirk Koetter.

We can talk about how flawed a plan it is for Koetter to not be using his other excellent players as much, but he gets credit for Hooper’s emergence as one of the better TEs in the game.

Perhaps bringing in Mike Mularkey, a respected coach at the TE position, is paying off in helping Hooper achieve his potential.

This offense is, by and large, a disaster right now, but Hooper gets credit for playing his best football yet.

2. The Falcons’ slow starts are losing them ball games

This thought from Falcoholic friend Aaron Freeman makes you really take a pause as to what’s truly ailing this team.

It’s a horrid statistic, but one that shows a team that’s not ready to go head-to-head with opposing coaching staffs to start the game and is far too reliant on halftime adjustments to save the day.

It’s showing that Dan Quinn’s offseason plan to fix things isn’t working at all, that Koetter has shown he’s not the right play caller in an rapidly changing NFL, and that Quinn’s dual-duties as a head coach and defensive schemer are, right now, holding the team back in weekly preparations and in the game itself.

It’s not at all what you want to learn, but it’s becoming more and more true each week the team continues its horrible start.

3. Duke Riley is another third-round whiff for the Falcons

One of the few talent misses on defense for the Quinn-led Falcons has wound up being Riley, who was traded Monday for safety Jonathan Cyprien.

He never really found his footing in Atlanta, despite being the type of player the team typically covets. Linebackers from LSU are often quite good, but Riley’s lack of instincts and less-than-sure tackling never complimented his blazing speed.

He’ll get a fresh start in Philadelphia with the Eagles, where perhaps he’ll be able to tap more into his potential.

For Atlanta, though, things didn’t work out, and his draft status winds up being traded for a more stable force at strong safety in Cyprien.

4. Special teams aren’t getting it done

The Falcons are at a loss right now with special teams, in phases you wouldn’t normally expect.

While the kickoff and punt return games are just fine, if not anything special, kicker Matt Bryant and punter Matt Bosher are having rough 2019s for various reasons.

Bryant has missed two short-range field goals this year for his attempted five, uncharacteristic of a player who has been nearly automatic from within the 40-yard hash.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea in retrospect for the team to cut him and keep him out of their facilities for an offseason before balking at what they had and bringing him back.

Perhaps Father Time is just taking its toll on Bryant as he finishes his career. They’re both understandable symptoms, and both out of Bryant’s control.

Bosher didn’t look fully healthy Sunday, a typically sound punter who is not at all playing up to his level as he recovers from a groin injury — a notoriously difficult injury to bounce back from.

You have to wonder if the team put him back into action too quickly, and if he’ll continue to struggle against Houston Sunday.

Regardless of the situations, special teams aren’t as much of a strength in this phase of the game as they normally are.

5. The team’s playoff chances are slim

Barring a major turnaround (the type of turnaround that would save Quinn’s job), the Falcons just don’t look like they’re going to make the playoffs this year.

They’ve just not made this type of turnaround in the Matt Ryan/Thomas Dimitroff era, with last season’s 1-3 start obviously cascading into 1-4 and an ultimate 7-9 record.

The team sometimes responds well in these lost seasons in December under Quinn, but obviously, that won’t be good enough this time around. They’ll have to respond as soon as this week if they want to keep things as they are.

The Titans game was such an embarrassment that it just changes the conversation from where it was after the Colts loss.

Falling to Indy close on the road, you can see a team that just need to figure things out.

Falling to Tennessee in a home game? You’re not in good shape.

The playoffs feel like a dream right now, which could be a harbinger of major changes.