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Falcons - Cardinals recap: Agony abounds in Arizona

The Falcons lose again, this time in a new and novel way.

Atlanta Falcons v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It was all very neat and tidy before this game. The Falcons were facing their easiest remaining opponent, Arthur Blank had made it clear through leaked reports that Dan Quinn had to improve before the bye to stand a chance of making it, and a win here was the only realistic way the Falcons were going to stay in the hunt or keep their head coach around.

Given that, the conclusions are equally neat and tidy. Dan Quinn is going to be fired, and it’s deserved. There’s no ambiguity and rallying in the offing, not with the Falcons playing the worst football of the Dan Quinn era and (aside from maybe 2013, the least talented Falcons team of the last decade) the worst Falcons football since Bobby Petrino was stinkily skulking on the sidelines. We’re in this to see Quinn out, to see what an interim coach can do, and to see what changes are yet to come, though we still don’t know when Arthur Blank is going to drop the inevitable axe.

There are no positive notes, even after the Falcons rallied admirably and the officiating cost the Falcons the game. My expectations going forward were crushingly low, but I didn’t expect the Falcons to get absolutely embarrassed against the Cardinals, not with Blank making it clear that Quinn had three games to try to patch these things up. The Falcons did ultimately rally, a credit to their star-studded offense and a timely stop or two from the defense when it counted, but the defense is mostly a lost cause and absolutely nothing is going Atlanta’s way right now.

But at the end of the day, all this does is accelerate an inevitable outcome, which is organizational changes on a level we haven’t seen since Mike Smith was fired, and possibly beyond that. I appreciate the good times we saw in the Dan Quinn era, but it’s high time Blank made a change with an eye on getting this team out of the morass it has fallen into. The Falcons are employing some true franchise greats at the moment, and it would be a shame if they suffered the same fate as all the greats that came before them.

It you’re still reading, we still will get into the individual and unit performances. Just know that at 1-5, the Falcons are just biding their time until the season ends. So are we.

The Good

  • Kaleb McGary with his first NFL catch, off a batted pass on the first drive of the game. That has to feel good.
  • Matt Ryan has to feel, at this point, like a man cursed by some awesome power outside of his understanding. Ryan had a couple of poor throws, sure, but he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 300 yards, complete over 80% of his passes, and toss four touchdowns against zero interceptions and still lose the game.

Ryan dug the Falcons out of their huge deficit—again, he was complicit in it, but not exactly to blame for it—and got them all but tied up before Matt Bryant missed the extra point. Atlanta has failed Ryan in numerous ways over the years, but besides the Super Bowl, this may have been the most egregious.

  • Devonta Freeman is warming up a bit, and when the blocking is there, he does exactly what he needs to do. On the very first drive of the game, he was brilliant at finding holes and exploiting them, stacking up nice runs and coming away with nearly 30 yards. He finished the day excelling as a receiver and putting in a strong day at the office as a runner, all in a futile effort.
  • Austin Hooper is living his own little tragedy, as he’s enjoying the best season of his NFL career as the Falcons collapse noisily around him. In this one as in all others, he was getting open seemingly at will and making catches in traffic, finishing the day with eight receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown and generally looking like one of the best tight ends in football. It will be easy for Falcons fans and executives to want to sweep out this team after the season, but they absolutely have to keep Hooper around if the Falcons are going to continue to showcase him in the offense.
  • Julio Jones made key catches all day long, again in a losing effort, and is putting together a quietly very good season as the Falcons (again) collapse noisily around him. It’s a theme.
  • Despite an annoying first quarter OPI, Calvin Ridley showed what he’s made of. That touchdown on the first drive involved some strong play calling from Dirk Koetter to get him open, but Ridley did the rest, showing burst and a willingness to power through contact to get to the end zone, which of course he did.
  • Grady Jarrett didn’t have a big game per the box score, but as usual, he looked like the only man out there playing at an elite level. Takk McKinley mixed in a couple of borderline effective pass rushes, Deion Jones had one of his better games of the year, and the young cornerbacks fared well, but it’s tough to give anyone that much credit when things are going so wrong.
  • Kendall Sheffield clearly has talent. As the Falcons are looking to retool this football team, a guy like Sheffield who is fast, clearly gifted, and is actually showing something on a defense that otherwise looks lost is going to be a huge deal. He’s going to be contending for a starting job in 2020, and he ought to be. I hope he gets more run this season.

Points to Isaiah Oliver, who was the victim of a couple of amazing throws and did make a number of tough, important tackles in this one. We’d likely feel better about his performance if the Falcons had won.

  • The Falcons were on their last resort’s last resort’s last resort at punter, but Kasey Redfern fared just fine, with a 43.3 averaged for the day and a nice one inside the 20. Kudos, Kasey.

The Ugly

  • The defense held up on the first drive of the game, but that was merely a mirage or a temporary bout of competence. The Falcons quickly turned back into what they have been all season, allowing two quick touchdowns to Arizona when Kyler Murray threw a beautiful deep ball and the Cardinals picked up huge yardage at will. They let the team get down 17-7 in the second quarter, which has been a sign of doom all year.

And it got worse from there. The fact of the matter is that this defense has some genuine talent, even if we’ve overestimated some of it, and playing so poorly every single week is going to lead to massive changes sooner than later. At this point, that almost seems a mercy, because there are no answers forthcoming from this Falcons team. It’s time to see if a different coach can coax more out of them, or if the changes to come are going to be truly widespread. The failure to get a single quarterback hit on Kyler Murray or hold an up-and-down offense missing playmaker Christian Kirk to under 30 points is just the latest sour note in a season-long dirge.

  • Officiating is already bad in the NFL, but it seems to be getting worse when it comes to challenges. The Falcons made the right call to throw the red flag when Isaiah Oliver tackled and forced the fumble in the second quarter on a brilliant Kyler Murray deep shot, given that the receiver fumbled the ball while on top of Oliver, not while on the ground. Yet when it came time to review that call, with all the angles officials supposedly have, they still got it horribly wrong.

Oh, and it got worse, because the Falcons got nailed with an awful 15 yard penalty on a play where Pharoah Cooper was not contacted by a single Falcon on his return. Those two calls conspired to cost the Falcons deeply, on a day when despite some very incompetent play they probably would’ve won handily otherwise.

What is the point of letting coaches challenge plays if you’re not willing to entertain overturning them? This league, for all its brilliance, is a mess.

  • The Falcons strove to get a new kicker not because Matt Bryant has been anything short of brilliant—he always has been—but because they worried that Bryant would begin to slip with injury and age sneaking up on him. It’s not that they made the wrong call—kicks that Bryant has drilled in 2019 may have been missed by other kickers—but that fear was realized on Sunday against the Cardinals.

With the Falcons looking to tie the game up late in the fourth quarter, Bryant simply missed the extra point. It didn’t look like a bad hold or anything else, just a straight up missed kick by the most reliable man in Atlanta since 2009. It was crushing to watch Bryant process that kick on the sideline—thanks to the TV broadcast, we saw a lot of it—but it’s evident that this just isn’t the Falcons year. When Bryant can’t get the job done, the one man who always has, it’s just not going to happen.

  • This is how it has to end. The Falcons can’t beat any of their upcoming opponents if they’re going to play a one point game against the Cardinals—especially a one point loss—and as ugly as horrible as it is to draw the Dan Quinn era down like this, it’s the only reason things end in the first place. All Quinn’s efforts to stress the fundamentals and togetherness and get this thing right have added up to nothing at all, because the defense continues to struggle mightily and the offense is still not elite enough to pull them out of it. At 1-5, the Falcons have no recourse but to start planning for a different future, and while I certainly hope Quinn lands on his feet elsewhere, they don’t need to wait any longer to make the right move.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

Matt Ryan, who did his damndest to get this team back into this game, though that effort ultimately fell short.

One Takeaway

We’re just waiting to see when the Falcons fire Dan Quinn and begin moving toward a new regime in Atlanta.

Next Week

The high-powered Rams, coming off an ugly loss to the division rival Seahawks and no doubt eager to prove they’re better than that. Oh no.

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Final Word