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Falcons - Rams recap: Turns the light off

The Falcons are cooked, and there’s hardly a squeak out of the team we thought we’d see this year.

Los Angeles Rams v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Falcons have some of their highest highs over the past decade, what with the addition of some franchise greats, the thrilling but ill-fated Super Bowl berth, and the back-to-back winning seasons and multiple playoff berths that were utterly foreign to this team before Mike Smith came aboard. Someday, with a little distance and a lot less white hot anger, we’ll probably be able to appreciate at least some of that.

In the here and now, though, everyone’s ready to blow this thing up with dynamite, and you cannot possibly blame them. The Falcons have taken a team that was Super Bowl-bound in 2016 and playoff-bound in 2017 and turned it into a laughingstock. Literally, because the Rams were cracking up on the field at just how sorry Atlanta was, and when you see that you know it’s beyond help. There’s little question that after the Falcons at least scuffled to 7-9 last year despite a raft of injuries that the sweeping coaching changes this offseason have turned this team into a disaster.

Against the Rams, it was an utter embarrassment. The offense was horrible and got Matt Ryan injured to the point where he was limping and needed to leave the game, the first time we’ve seen that in a long while. Ryan was off when he was in the game, throwing some balls a tick too far and killing drives, while Devonta Freeman got ejected and the offensive line was sorry. The defense was better in the early going but collapsed down the stretch, opening up a chasm the Falcons’ offense couldn’t begin to repair. Even special teams got in on the fun this week, with Matt Bryant whiffing on another field goal, the team blowing it in coverage, and a very late fumble giving the Rams a final, meaningless touchdown to make the end score even more embarrassing.

I just keep expecting this team to fight back, because they so often have done so, even when (as was the case in the 2018 season) it’s not necessarily in their best interest to do so. But this poorly-coached, error-ridden football team has nothing left to give, and if Matt Ryan is on the shelf for just the second time in his NFL career, things actually might even get worse. It’s beyond time for the Falcons to make a big change because Dan Quinn, as he has said himself, believes in continuing to grind, and he’ll keep putting out what he feels is the best personnel and scheme out there on the field week after week. That isn’t working, and the little tiptoes toward next year (like letting interesting young safety Jamal Carter get roasted out there) aren’t enough.

I’ll always appreciate the good things Dan Quinn has done—things like give Ricardo Allen the chance he needed to succeed and adding genuine talents like Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones to this roster—but I’ll appreciate them a lot more when we’re free and clear of this season. Three years ago it felt like Dan Quinn might never have to buy a thing in the city of Atlanta, but now it seems about the only thing anyone’s willing to buy for him is a plane ticket to parts unknown. It sucks a lot that it’s ending this way, but that ending is overdue for a team that has rarely looked more lost and confused.

Bring on 2020, please. Here’s our quick recap.

The Good

  • The defense, for the first time since the Eagles game, clamped down early. Thanks to a Greg Zuerlein miss on the first Rams drive, the Falcons held Los Angeles to just three points on their first drives, and that was with some stellar tackling by Isaiah Oliver and a critical pass breakup by Ricardo Allen in the mix. That nice start lulled us into a false sense of security, which ended up being welcome as the game wore on.
  • Devonta Freeman’s fumble was ugly, but at least he had enough fire to throw a punch later on.
  • For all the hype the Julio Jones-Jalen Ramsey matchup got, and for how much Ramsey jawed every time he made a play, Julio bested him again and again and again. Julio had already had a nice game by halftime and nearly got a fingertip catch on a slightly overthrown Matt Ryan ball to end the half. He’s so good that any one cornerback can’t reasonably be expected to keep him in check.
  • The Falcons are probably going to make big changes, and they may even get to the point where we get a lot more Jamal Carter, Deadrin Senat, Matt Gono, and Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill. The team may not be much better, but giving their young guys a chance might matter in 2020.

The Ugly

  • Ito Smith came back surprisingly quickly from a concussion earlier this year, and now it looks like he’s suffered another one, which is really scary and worrisome. He exited the game on the cart after getting absolutely run over by Corey Littleton and should be out multiple weeks by now, especially after the team got him back so quickly the first time. With the Falcons having stacked up backs on their roster this year, there’s absolutely no good reason to rush Ito back, and I worry a lot about two concussions in such a short span.
  • The call on Foye Oluokun was probably more of a problem with the rulebook than the officiating, because technically the “landing your full weight on the passer” rule is roughing the passer. The problem is that Oluokun did everything he was supposed to do except risk injury to himself by doing something weird in midair and not landing on Jared Goff, from the moment he hit him (as the ball was being released) to the angle and firmness of tackle. It was a textbook hit in so many ways and still got penalized, keying a Rams scoring drive. I have been less happy than usual with the calls and the way plays are called this year, and that’s saying something.
  • The Falcons getting beat by a fake punt that was barely even faked is a good summary of the season. For this team to not be aware that Johnny Hekker might throw—especially when the Rams shifted the formation!—is coaching malpractice that is astonishing to behold.
  • Speaking of coaching, Dirk Koetter coaxed two consecutive solid performances out of this offense, but couldn’t do anything right against Los Angeles. Too often, the Falcons ran when they shouldn’t have, couldn’t get guys open when they should have, or couldn’t protect Matt Ryan when they needed to. His stay in Atlanta will be a short one, and it should be after he put up 10 points on this not particularly great defense.
  • There are just so few excuses left for Dan Quinn and company when their team keeps getting beat by plays the opposing team is telegraphing, and if the losses keep stacking up, they’re going to force even the famously reluctant Arthur Blank to make a change. On that note...
  • Under Dan Quinn in the past, the Falcons at least had a habit of rallying from adversity and turning in stronger efforts. That started to erode a year ago, but it is utterly gone this year. When Arthur Blank decided to bring back Quinn and fans like me were okay with that, it was under the assumption that an offseason, better health, and even slightly enhanced talent would combine with this team’s habit of fighting like hell from 2015-2017 and turn into at least a solid season.

Instead, the Falcons have given up, if not in terms of actual effort then certainly spiritually. Past a certain point, they looked utterly defeated on the field, with Jared Goff juking Deion Jones of all people, the offense picking up -1 yards on a drive down 27-3, and even special teams screwing up multiple times. This team is lost and confused and terrible, and the Falcons are at the point where they need to make a change just for the sake of making a change. Anything would be better than wallowing in this failure any longer.

The Wrapup

Game MVP

The fan for enduring this, naturally.

One Takeaway

Arthur Blank said he thought we’d see some changes before the game, and while we did get more Russell Gage, Jamal Carter and Foye Oluokun, we also got a lot more lousy football.

Next Week

The Falcons host the Seahawks, fresh off a humiliating loss against an ascendent Ravens team. I’m sure that will go well for Atlanta! Check out Field Gulls for more.

Final Word