The Falcons are at the stage in the season when they are just banged up and wobbly enough that pity takes over as the dominant emotion. With Matt Schaub throwing for 400 yards and the Falcons keeping it within seven after going down big at the half, maybe it’s natural to try to find the good in the effort being put forth by this team, especially in a year where it would be all too easy to give up.
Yet I can’t take the bitterness out of the equation. During the game yesterday, I found myself again lamenting what this team might have been, even though I promised myself less engagement with what was unfolding on the field. The second half comeback that pulled the Falcons within seven was certainly fun to watch, but it did not for a moment convince me that they were actually going to win the game. Watching Matt Schaub play one of the more impressive games of his life, minus the occasional bad throw, did not make think a turnaround was right around the corner. Instead, all I could think about from the first quarter on was how this team should never have been this bad, and even with Schaub in and the defense banged up, how dispiriting it was to see them fall behind in the same swift, overwhelming way they have all season.
That’s the story of the year, really. I don’t doubt the effort going into these games, but all that effort has led to the same results over and over again, with this team losing repeatedly thanks to just-short offensive efforts and the same unbelievable coverage lapses every week. They’re 1-7 and headed for a top five pick, in all likelihood, and there’s no longer any hope of a rally to keep you invested in this team’s stumbling. When you really come to terms with the fact that this team is awful, likely changing their entire coaching and perhaps front office staff, and heading for a top ten pick, the brief moments of brilliance are all that’s left to root for. Rooting for something is still important, given that we still have eight games left.
Making peace with that has been a slow, arduous process here, but with Arthur Blank seemingly reluctant to make the kind of mid-season change that at least creates some short-term intrigue, it’s beyond time that we all embrace this ugly, losing Falcons team with both arms. It’s all we’re going to get, after all, until a 2020 season I hope and pray is better than this.
Individual performances follow.
- Great start in this one from Isaiah Oliver, who saved a touchdown with tight coverage and a near-interception, then followed that with tight sideline coverage on a nice Russell Wilson throw that thankfully David Moore couldn’t haul in while staying in bounds. He worked Moore over again later in the first quarter, and he’s starting to show the kinds of improvement that make me encouraged for the future. The rest of the season should serve as a nice audition for him and his fellow young starters in the secondary, who should be major parts of the squad next year.
- I have to eat a bit of crow regarding Matt Schaub. His long layoff and so-so at best preseason games in Atlanta before this season had me convinced he was a cooked clipboard holder, but he showed he can still navigate a pocket and deliver a sharp ball against the Seahawks. He’s hardly Matt Ryan, but a couple of balls that almost got Calvin Ridley killed and that pick aside, he did well. If the Falcons have to lean on him again, he won’t embarrass them, and unbelievably he set the franchise record for completions on Sunday.
Given how far gone this season is, if the Falcons want to slow play Matt Ryan’s return to ensure he’s perfectly healthy, Schaub will probably put up some video game numbers like he did in this one, with 39 completions, 460 yards...and a touchdown. God, what a Falcons performance that is.
- The pass protection on Sunday helped make that possible, with the team finally giving a quarterback more than enough time in the pocket to rifle some passes all around the field. Aside from a dumb penalty on Wes Schweitzer, the loss of James Carpenter didn’t seem to hurt Atlanta all that much. That’s not to argue the protection was exactly stellar—and the run blocking continued to be merely so-so—but given that Schweitzer was in and the line has been unsettled all year, at least it was solid.
- Give Brian Hill credit, because at every turn he has run the ball as well as he possibly can. Devonta Freeman may or may not be a cap casualty this offseason, but Hill has done everything asked of him at a high level, and he should be part of this team’s running back group in 2020. His three carries in this one went for 29 yards and a touchdown, keyed by a 23 yard scoring gallop that looked better than just about anything else a Falcons running back has put on film this year, blocking notwithstanding.
- Julio Jones will do good work regardless of the quarterback, and against an overmatched secondary he was the option whenever Matt Schaub looked his way. In a way, Atlanta’s incompetence this season has overshadowed just how good he is, because he has repeatedly found opportunities to beat secondaries when he’s afforded them.
- Props to the receiving corps in general. Austin Hooper, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage combined for 21 of Schaub’s 39 receptions, 186 of his 460 yards, and his sole passing touchdown, and all three looked good doing it. There are plenty of reasons to believe in this team beyond 2019, as hard as that is to do right now, and those three are as good as any other reason.
- Grady Jarrett fought all game against the overwhelming odds he was facing, and he ultimately got a sack to end the Falcons’ streak of sackless games at four. No Falcon defender has put more obvious effort or gotten better results than Jarrett, so it was good to see him finally rewarded for crawling away from two 300 pound men desperately clinging to his waist on every play by getting that sack.
- Tyeler Davison added another one later in the game, and given his excellence against the run this year, that also stands out as a richly deserved sort of play. If there’s any justice, the Falcons will snap Davison back up for 2020 on a decent little contract, because he clearly adds value on early downs.
- Kendall Sheffield looks like he’ll be a damn fine cornerback sooner than later, as his coverage in this one was mostly quite good, even if he ultimately got beat by quality Russell Wilson throws and Tyler Lockett catches.
Guys like Sheffield are ones to hang your hat on as things roll along here, given that the Falcons need surprise starters and panning out draft picks to make this thing work over the short-term and the long haul.
- Dirk Koetter’s lack of imagination with his ground game continues to infuriate me, even if he called a pretty solid game overall. His habit of telegraphing runs on first and second down has hurt this team all year hasn’t done this team any favors, and I’ll be glad when the Falcons move on to a new offensive mind in the offseason. The Falcons are curiously allergic to scoring despite the reams and reams of yards they put up.
- The defense continues to just be nightmarish despite some strong individual performances. They are fooled by the same plays over and over again, with Russell Wilson finding the same kind of success on delayed rollouts and short passes as everyone who has come before him, and they once again surrendered a wide open touchdown despite weeks of working on solving their communication issues in the secondary. It’s one thing to fail, as most every defense in the NFL does on a weekly basis. It’s another thing to fail spectacularly and in the same fashion over and over again, to the point where you start looking at players you genuinely believed were talented and wondering if they were ever that good to begin with. That’s a kind of brain poison.
- One of the few things I was legitimately uncomfortable over heading into the season was the way the Falcons handled the kicking situation. The decision to roll with Giorgio Tavecchio with no backup plan, followed by the decision to sign Blair Walsh for seemingly no reason, was one the Falcons had to stick with once they made it. The last second reversal to return to Matt Bryant, who commanded even more money than he would’ve on his existing deal, seemed like a panic move that came from higher up in the org chart, and that didn’t sit well with me.
Of course, it would’ve been defensible if Bryant was his usual lights out self, but he hasn’t been. Bryant is now just 33% on the year from 50+ yards and is on pace to have easily the worst season of his long and illustrious career, and while that’s hardly the most fatal issue in this doomed Falcons season, it has cost Atlanta at least one real shot at a win (Arizona). The Falcons appear to have moved on at the right moment, but by letting Bryant cool his heels all offseason and returning to him just before the season began, they’ve ensured that we’ll always know they made the wrong move whether you supported the signing or not. I resent that I have to think anything negative about Bryant, the most reliable kicker this franchise has ever known, in such a lousy season.
- Dan Quinn’s time in Atlanta is just about over, whether it happens during the bye or at the end of the season. The theme of this year has been that Quinn has shouldered enormous responsibility for the fate of this team and this team has absolutely stunk, and no matter how often players stick up for a coach they obviously love, he’s the man who will take the blame for the way this season has gone. And really, with the communication in the secondary looking as dismal as it did in Week 1 and the defense generally falling well short of expectations, it’s only right he shoulder that blame.
At this point, his lapses in judgement during the game have gone from a legitimate concern that can be overcome by talent to just another crippling facet of the Dan Quinn experience. The team’s decision not to go for it on 4th and 1 in the early going and instead turn to Bryant went disastrously wrong, and it pointed to a larger discomfort with risk that no coach of a 1-6 team widely expected to get clobbered should be indulging.
I don’t doubt that Quinn will snag a job in college if he wants one, but if he wants to return to the NFL ranks things just have to improve for Atlanta’s defense before he exits. Holding the Seahawks to 27 might count as a small victory, but given that Schaub picked up a grandfather clock and gnawed it at like a raw steak, it’s a small victory.
Schaub for slinging it, slinging it some more, and never considering doing anything less than slinging it.
The Falcons are officially doomed. There are going to be offseason changes, perhaps massive ones, and the only question is how much of a running head start Atlanta’s going to get on those.
The bye! No football for one week, but no doubt plenty of interesting storylines with Dan Quinn’s job status still unclear, the trade deadline looming, and more.