Of course we knew the Falcons could lose this game to the Buccaneers—we all saw the first eight games—but they appeared to have sorted out some of the issues that plagued them in the first half of the seasons in convincing wins against the Saints and Panthers.
Instead, we got the same old Falcons, doing the same old Falcons stuff.
Atlanta has had a nasty habit in recent years of getting a little success and then falling flat, and they repeated that familiar pattern here. After a pretty quick start against Tampa Bay—two interceptions of Jameis Winston and a couple of productive early drives should’ve led to a commanding lead, after all—they completely fell apart. They couldn’t get Winston down, they couldn’t force any further turnovers, and they were absolutely pathetic on offense. It was a flat effort for a team that was 3-7 and is still fighting to keep things as they are, roster-and-coaching-staff-wise, so putting up just two touchdowns against one of the worst pas defenses in the NFL is utterly inexcusable.
This should put the final nail in the coffin for this current regime, frankly. Dan Quinn can’t keep the energy up, Dirk Koetter has proven to be an awful hire, and the defensive coaching changes were a positive but apparently not enough to get this Falcons defense performing at a high level for more than a couple of weeks. We’ll always have that magical stretch against the Saints and Panthers—and it was super fun—but if Arthur Blank was harboring romantic hopes of keeping things as they are, he’s got to be rid of them. This Falcons team has plenty of talent, but the roster needs some tweaking and the front office and coaching staff needs to be turned over to try to bring in some fresh ideas. Sticking with the status quo could lead to another year like 2019 in 2020, and that is absolutely the last thing any of us want.
For now, though, we won’t have much time to stew on this loss. The Saints are coming on Thanksgiving night.
- Qadree Ollison and Calvin Ridley were about the only two Falcons who deserved praise on offense today, unless you want to give Julio Jones props for playing through pain. Ollison had some impressive runs, including his touchdown leap, and Ridley overcame a so-so effort on a downfield pass from Matt Ryan to put up another quality day. Unfortunately, the rest of the Falcons offense went from solid (hi, Russell Gage) to awful (hi, Jake Matthews!)
- Desmond Trufant continues an impressive season, and he’s been on fire since returning from injury. On the game’s second play. Tru jumped in front of Jameis Winston’s on-target throw to pick it off and end the drive. That’s a career high for him, and he had another solid day as the Falcons were otherwise incapable of holding Winston and the passing game in check.
- Speaking of interceptions, how about De’Vondre Campbell? He’s taken two difficult interception opportunities in the last week and turned them into picks due to heads up play and sheer effort. This is more like the Campbell we’ve seen in the past, a physical player capable of making big plays, and his return is welcome. It would be nice if the rest of the defense was performing
- Ryan Allen seems to be getting more comfortable. He was able to pin the Buccaneers inside the 5 and inside the 10 on his first two punts, even if the first one wound up turning into a Buccaneers touchdown. Woo, special teams.
- I can’t figure out Dirk Koetter. On the team’s opening drive, the Falcons rolled down the field easily, but then had to throw out of the back of the end zone twice as Ryan felt pressure and didn’t have an open man on the first two downs. In response, Koetter called a third down play in the red zone with just three receivers on the field, which the Falcons didn’t convert despite Russell Gage seemingly streaking open toward the end of the play.
The Falcons need to use more of their receiving options to put stress on defenses, given that Koetter’s route combinations are not getting the job done. I wish he’d wise up to that, given that the Falcons just keep not capitalizing on their chances. They cannot be a team that scores 10 points in the first half if they want to win games, because the defense is obviously not capable of sustaining historic runs, as you’d expect. There’s no way they can bring Koetter back at this point, which is some small comfort.
- The pass protection was brutal. Ryan was under pressure or getting sacked all day long, limiting the offense’s ability to let things unfold and make big plays. On a day where Dirk Koetter was still content to roll out plenty of unproductive runs and struggled to do creative things when the Falcons had the opportunity to pass, that was a virtual death sentence. Given the resources the Falcons put into this line, this is deeply disappointing.
- Jake Matthews needs to be singled out. He was hit with three penalties on Sunday, and that plus a poor job blocking were enough to make me think he should be the goat for this game. Matthews is typically underrated, but he had an absolutely awful game and deserves all the criticism he’s going to get for that effort.
- Not a great day for the passing game in general. I gave Calvin Ridley props for the effort on his third down attempt on a deep ball down the field, but repeated replays showed that he could’ve jumped higher and fought harder for the ball against Carlton Davis on the latter’s interception. Ridley was still one of the more productive players in the passing game on a day where Julio Jones disappointed and got hurt, Russell Gage was strong but often overlooked, and Ryan was off on a number of throws. This offense bears little resemblance, on a week-to-week basis, even to the 2018 Falcons. Considering the personnel has not drastically changed, you have to hang that on injuries and Dirk Koetter.
- The defense did not come to play with the same intensity, despite the turnovers. Chris Godwin picked up two massive catches in the first half and the pass rush couldn’t get home throughout, enabling the Bucs to have some real success through the air. The coverage was poor throughout the day, with Vita Vea embarrassingly scoring a touchdown, Chris Godwin destroying the defense, and some of the familiar confusions in coverage rearing their ugly heads as Atlanta went down by a huge amount in the third quarter.
When you let Vita Vea score an uncovered touchdown, you deserve heavy criticism.
- Ultimately, it just didn’t feel like this team cared that much about the win. That’s a hellaciously unfair thing to say about an NFL football team, given that they pour everything into trying to get the victory, but I don’t know how else to read the consistent lack of aggression all day long. The Falcons settled for field goals when they needed to try for touchdowns, and even more damning, they punted down 12 deep in their own territory late in the game. The urgency that drove the last two weeks was missing, and we’ll have to hope they can at least recover that for the next game so they can beat the Saints.
The Falcons have shown us they are capable of great things, but they have now repeatedly affirmed they are not capable of great things on a consistent basis.
Just a few short days until the Falcons have to face the Saints again, this time at home. Atlanta’s coming off an awful game, but the Saints barely beat the Panthers and both teams are probably pretty wiped out. I’m just hoping the Falcons can find one more win this season against their most hated rival.