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The Falcons’ 2019 season is a failure despite post-bye surge

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The Atlanta Falcons fell well short of their goals.

NFL: Preseason-Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve never been one to succumb to the pessimistic point of view; rather, I enjoy looking at things optimistically when it comes to this football team. Before the season, I actually predicted an 11-win campaign and an NFC South title for the Falcons. In fact, every writer who contributed to the roundtable predicted a record above .500.

Looking back, it feels ridiculous to read through that article. There’s a reason why there was such a prevalent sense of optimism, however — this team had the talent to strive toward those expectations.

The injury excuse was played throughout all of 2018. “The defense is healthier now,” we said. “Steve Sarkisian is no longer there to hold the offense back,” we said. 2019 was playoffs or bust. Head coach Dan Quinn had used up his 2016 goodwill and sacrificed his coordinators to get one more chance this year. What has his team done with that chance?

Not only will the Falcons once again finish below .500, but this season looks like a carbon copy of 2018 — they buried themselves in an insurmountable hole early and then caught fire at the end of the season when there was nothing left to play for but pride.

On offense, the run game was nonexistent for most of the year. The offensive line, which had so many resources poured into it over the offseason ($39 million spent on two free agent signings and two first-round draft selections), capitulated around Matt Ryan time and time again.

The defense was an absolute joke before the bye week, giving up just a touch under 30 points per game. By the time that unit figured things out, it was too late.

If you squint you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between 2018 and 2019, other than the fact that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones had another year of their primes, in what was supposed to be the middle of Atlanta’s championship window, wasted.

Recently it was announced that Falcons will retain head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff going into the 2020 season. This just feels irresponsible — going into next year with the same cast of characters who should be held accountable for wasting another year of what should have been contention.

If the Falcons win on Sunday, they will have closed out the season on a four-game winning streak — but that shouldn’t make up for the 1-7 start before the bye week and 7-9 mark for the second straight year.

Coming into the season, I’m sure most of the fan base would have agreed that Quinn should not be retained as this team’s head coach if they missed the playoffs again. Most would have also agreed that a 7-9 (or 6-10) record would be a failure.

If these were the parameters set coming into the campaign, then I don’t understand how Quinn and Dimitroff can be retained.

Do the players like him? Sure. Is he a good guy? From all accounts it seems like it. The players also liked Mike Smith, who was thought of as one of the nicest men around. Arthur Blank still moved on from him, however, because this is a results-oriented business. Mike Smith wasn’t getting the results in 2014, and neither is Dan Quinn now.

With how much talent they possess, the Falcons offense is a Ferrari. Dirk Koetter drove it like a Honda Civic this year. Going into Week 17, Atlanta has the 13th-ranked scoring offense. They will finish the season having scored fewer points than they did last year under Sarkisian, who was subsequently fired for poor performance.

Koetter needs to be somewhere else next season, however Quinn also bears his own responsibility for Koetter’s failure. We praised him for bringing in and sticking by Kyle Shanahan — it’s only fair to criticize him after his subsequent offensive coordinator hires (Sarkisian and Koetter) failed to meet expectations.

The other difference between this year and last is that the Falcons will go into the 2020 season so strapped for cash that they will have to make a number of cuts just to afford their draft class. No significant reinforcements are coming through free agency; the piper is coming to collect his due, and the ramifications are soon to be felt.

The Atlanta Falcons were at their peak in 2016, and they have gotten progressively worse every year since then. Quinn and Dimitroff have this team on a downward trajectory (a 23-24 record since 2016). What’s left of the Matt Ryan era feels like it’s being wasted in front of our eyes.