After Week 2’s exciting victory over the Philadelphia Eagles—a team that the Falcons had struggled to beat over the past several years—confidence levels were high among the fanbase. They seemed high among the team, too: Atlanta’s players were spotted with shirts declaring that they were “BDMTHRFCKR”s. It was all a little silly, but it seemed like pretty harmless fun to me at the time.
Fast forward to Week 3. Dan Quinn gives us all his platitudes about how they’re preparing for the Colts, how they respect their opponent, and so on. When Atlanta took the field in Indianapolis, excitement levels were high. I don’t think many of us expected the Colts to be a pushover—they’re a very competent team, and the thought was they’d be a competitive opponent that Atlanta should have had the advantage over.
We all know what happened next: the Falcons were thoroughly embarrassed in the first half, going down 13-0 before scoring their first points. By halftime, Atlanta had fallen into a 17-point deficit that they’d never be able to climb out of despite a furious rally from the offense. The defense looked utterly unprepared for the Colts offense, and the Falcons offense started off sloppy. Atlanta committed a whopping 16 penalties, which extended drives for their opponent and made a comeback impossible.
I won’t get into all the game planning mistakes on offense and defense—we’ll save those for another article. What I will get into is a disturbing trend on this team, and it goes back years. Whenever the Falcons seem to string together some impressive performances and start to look genuinely good, they follow it up with flat games and lose to teams they shouldn’t. The culprit could be any number of things: the aforementioned poor game planning, in-game mistakes, overall sloppy play. Perhaps one thing could explain all those factors, though: overconfidence, from both the coaching staff and the team.
Let’s take a look at a few notable examples. In 2017, the Falcons got off to a blazing hot 3-0 start coming off the Super Bowl loss. That start got us all very excited and started to convince us that the “Super Bowl hangover” wasn’t going to get to this team. Do you remember what happened next? The Falcons dropped 3 straight games, starting with a Bills loss that probably wasn’t their fault (remember the Ryan “pick six” that was clearly an incomplete pass?). After that game, however, they blew a huge lead to a bad Dolphins team, and then got waxed in their Super Bowl rematch against the Patriots.
3-0 became 3-3, and Atlanta had to dig themselves out in the second half of the season to reach the playoffs. They did—if there’s one consistent positive we can take away from Dan Quinn’s teams, it’s that they seem to finish strong: Atlanta went 7-3 over the remaining 10 games of the 2017 season. But why the midseason slump?
Next was the 2018 season, which was quite different. Atlanta had to go to Philadelphia to open the season—which was always going to be a herculean task—and found themselves in a 0-1 hole. After an impressive victory over the Panthers in Week 2, the Falcons were back at .500 and feeling good. A hard-fought OT loss to the Saints followed in Week 3, and Atlanta was down to 1-2. But that was a good Saints team, and the team played hard. Surely they’d be able to take care of business against the hapless Bengals?
They didn’t. Atlanta then got waxed by the Steelers, and found themselves in a 1-4 hole. Hope was basically extinguished. But then the Falcons managed to rattle off three-straight wins to pull them back to 4-4, and we all felt that there might have been a chance for another late-season rally for this team. Confidence returned to the fanbase for the first time since Week 2. You probably remember what happened next: five straight losses. Quinn salvaged his record with a three-game win streak to close out the season (which cost us a nice draft pick, mind you), or he probably would’ve been fired.
In 2019, we’re off to the same start as 2018. 1-2 after three games. There’s been some good, and some bad. But overall, Week 3’s loss to the Colts has the familiar feel of a game lost due to overconfidence.
Why is this team printing up t-shirts to celebrate a win that gets you to .500? Why are the Falcons “feeling themselves” when their previous performance was an embarrassing Week 1 loss? It’s fine to celebrate, and you should: football should be fun. But when that fun gets in the way of your preparation and begins to affect your on-field performance, that’s a serious problem.
It’s been widely said that “teams take on the personality of their head coach”, and I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. The Falcons are fun, bombastic, and full of platitudes about “brotherhood” and “fast and physical” play. But they’re so wrapped up in that image, and apparently so confident in their abilities, that the preparation and discipline don’t seem to be adequate—particularly against AFC opponents.
All-in-all, the Falcons need to find a way to strike a balance on these issues. As I said, I think football should be fun. At the end of the day, this is a game—and when the players are enjoying themselves, they should play better. But there’s a lot of work involved before the fun starts—film sessions for the players, game planning for the coaches—that cannot be ignored or brushed off. It seems like the Falcons think a little too highly of themselves after they’ve played well, and it’s getting in the way of their sustained success.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons possible overconfidence issue? Do you point the finger at the coaches, players, or both? Or do you think it’s something else causing the teams struggles coming off big wins?