It’s tempting to think that people learn from the mistakes of the past, but the truth is that many of us never do. So it is apparently going for the Atlanta Falcons, who are 1-3 and stumbling badly at the exact moment when the division appeared to be opening up and a win against the scuffling Titans would have put them right back into it.
The year the Falcons didn’t learn from, evidently, was 2014. We all remember the team’s “toughness crusade,” as D. Orlando Ledbetter at the AJC memorably put it, and the funneling of money into the lines in a desperate attempt to get a disappointing football team back on track. One of the reasons it was so easy for me to believe it would not happen again in 2019 is how recently it happened, but the lessons of history are often lost on Falcons bloggers, or something. This team is repeating the past.
The difference this time is that things are arguably even more grim. At 1-3, the Falcons are off to a worse start than they were in 2014 (2-2) and have more injuries than that squad has, as they’ve lost Chris Lindstrom and Keanu Neal for a long time to come and are once again starting Wes Schweitzer at right guard, at least for the short term. With matchups against strong offenses like the Texans looming, there is no immediate short-term relief, and the Falcons could be primed to repeat the doom of 2014, when the team was 2-6 heading into the bye week and elected to keep trying, coming into the final week of the season with a shot at the playoffs that they blew up with an awful loss to Carolina in the final week of the season.
The question, at the moment, is whether the Falcons will choose to repeat that mistake. I want so desperately to be hopeful about this football team, given the number of talented players on both sides of the ball, but you have to squint pretty hard to see them digging their way out of this hole considering other teams are still winning football games with significant injuries and better opponents. Arthur Blank has, since 2014, seen his prized soccer team win a lot and has seen the changes he pushed the Falcons to make rewarded with more losses, so I don’t think it’s necessarily a given that Dan Quinn coaches out the string this year.
And he shouldn’t. I am generally a fan of continuity, especially when that continuity gives the Falcons a lot of quality football players, but they’re not playing well on offense (where they managed a terrible 10 points against the Titans), defense (where they got blow off the field early), or special teams (where Matt Bosher had short punts and Matt Bryant missed a chip shot). If the Falcons choose to keep Quinn around until the end of the year, it will only be because he’s given so much to the organization and they don’t have an alternative they think will improve the team’s fortunes in 2019.
One way or another, change is on the wind. It’s bitterly disappointing after 2016—and hell, even 2017, given how close Atlanta came to making a deep run—but at this point it feels just as inevitable as it did in late 2014. The Falcons, as always, will be spending early 2020 searching for a solution they just can’t seem to find.