The Falcons needed to win, or at least put an impressive showing on the field against the Packers. They’ve needed to show some urgency and get some wins for weeks now, and arguably for seasons now, and when push comes to shove it never happens. The game against Green Bay was no exception.
Atlanta has been alternately righteously angry and snippy about the way this season has gone, the way last season went, and the way the season before went. There is always a reason to cite, whether it be injury or a change in coaching or a surprisingly game performance, for why this team is not what it’s supposed to be. Injuries are a legitimate factor, but at some point you have to look at the team you’ve assembled and accept that it is neither as good nor as well-coached as you have promised it would be. That time is now, but of course the time has been now for some time now.
Few fans relish seeing coaches fired. Few fans want to have hard conversations about what’s next, especially if it involves significant personnel changes that might remove some familiar faces from the roster. All of us want to see this freakin’ team win some football games, and to escape from the embarrassment that comes from being a fan of a team that constantly either blows leads or gets blown out. The fact that the Falcons won’t give us an opportunity to do that has nothing to do with any of us, and it’s high time we stopped yelling at one another and recognized that the responsibility for this team’s failures falls on this team. They’re the only ones who can do something about it, and while it is crazy-making to jab our fingers in the air in the direction of “THIS TEAM IS DOOMED” every week with no changes, there’s literally nothing else we can do.
It’s high time the team recognized that they are embarrassing themselves to the point of no return. The Packers are a very good football team, but they humiliated Atlanta with plenty of running back receptions and Robert Tonyan touchdowns and a defense that easily handled an anemic offense. Atlanta’s injuries are a legitimate factor, but they can’t come close to explaining this team’s endless failure train under this current brain trust, Again, I’m hoping the team will realize that it’s time to evaluate their future, and regardless of the specific moves they make, the franchise can’t keep clinging to hope for a 2020 season that effectively ended against Green Bay. If Dan Quinn and company had answers—and as good as the last couple of drafts have been, if the front office had answers—we’d have seen that on the field by now.
This will lead to tough questions. The Falcons might legitimately turn over several safeties next year, they need to think about post-Matt Ryan life even if that’s not coming until 2022 or later, and there are few players on the roster who figure to be absolute locks for the next quality Atlanta football team, with Grady Jarrett and Calvin Ridley landing at the top of that list. Coming to the end or very near the end of an era with so many close brushes with greatness and a couple of possible Hall of Famers sucks, as I touched upon above, but in the weeks and months ahead we’re going to have to get used to talking about, if we haven’t already. There will be plenty of time to consider that future once we power through the grind that the remaining three-quarters of the season will bring.
For now, though, on to the full recap.
- That goal line stop was pretty, wasn’t it? The Falcons run defense has quietly been one of the few good things this team has put on the field in 2020, and in the first quarter alone they had three big stuffs, including a Jamaal Williams hard stop when the Falcons needed it to keep the Packers out of the end zone on fourth down. Deion Jones was a factor on more than one of those, but the defensive line also did a great job of taking care of business. The run defense is one thing to build out for the short term, with Jones looking increasingly like a plus run defender even if some of his coverage choices are baffling.
Of course, even that fell apart late, so we’re grasping at straws a bit here.
- Todd Gurley may or may not proven to be a great signing, but in times of sadness and failure you appreciate effort a lot more. Again and again against the Packers, Gurley fought through a lot of contact to try to make something happen, culminating in an excellent touchdown in the third quarter and another one enabled by a stellar Matt Ryan block in the fourth quarter. This is not a veteran cashing a check, but a guy who probably grew up rooting for the Falcons trying to make plays happen for them, and I respect the hell out of that even if it can’t rescue this season and even if his final numbers were very Dirk Koetter run game-esque.
- On a night where Calvin Ridley was effectively invisible past a few unproductive early targets, Olamide Zaccheaus stepped up and put forth a truly heroic effort. He had 8 receptions for 86 8 yards on the night, 4 more than the next-highest receiver (Hayden Hurst with a solid 4 for 51 yards) and was the only man who consistently appeared to be open and alert on the night. The injuries to Ridley, Julio Jones, and Russell Gage clearly were a factor here, so having a capable receiver like Zaccheaus available to step in is a massive difference maker for a team that somehow didn’t wilt when they went down big.
Given the way injuries are piling up in Atlanta, he may well have more big days the rest of the way.
- Grady Jarrett repeatedly sniffed out short passes and run plays to Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and stopped them in their tracks. It’s jarring to see Jarrett on a defense that is too banged up and listless to do much because he’s far and away the best player out there, and he deserves better.
- It is maddening yet entirely appropriate that Dante Fowler Jr. has been a solid but thoroughly unspectacular addition to this defensive line while Charles Harris has quietly looked pretty good. Harris was the beneficiary of a sack where Aaron Rodgers half-stumbled, half-was tripped by Harris, but that’s two sacks for him in two games and he’s been restless and active as a pass rusher. The team may well have found a player worth re-signing in their cap-strapped 2021 offseason.
- It shouldn’t be a bright spot, but knowing the Falcons have to face up to the fact that they’re effectively dead in the water might bring change this franchise genuinely needs. I don’t claim to know exactly what’s coming and the timeline it’s arriving on, but I just don’t want to watch this team lose a bunch of football games with no clear “here’s what’s next in mind,” so I will be relieved when it arrives. Knowing that they’ve done themselves the favor fo makign sure the next team has Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, A.J. Terrell, and others will help a little bit.
- Do we really have to endure so many forgettable drives for a team with this much talent? Matt Ryan missed Calvin Ridley deep, Dirk Koetter called unproductive second down runs, Calvin Ridley slipped, and the first two drives of the game went for not even 10 combined yards. There’s an open debate about just how talented Atlanta really is, but they’re talented enough that they should never open games with back-to-back three-and-outs.
- Matt Ryan is still very clearly capable of great days—he was very impressive the first two weeks—but the last two weeks are a glimpse of the future for the longtime Falcons franchise quarterback and a sign that he’s not going to be able to elevate the rest of the team all the time when the defense falters. Once again in this one, he missed some deep throws and wasn’t able to put quite enough on throws under pressure, something that may not be entirely his fault but does need to be tied to him. Pressured and dealing with a diminshed supporting cast, Ryan just hasn’t been dealing, something that’s all too obvious when this team manages 16 points against a defense that is hardly full of world beaters.
The missed throw to Calvin Ridley in the end zone in the fourth quarter was the only chance Atlanta had to come back, and there will be a lot of scrutiny on Ryan the rest of the year given that this team might pick high enough to draft his long-term replacement, as blasphemous as that may sound. There’ll be more great weeks and even years ahead for Ryan, potentially, but gird yourself for that particular discussion.
- The offensive line did not help matters. Za’Darius Smith alone feasted on the unit, managing three sacks of Ryan, and the pressure was unrelenting at times against Green Bay. A re-watch is warranted but this looked like a shaky game for Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary at minimum, and I don’t think any start escaped without a miscue. The offensive line is quietly becoming, by virtue of significant investment, one of the best parts of this offense. Seeing them stumble badly like this is alarming because there’s really nothing else this team can hang their hat on right now.
- The Falcons make no sense, and their decision-making and play calling is fatally disjointed. They put together a 94 drive from their own 1 yard line in the second quarter, going for it and converting twice, and they still settled for a field goal because they managed to try too many unproductive runs and the passing game was wildly out of sync. The Packers have a fine defense but not a great one, and ending the first half with just 3 points is incredibly depressing. Finishing a game with 16 points is unforgivable, and the hiring of Dirk Koetter will go down as one of this team’s most fatal mistakes, despite the number of options to choose from.
- Miscommunication doomed the Falcons over and over again in 2019, as defensive backs lost track of who they were supposed to be covering and failed to properly hand players off. Incredibly, it’s still happening in 2020 despite being a major talking point for the second half of last season, as Isaiah Oliver and Jaylinn Hawkins somehow forget to figure out who was supposed to be on Aaron Jones on an easy touchdown in the first quarter.
- Atlanta’s been annihilated by safety injuries for years now, and their awful luck continued against the Packers. With Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal out, Damontae Kazee was an absolutely critical player, and he went down with a serious-looking injury in the second quarter. Then Jaylinn Hawkins went down with a head injury, leaving the Falcons perilously thin at safety.
The Falcons are likely to start over at the position next year, which hurts a lot given the talent they had on hand and how much injury has had an impact. I’m hopeful Hawkins isn’t out long, because Atlanta has to get a longer look at him.
- Why does Dan Quinn call timeouts that seemingly benefit his opponent? We may never know at this point, but his timeouts gave Green Bay plenty of time to score and left Atlanta with just one left in the first half when they were trying to score. I fail to understand, and I fail to understand how a team can look this terrible week after week when we’re told the urgency keeps ratcheting up. It’s obviously bad news for DQ and company, even if a switch to an interim head coach isn’t likely to do much for the season.
- Elliott Fry wasn’t going to get the Falcons kicker job, but he had an opportunity to audition for another team. He hit one short field goal and missed one extra point, which I’m going to say didn’t help him.
With 12 games to go, the 2020 season is over. All that’s left is to determine whether this team is more inclined to drag things out with the current regime or whether they’re ready to think hard about what 2021 and beyond will look like,
The Carolina Panthers. The 2-2 Carolina Panthers, who won last week minus Christian McCaffrey and have an underrated squad piloted by a rookie coach a lot of people like. If the Packers game doesn’t prove to be the final nail in the Dan Quinn coaching career’s well-nailed coffin, Carolina might be. Check out Cat Scratch Reader for more.