Consider what 2020 brought for the Atlanta Falcons. It was a junky, janky year for most of us, but for this organization it was exactly the kind of reckoning year we weren’t supposed to have to endure.
In 2020, the Falcons:
- Came into the season having decided that a 6-2 stretch at the end of the 2019 season was an indication of Who the Falcons Truly Were instead of a post-bye bounce that wasn’t necessarily guaranteed to translate into wins the next season. That meant the possibility of a lame duck year where the team would continue to ring up major cap charges without a lot of wins, which meant a new regime would have to get creative if they didn’t want to blow up the team in 2021. That...happened.
- Had limited cap space and squandered it, replacing Devonta Freeman with a balky Todd Gurley, who scored a bunch early but effectively cratered as an effective runner just a third of the way through the season, even if he’s largely been a very good blocker. Whether Dante Fowler Jr. is hurt, ineffective, or both, he became the latest in a long line of free agent pass rushers who had disappointing first seasons with the team, as he’s just 6th in sacks (though second in pressures). The remaining cap space went to Tyeler Davison, who has been fine but quiet, and guys like Laquon Treadwell and LaRoy Reynolds, who have been minor season-long contributors or more significant contributors only once the season was already over.
- Put together a draft class that yielded three 2020 contributors (A.J. Terrell, Mykal Walker and Sterling Hofrichter), two potential future starters (a banged up Marlon Davidson, Matt Hennessy) and a potential key reserve and special teamer (Jaylinn Hawkins). They also grabbed some interesting undrafted free agents like Chris Rowland, Tyler Hall, and Jared Pinkney, so this is actually a positive. It wasn’t all bad! Just most of it.
- Lost their typical offseason and their ability to put fans in the seats—insert your own joke here—due to COVID-19, and have had multiple players spend stints on the COVID-19 list.
- Suffered their third straight wildly disappointing year, which all of the above led into. The Falcons will be, at best, 5-11 after Week 17 and likely headed for a top 10 draft pick, and after last time their odds of beating the Buccaneers would seem fairly slim, even if they were killer against the Chiefs. They lost their first 5 games, the worst-cast scenario everyone was afraid of when the staff was retained after 2019, and have gone 4-6 under Raheem Morris, who has done admirable work despite roster challenges, injuries, and Dirk Koetter.
In typical Falcons fashion, their expected strength going into the year (the offense) faltered throughout much of the year just as the defense finally got on track. Atlanta pushed its chips in to the point where they have less cap space than all but like three teams, have a ton of pressing roster questions, and now have a new GM and likely new head coach on the way. Remember, this was supposed to be the year when this team proved all the haters wrong and delivered the kind of success we’ve all been waiting for, not the year things finally went off the rails to such a degree that even Arthur Blank could ignore it any longer.
I wouldn’t suggest that 2021 is going to be an easier year for any of us, much less the Falcons, but regardless of the outcome the clock hitting zero on Sunday’s game against the Bucs is going to be a welcome moment. The 2020 season was a gamble that failed badly for Atlanta, and the few bright spots along the way matter a lot more for 2021 than they do for this year. We’ll all be eager to say goodbye at midnight tonight to the year, and on Sunday afternoon to a forgettable season.