Earlier this week, the Falcons shipped ESPN personality and beloved sports yeller Stephen A. Smith a jersey, part of a rollout that saw the team share their new apparel with a variety of celebrities. That rollout earned more than a little grumbling from fans who have been waiting for their jerseys for a long time and many continue to do so for weeks or even months.
The gesture also did not save them from Smith’s wrath on Monday, when he eviscerated the Falcons for their 40-39 loss to the Cowboys yesterday. In the screed our Evan Birchfield shared below, he calls the Falcons “the dumbest team I’ve witnessed in the modern era” and said he threw his jersey in the trash, primarily on the basis of the disastrous and instantly emblematic failure to fall on the onside kick near the end of the loss.
You should watch it for yourself, because the venom is probably something everyone here can relate to right now.
The Falcons are an image-conscious organization, something that has only intensified since the Super Bowl season. That doesn’t make them exactly unusual in the larger NFL landscape, but it does mean that they work very hard to build a positive narrative around this team, have sometimes been prickly in the face of criticism, and are very, very keen to avoid embarrassment. The historic nature of this last loss and especially the way it ended have taken them out of the crosshairs of local media, with their (our, I guess) reputation for going fairly easy on the team, and into the crosshairs of a national media that is only too happy to pile on.
In other words, Smith was hardly alone. A small sampling follows:
I would fire Dan Quinn IF* I’m Arthur Blank. This loss is unacceptable, unforgivable.— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) September 20, 2020
I have never seen anything like that onside kick. It slowly helicoptered 10 yards as the Falcons inexplicably just stood and watched. If a Falcon merely falls on it, Falcons win. INSTEAD, COWBOYS WIN. THANK YOU, FALCONS.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) September 20, 2020
Chuck felt the pain after the Falcons loss today pic.twitter.com/fr9SlJJv3W— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) September 20, 2020
Swear to god I am done wit NFL @AtlantaFalcons my goddess!!!!!— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) September 20, 2020
I’ll give credit to the Falcons, when they lose, they lose in style and memorable fashion. The Falcons have to be the best losers of all time.— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) September 20, 2020
This is not what the Falcons envisioned for 2020 when they decided to keep the current front office and coaching staff more or less intact, signed local hero Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler Jr., and especially rolled out the new uniforms. This was supposed to be the redemptive season, and even if many of us at home had a hard time buying that idea, it’s very clear that the Falcons themselves fully expected this team to come into this year and play well early and play well throughout. They would’ve made much more substantive changes to the team had they believed otherwise, so an 0-2 start punctuated by more historic failure has to be sitting in their stomachs like a lead pancake right now.
It’s obvious that they need to win now and win often to avoid being a laughingstock for the rest of the season, but in many ways that damage is already done. That was a highly visible, humiliating loss that will be easy to remember and easy to call up every time this particular iteration of the Falcons does something embarrassing, which is to say probably pretty often. There is no real way to undo the damage of that short of cleaning house, and even then, we’re in for years of being reminded about it rudely in the midst of going about our days. No fans want to watch this team continue to fail in mind-boggling ways—we’re fans, and we’re all a hell of a lot happier when this team is winning and giving us something to celebrate on Sundays, however critical we might be when they do lose—but the larger sports landscape just wants good stories to write about and talk about.
The simplest way to avoid being absolutely torched by analysts and athletes across the entire national sports landscape is by avoiding embarrassing yourselves in the first place. Unfortunately for the Falcons and unfortunately for us, that’s something they just can’t seem to stop doing.