The Falcons are now 0-3 after blowing another big fourth-quarter lead, this time to the Chicago Bears. It’s the first time Atlanta has started 0-3 since 2007, otherwise known as the Bobby Petrino disaster. The team set another bad record this week by becoming the first NFL team in history to blow 15+ point leads in the fourth quarter in two consecutive games. If I wasn’t laughing, I’d be crying, because the 2020 Falcons have redefined ineptitude.
Physically, the team is beat down. Atlanta was down 3 defensive starters going into Week 3, with Ricardo Allen, Foyesade Oluokun, and Takkarist McKinley all injured. Star WR Julio Jones also missed the contest along with RT Kaleb McGary. During the game, the hits kept coming.
Already down Julio Jones, WR3 Russell Gage suffered what looked to be a concussion and missed most of the game. Kicker Younghoe Koo reportedly suffered a leg strain in pre-game warmups, forcing him to play injured. He would go on to miss an extra point and a 42-yard field goal, which would’ve made up the 4-point deficit in the game. CB Darqueze Dennard, who was playing his best game of the season, left the game with an injury. Keanu Neal joined him with a hamstring injury. Towards the end of the game, star DT Grady Jarrett also left the game with a hip injury.
I list these injuries not to provide an excuse—the team was clearly talented enough to win, owing to the fact that they held a 16-point lead with about 7 minutes left in the game—but to demonstrate just how difficult it will be for the Falcons to recover from this early season slump. A mere 6 teams since 1980 have managed to make the playoffs after an 0-3 start. The addition of the 7th seed does give teams a little more margin for error, but not much.
In addition to the physical damage this team has already absorbed in 2020, the Falcons are being absolutely buried mentally. The psychology behind sports is often neglected in fan discourse, mostly because it’s equal parts difficult to quantify and hard to understand. But after watching this Falcons team blow two sizable leads in a row in basically the same fashion, it’s clear this team is scarred.
Atlanta already had to carry the weight of 28-3 on their backs. Now they have to carry the mantle of regular season choke-artists as well, and I guarantee analysts and the media won’t let them forget it anytime soon. One bad game could disappear under the constant barrage of NFL news, but two in a row? These flubs will be brought up at every single opportunity, multiple times per game.
Can the Falcons recover mentally from all this in time to save the 2020 season? I think the answer is a clear and resounding no. Already, there are no-so-quiet whispers that Quinn’s job is on the line. Players are having to spend their press conferences defending him. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because we were in the exact same situation last season. We all saw how that turned out: a 1-7 start, and a bunch of meaningless wins at the end of the year.
The Quinn era will soon be over, and if I had to guess, most of those working around the team probably already know it. If the Falcons lose to the Packers—one of the NFL’s best teams so far in 2020—on Monday Night Football, they’ll be 0-4 for the first time since the new millennium. With 0-4 comes the realization that the season is over, and that this team is probably going to see significant changes in 2021. I’m not sure there’s any coming back—mentally or otherwise—from that.