The Atlanta Falcons put so much stock into 2020. They appeared to believe that after all the failures that defined 2018 and 2019, they had discovered a winning formula for the 2020 season that would restore faith in the franchise and deliver wins. Instead, Atlanta held on too long—to their credit, most fans realized that before the season, if not far earlier—and just capped off a dreadful 4-12 year with a 44-27 loss to the Buccaneers.
We’ll have plenty of time to discuss what’s ahead and lament what we’re leaving behind, given that sweeping changes are coming to the Falcons organization and the general manager and head coach searches figure to heat up as soon as today. What’s important now is that the Falcons have a top 5 draft selection for the first time in a very long time and an opportunity to slowly or quickly revise the team to return to winning ways, something that weary fans want and deserve after three straight losing seasons. The Falcons were briefly one of the league’s bright shining stars but have quickly returned to a laughing stock, something Arthur Blank and this fanbase alike are not keen to endure again.
The loss to the Buccaneers reinforced that there is much work to be done to ensure we don’t have to sit through another 4-12 season anytime soon. The Falcons got destroyed by the Bucs offense one week after clamping down hard on the Chiefs, an embarrassment at least partly keyed by indifferent coverage and a lackluster pass rush that must be addressed. They could not keep up despite their playmakers on offense because pressure got to Matt Ryan too often, receivers not named Russell Gage were not often open, and Dirk Koetter is packing his bags for a reason. Atlanta has a top pick and can go in any number of directions with that pick, but the most crucial thing they’ll do this offseason is the complete picture, as they need to hire a new GM, likely overhaul the entire coaching staff, and remake the roster to ensure a winner.
This loss is therefore not worth dwelling on, because it did not tell us anything new or novel. It just reinforced that the Falcons are talented but ultimately doomed, and there is much work ahead to fix that. I’m excited to see it start.
On to the final full recap of the season.
- Goal line back Matt Ryan with the score. There weren’t many highlights in this one, but I enjoyed that.
- Speaking of Matt Ryan, he played another good game. After the Falcons quarterback was under pressure most of the first half and getting rid of the ball quickly as a result, he was able to settle in and play mistake-free football to bring Atlanta back from a major deficit, chiefly by targeting Russell Gage. He finished a solid day and a solid year with the next regime set to decide his immediate future with the Falcons, which I’m sure is not nerve-wracking at all. No matter what happens next, he’s the best quarterback in team history, and he finished the year on a much stronger note than you might have expected in the middle of the season.
- Brian Hill wasn’t effective on the ground all that often—nobody was—but he reeled in two nice catches and made some noise with 39 yards and continues to be an effective special teamer. Oh, and he also picked up like 50 yards on a fourth quarter carry, nearly scoring a touchdown with teh Falcons down 10. I don’t know if Hill will be back next year and he’s had an uneven season on balance, but he’ll find a role somewhere because he’s a well-balanced player who can do a little bit of everything effectively.
- Russell Gage played another impressive game in this one, leading all receivers in receptions and piling up six through second quarters and two minutes. His seventh catch was a nice ball from Matt Ryan where he got a step on the defender and scored a touchdown, bringing Atlanta within a score. He would tack on a first down run and more grabs the rest of the way as perhaps the featured player on offense for Atlanta in this one.
He had his quiet games earlier in the year but has put together a successful, effective season for Atlanta even with all their offensive challenges, and has been a pleasant surprise after being drafted as a sixth-round special teams player. He should go into 2020 as a major piece in the passing game, regardless of the moves the team is set to make.
- Hayden Hurst capped off an up-and-down year with a nice touchdown grab in the end zone and a couple of strong catches from Ryan. He had a fine year on balance, putting up 6 touchdowns and over 500 yards, but there is a lingering sense he could do much more if he wasn’t largely utilized as a short yardage and red zone option under the next coaching staff. With Jared Pinkney still developing, needs across the roster, and nobody else to compete with him, there’s a strong chance Hurst is the guy again in 2021, and hopefully he’ll have a fun year in that role.
- I thought Matt Hennessy improved as the game went on, and that gave me some hope fior him in the starting center role next year. I do think he’ll wind up being that player, but the jury is still very much out
- Dante Fowler Jr. had his third sack of the season in this one, the only sack of the game for Atlanta, which is a positive note for him to end a disappointing season on. I am not 100% sure he’ll be back in 2021, but if he is hopefully the team will have him healthy and surrounded with enough talent to have a very different year.
- Ricardo Allen made a heads-up play in the third quarter, grabbing a ball that bounced out of Scotty Miller’s arms for an interception that gave Atlanta a chance to take the lead. Allen’s generally either a quietly effective player or one you notice for a mishap, so it was nice to see him get justified love for a big play.
- Younghoe Koo finished the year strong with a pair of made field goals and three extra points, capping off a season where he had the most field goal makes in franchise history, the second-most attempts, and the 18th-most extra points made in a single year. Dirk Koetter’s red zone troubles contributed, but Koo was legitimately excellent all year and deserves the long-term deal heading his way this offseason.
- On balance, not many things went well for Atlanta in 2020, but Bucs collapses aside the defense did look much better after the first five games, and Raheem Morris at least made this a more competitive football team. I don’t think he’ll be back next year, but props to him and this team for at least briefly not making this season and this game a laugher.
- In so many ways, the offense’s struggles defined the 2020 season. Once again in this one, there were unproductive runs at the wrong time, but Koetter had more success against the Bucs than he did against many opponents. The larger problem remained an offense that had the personnel to be an above average unit throughout the year but too regularly struggled to get receivers open, protect Matt Ryan, or to just do unexpected and successful things. A change in philosophy, staff, and personnel on that side of the ball will be extremely welcome in 2021
- I don’t know what it is exactly that the Buccaneers do that, say, the Chiefs could not, but they absolutely destroyed the Atlanta defense twice this year. Tampa Bay has an excellent receiving corps, even without Mike Evans, and they excelled at getting open looks in the second half of their first matchup and throughout this second one. That added up to huge days for Tom Brady against the Falcons, a team that has shamefully never beaten him and may or may not get the chance in 2021. For all the fine work this defense did at times this year, the lack of a pass rush and their adventures in coverage were problems that cost them games again and again, and will need to be addressed if this team is going to return to relevance any time soon.
- Atlanta’s been on the wrong end of some questionable special teams calls in 2020, and they closed out the year with another one. Brian Hill delivered a big hit on a Tampa Bay returner in the second quarter, but it appeared he was blocked in the back and there was no fair catch called and he still got called for unnecessary roughness. When you’re getting called for that, you can tell it’s going to be a rough day, and a rough day unfolded from there.
- I could be more specific on some of these items, but you know what happened and you know how little the outcome of this one mattered to those of us at home. There are so many ineresting and potentially good things to talk about going forward that we can just say this one stunk, we hope the Buccaneers and Saints lose in the playoffs soon, and that’s that.
Us. We survived this season and we’ll be here for the next one. That deserves some recognition, even if it’s only from The Falcoholic.
The Falcons are a maddening, confusing team that gets talked about as a “what if?” team every week on the broadcast but also managed to stink out loud all season long. There’s not simple, clean fix to that, but this team can get enough of a head start this offseason to at least avoid this again.
The offseason, at last. The Falcons will be kicking off their search for a new general manager and head coach this week in earnest, which means we won’t get exactly sitting around and waiting for free agency.