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Job one for the Falcons will be holding on to leads in 2021

Trigger warning.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I would say most of us are excited about the hire of Arthur Smith and new defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and that we’re hoping the Falcons offense and defense will improve considerably with them on board. There are many big jobs ahead for this new coaching staff, but in my humble opinion the top one is ensuring this team can get and hold on to leads.

I hate to do this to you on a Wednesday morning, but here’s a look at the 10 biggest blown leads in team history and the year they occurred. It paints a damning picture of something you already knew in your heart: This team was sometimes very good at building big leads, but not great at keeping them, as they also had a number of unnecessarily close wins in recent years.

  • 2017: Falcons vs. Patriots, 25 points
  • 2014: Falcons vs. Lions, 21 points
  • 2003: Falcons vs. Titans, 21 points
  • 2020: Falcons vs. Cowboys, 20 points
  • 1967: Falcons vs. Saints, 18 points
  • 2020: Falcons vs. Buccaneers, 17 points
  • 2017: Falcons vs. Dolphins, 17 points
  • 2016: Falcons vs. Chargers, 17 points
  • 2013: Falcons vs. 49ers, 17 points
  • 2003: Falcons vs. Washington, 17 points

On the longer list, #13 and #15 also belong to the Dan Quinn era. 5 of the top 10 and 7 of the top 15 blown leads in team history over the past six seasons, with two more from the Mike Smith years. There’s a reason one of the lasting legacies of the last regime will be they blew a bunch of impossibly large leads, because they really did. Atlanta was always a bit stunned when this happened—we were very stunned after the Super Bowl, obviously, and progressively less stunned from there—but the team’s tendency to wear down badly late in games and relax the defense was certainly a factor.

If the Falcons are going to be truly great, that’s a tendency that has to go away. Actually accomplishing that is something that likely lands at the intersection of significant roster upgrades—a compelling run game, an improved offensive line, and a consistently potent pass rush would help a lot—and whatever cultural changes are necessary to prevent a team from numbly watching its own doom unfold over and over again.