The Atlanta Falcons seem to be confronting a core feature of what it has meant to be the Atlanta Falcons in recent years.
In a report from The Athletic’s Josh Kendall, a handful of Falcons recounted a recent meeting where the air was apparently cleared about the team’s 0-2 start. Head coach Arthur Smith reportedly opened the space for players to talk about what was on their minds after the tough two losses, and it seemed like the perennial elephant in the room came up.
“We all just had some little heart-to-hearts. It was actually great,” [Cordarrelle] Patterson said. “Everybody said how … they felt. That’s what we need from our team. Arthur is a great coach. He’s not the guy that always wants to talk. He lets us guys do the talking. That’s what we need from our head coach.”
“It was a free room,” [Mykal] Walker said. “You could say whatever you want and everybody said the same thing. We knew what we had to fix. It’s not like we don’t know. We were losing close games. Everybody knew what the problem was, and I think we came out here and handled ourselves well.”
We’re guessing that “same thing” has to do with the team’s horrid recent history with blowing leads and not finishing winnable games. We’ve seen across three regimes a plethora of collapses, mentally draining for fans but even harder for players to live through. It’s become a feature, not a bug, and we’re not sure how often the team has openly discussed internally the plight of being the Falcons, especially in recent years where the losses greatly outstripped the wins.
It seems like Saturday’s conversation paid off, at least for Sunday’s game, mentally for the team, with offensive players Patterson and Colby Gossett acknowledging the sinking feeling all in Falconland get when the tables start to turn in the wrong direction.
Patterson said nobody on the Atlanta sideline had a “here we go again” feeling, but that’s not exactly true. Left guard Colby Gossett, who started in place of Elijah Wilkinson, acknowledged it’s the natural reaction.
“It’s always in the back of your head, you can’t say it’s not, but this team is incredibly resilient,” Gossett said. “We have a great group of guys who are going to come out and fight to the finish. It’s the NFL, it’s hard to win. We’re going to finish the fight and see where it goes from there.”
It’s Gossett’s honesty that speaks volumes. The guard saying that the blown leads and inability to finish games is “always in the back of your head” is the kind of refreshing realism that seems to have evaded this franchise for years, and if Smith is really trying to run into the fire rather than skirt around it, bully for him.
The “here we go again” feeling Patterson spoke to, even if it was to dismiss it, is something most of us feel at home on Sundays, so you can’t imagine a world where the players aren’t feeling it, too. After a costly fumbled handoff late in the fourth nearly started the malevolent merry-go-round of Falcons doom, the defense stepped up and kept the Seahawks from capitalizing on the turnover. It helped the Falcons seal the victory it had the right to claim, and kept them from an 0-3 start.
It’s star tight end Kyle Pitts who summed it up well, who both understands exactly what is expected of the team and maybe how the mentality is starting to change inside the building.
“People probably thought we were about to lose again, but we knew what was up,” said Pitts, who was targeted eight times and led the Falcons with five catches for 87 yards.
After the Saints game in Week 1, it was evident all over again that the Falcons have a systemic problem with holding leads, something that has snowballed into a nasty reputation that this team has to overcome. There aren’t many Falcons left who were there for 28-3, but it seems like the “dark cloud...of here we go again” Grady Jarrett mentioned postgame is something that players know still hovers over this franchise.
If Smith can help the team overcome its fourth quarter woes and rid both the team and fan mentality of “here we go again,” it’s going to go a long, long way toward making this team into a consistent winner. There’s a reason this regime has spent so much time talking about culture change, and that’s because there are expectations and long-time habits here both openly-admitted and deeply-seated that have to go away. It will likely take fans longer not to cringe when the game is on the line and a big lead is in danger of evaporating, but this too can change when the Falcons finally
Just because the team has blown many leads doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily continue to, and it’s great to see the team speaking so openly with the media and with one another about the urgency of winning this early in the season. If you want to know how a better Falcons team comes out of this rebuilding process, the ability and willingness to confront the past and then burn it away will be a big part of it.