The 2023 Atlanta Falcons are what we think they are.
There really is no getting around it any longer. This iteration of the Falcons, as talented on offense and as improved on defense as it is, cannot consistently win games.
It’s the story of the season, the story of multiple seasons going back to the first game of 2021. The team can do plenty of things well. They can erase deficits; they can stifle opponents in the red zone. They can run the ball; they can throw the ball. They can play strong ball in coverage; and they can make big plays on the defensive line to kill drives.
They just can’t do any of that consistently, and therein lies the problem.
The Falcons are not good enough to deserve a playoff berth this season. They may stumble into one yet in a fraught division of pretenders, but they aren’t owed anything right now.
The Falcons also aren’t bad enough to pinpoint a wholesale change being the absolute right answer, even if that may be where we’re headed if the Falcons miss the postseason again. They’re just stuck somewhere in the middle, a consistently inconsistent shrug.
The irony is that quarterback Desmond Ridder might be the best summation of the franchise at the moment. He’s one of the most consistently inconsistent quarterbacks in the NFL these days, and he’s telling the story of the whole franchise every time he plays.
You see the growth; you see the promise. However, then you also see the catastrophic mistakes, the lapses in judgment, the uneven play. You can make an argument that Ridder has been making leaps this season, but that argument will automatically get multiple highlights back of back-breaking mistakes. Ridder is the Falcons; the Falcons are Ridder.
Being 6-7 with one of the league’s easiest schedules, one littered with close-call wins against lesser opponents and faceplants against much lesser opponents, does not inspire confidence that this franchise is going in the right direction.
However, you’re a couple of defensive stops away from that record being much better, and this team possibly having one of the best records in the NFC. It’s a maddening reality, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that being 6-7 is at all unfair in telling the story of how good this team actually is.
Arthur Smith has four games to push his team into January, but losing Sunday makes it entirely possible another NFC South team could get hot and make that effort for naught.
To be honest, the NFC South feels like it’s playing for one extra game this season. It really may not make that big of a deal if you win this putrid division, unless you really just want another banner for the practice facility and some uninspiring merchandise to sell on the team site.
If the Falcons make the playoffs, good on them for rallying. It’ll be nice to see Atlanta get a nationally televised game again; it’ll give you something to do that weekend.
However, it won’t change the fact that this is an inherently flawed football team that cannot consistently win games. It won’t change the fact that Ridder looks more and more like he just is who he is, a quarterback of tantalizing potential more than balanced out by crushing errors. It won’t change the fact that we don’t know if Arthur Smith is the right coach for this team going forward, even if the team finds a good quarterback to replace Ridder this spring.
Heck, we don’t really even know if Terry Fontenot’s front office can consistently draft well, with free agency being the real strength we’ve seen from them thus far.
The Falcons missing the playoffs may spark Arthur Blank to make wholesale changes to his franchise. It may just spark him to tell this regime to find a quarterback already. It may inspire him to do absolutely nothing. It’s just hard to tell. The next four games will determine a lot of how that might go, particularly if the team loses to the lowly Carolina Panthers in Charlotte next week.
The Falcons aren’t a terrible football team. They’re just not very good, either. That’s the problem. Atlanta is a franchise stuck in neutral with no good answers with what to do once this season is over. Making changes shows proactivity, as staying the course would just feel unwise right now and would likely infuriate the fan base. However, making changes doesn’t necessarily guarantee progress.
The one thing that stings is the apathy that’s starting to build here in the fanbase, the disinterest in trying to defend Ridder’s mistakes and Smith’s offense. You commend Ryan Nielsen’s work, but it’s his defense that has given up so many last-minute touchdown drives to the opponent. The whole operation right now just feels so predictable and dispassionate.
How can you get excited about this team as it is right now?
Is it hard to have hope in the Falcons’ future? It can be. Does that mean that things will always stay this murky and middling? Not at all. Maybe finding the right quarterback and continuing to build out this roster is what the doctor orders. Maybe it’s finding a better head coach. Heck, maybe Ridder plays like Joe Montana over the next four weeks. Who’s to say?
However, one thing feels certain. The Falcons don’t deserve to be anywhere than where they are right now. They are exactly what the record says they are, and there doesn’t need to be too much debate over that.
Where this all goes in the next month is up to them, but it feels more and more like Blank probably won’t let this team stay where it is without some significant gear shifts to get things moving in a different direction. It’ll just depend on what those shifts would be, and if he’d really consider pressing the big, red button to start all over again after three years of mediocre results.