While watching the Falcons fall to 1-3 Sunday, once more starting slower than a Gremlin in a hard freeze, the hometown boo birds gaining volume every quarter, the oddest thing happened.
Rather than dwelling on the particulars of this 24-10 loss to Tennessee, I began entertaining voices of Falcons seasons past. Because, God knows, we’ve all witnessed too many seasons going nowhere. And we know too well the signposts along the way.
I heard the voice of Jerry Glanville, somewhere, who toward the end of his Falcons reign would proudly proclaim, “Not a single man quit; not a single man surrendered.” Because when nothing else is working, the life vest of a floundering team is its pride. You knew then that this quality, admirable as it is, wouldn’t be enough when the losses mount. Just as you know it now.
I recalled one of the best men to ever coach in the NFL, Dan Reeves, fired with three games to go in 2003, five years after doing the Dirty Bird on the way to a Super Bowl. Past performance is no guarantee of future employment. And there are no excuses big enough to hide behind. Even, if as in Reeves’ case, his great, as-yet unsullied star quarterback Mike Vick was lost to a preseason broken leg that year.
Another good man runs the Falcons now, and Dan Quinn is so sincerely looking for answers that remain stubbornly hidden, somewhere on the margins.
You can be the winningest of all the Falcons coaches, and it doesn’t matter once you stack up a couple stinkers in consecutive years. Yes, I thought of Mike Smith Sunday, as Quinn fell below .500 since his Super Bowl appearance — 18-19, including a playoff loss.
Sunday inspired this sort of melancholy remembrance, because another Falcons season appears to be tilting toward all kinds of ugliness. Already.
Just four games in, the customers seem to know it. They stayed away in impressive numbers. Treat any announced attendance figure of more than 55,000 with suspicion, like a bulletin from the Kremlin.
And those who were here were in no mood to frolic, once the home team lost touch with the visitors from just up the road. Another first half, another hole — that’s the theme thus far of 2019. This one was 17 points (24-7), and was saluted with cascades of boos as the teams headed in for halftime.
“I don’t hear that (stuff),” said receiver Julio Jones. Only he didn’t say stuff.
His quarterback’s hearing was much better.
“That’s part of it when you’re playing poorly, you’re not giving them much to cheer about. You get it,” Matt Ryan said. “We want to give them something to get loud about, to make those plays to get this place rocking. We didn’t do that today. We’ve got to find a way to make plays to get the energy in the building going.”
Ryan threw for almost 400 yards Sunday (397), and no cotton candy vendor has delivered more empty calories than that number. For not a single of Ryan’s 35 completions found the end zone.
A key point in the game came with six minutes left in the second quarter, the Falcons at the Tennessee 39 eyeing a big score to cut their deficit to 17-14. Going for it on 4th-and-1, the Falcons threw everything they had at the left side of their line. And everything they had wasn’t nearly enough. Devonta Freeman was stopped for a loss of one. And, inspired, the Titans turned around and scored six plays later to go up 24-7.
The first two times the Falcons went for it on fourth down, they ended up losing a total of 10 yards (the other was a third-quarter sack of Ryan).
“There is movement, the ball is going up and down the field, but when we have those opportunities to finish drives, to punch that ball into the end zone or keep drives going when Dan’s aggressive with those fourth-down calls, we got to make it come to life,” Ryan said. “We have not done that as players up until this point.”
The Titans did all their scoring in the first half — 24 points being more than they had in the first half of their first three games combined (19). The Falcons managed all of three points in the second half, more of a strained whisper than a rally, certainly.
There are only so many times the head coach can say he’s “pissed” — as he did again Sunday — before the anger is as hollow as a carved pumpkin.
Only so many times he can talk about not playing to a certain standard before it’s evident that the standard is a fantasy. What if this is all they’ve got?
Because those who have followed this team for more than a moment have heard it all before. They know deep down the feeling of a season that is eluding the grasp of its coach could at any moment just go feral and out of control.
This season’s start is bringing up a lot of those kind of barbed memories.
There’s three-quarters of a season left. With what the Falcons have shown thus far, that is as much a threat as it is a promise.
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