The Falcons’ Arthur Blank had just experienced his second-worst-ever moment here inside NRG Stadium. And when the team you own just had more points scored on it than in any game since 2004, when the defense “coordinated” by your head coach couldn’t have stopped a grandfather clock this day much less Deshaun Watson, that says something about just how miserable the No. 1 ordeal was.
But we’ll not dredge up that 2017 Super Bowl again. That’s unnecessarily rough. There are far more current events on the autopsy table.
There come certain moments in certain seasons when it is required to ask a team owner if his finger rests upon the button that opens the trap door always beneath the feet of his coach and his executive branch. A moment such as Sunday, for instance, when a team with playoff aspirations loses the fourth of its first five games, and does so in spectacularly defenseless fashion, 53-32 to the Houston Texans.
Blank was not prepared to entertain any nuclear option Sunday. Not publicly.
Asked if was contemplating any big changes at the top of the Falcons org chart, Blank answered, “No. There are a lot of games left in this season. The staff has performed at a much higher level in the past — and these players have, too. My hope and my belief is that they can find a way to re-mix the puzzle and have a different answer in terms of results.”
So, he was asked, you still have faith in those in charge?
“Obviously, the faith is being rattled right now and I’m sure our fans feel that way,” Blank said minutes after the Houston loss. “This is an organization starting with the head coach and the general manager who know how to fight and know how to fight back. They don’t know how to lose. They know how to win. They are tenacious, they are not going to lay down. Hopefully it will be good enough to have a respectable performance the rest of the season.”
Respectability would be a huge step up from what Sunday delivered.
After the Falcons accidentally stopped Houston on its first possession on a three-and-out, the Texans scored on every other possession that wasn’t interrupted by the end of the half. There were no cheapies among any of their six touchdown drives — travelling anywhere between 60 and 88 yards. Throw in a pick-six at the end, and it turns out you can get to 50 points and more with surprising ease.
Will Fuller V, the Texans’ second option, had himself quite a season Sunday at the Falcons’ expense, with 14 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. On many of his multitude of receptions he was sprinting clear of a confused secondary, the Falcons running what could only be described as a Cover None zone.
Watson — 28-of-33 for 426 yards and five touchdowns — put up the third best-possible quarterback rating in the NFL this season. That number is 158.3, which I could explain in detail or just leave it at the fact Watson flew as close to the sun of quarterbacking perfection as any man is allowed. And the Falcons were the wind beneath his wings.
Oh, and he also ran for 47 yards. If the NFL had a Heisman, Watson would have won it Sunday.
So, they certainly were tickled in this part of Texas, having been gifted a nice diversion until the Astros’ next game.
On the Atlanta side, not so much.
Afterward you heard about this being a “100 percent gut-check time” (from Quinn). And about the need for more accountability from players that seem to know what they’re doing in practice but then get all dizzy at game time (from safety Ricardo Allen).
And the owner spoke of the depth of his disappointment. It seldom is a good sign when the owner is plumbing those depths.
To be precise, the level of his disappointment is “extraordinarily high, just like all of our fans,” Blank said.
“It’s not the start we envisioned and it’s not the way we’re capable of playing. But as Bill Parcells says, ‘You are what your record says you are.’ ”
“Players, coaches, we’re just not putting it together the way we’re capable of doing. We do have more talent on this team than what we’re showing right now, I don’t think there’s any question about that. The mix isn’t working, apparently, and I feel deeply for our fans. As I know the coach does and the players do.
“They’re working their [butts] off, they’re trying to figure out the right solution, the right mix, the adjustments they have to make. That’s really all you can ask them to do, work as hard as they know how to work. We have four head coaches — one head coach and three previous head coaches — so we have a lot of experience. And we have some players who have been in the league for a long time and have played at real high levels for a long time. The capabilities are there but it’s just not coming together the way it should and the way it needs to.”
Blank did express a measure of hope when asked what he thought could be salvaged from this season, pointing to another team’s example from a year ago.
Can this be fixed this season? “They can turn it around,” the owner said. “The Colts last year started 1-5 and ended up in the playoffs (winning a wild card game). It can happen. We haven’t played a single divisional game yet, that’s obviously an opportunity.”
“But,” he added realistically, “we have to play better than we have been playing, that’s for sure. No matter who we’re playing we’re not going to be successful unless we do that.”
As Blank Sunday resisted the urge to immediately fire everyone in sight, does that, I wondered, amount to a vote of confidence in this staff? We’re big on votes of confidence in this business.
Assume nothing, not with a season so off kilter as this.
“It’s not a vote of anything,” Blank said.
“I’m sharing my feelings. It’s not a vote of anything.”