I wish I could look at what lies ahead for these Falcons and see what Jeff Ulbrich sees. That would make me such a better, more hopeful person.
As he was wrapping up his press session Wednesday, the Falcons linebacker coach/emergency defensive play-caller gave an almost startlingly optimistic appraisal of what this 2-7 team may yet make of the mess.
With the evidence of Sunday’s still quite unfathomable victory at New Orleans in hand, Ulbrich credited his players for their reboot entering the season’s second half. As he put it, “Players really embraced the fact that this is a brand-new season, starting over. Everything we want is still ahead of us. At the end of the day it’s setting up the opportunity to create a story that people are going to want to listen to. A unique one: Yeah, we missed the mark in a lot of ways early on, turned it around before it was too late, came together as a team. Hopefully this will spark some momentum and confidence and we’ll do something special.”
Who thought we’d hear the word “special” spoken here again any time before the 2020 draft?
Coaches must put forth that kind of resolute face publicly, that is a part of their DNA. Even when the reality is so much grimmer. Ulbrich is a credit to his kind.
History is filled with great defiant utterances in the face of impossible odds.
There was Bluto of “Animal House” fame, when the wolves were at the door of Delta House: “Over? Did you say ‘over?’ Nothing is over until we decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
There was Churchill in the more historically correct darkest early days of WWII: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
And now witness one assistant coach’s belief that there is possibly more ahead for these Falcons than seven more obligatory appearances and an impending job search.
On Sunday against the Saints, the Falcons showed themselves capable of mystifying, in a good way. Beyond that, rally behind them at your peril. Some may look at that game as the start of something good. I found myself wondering where that kind of effort has been hiding, and why couldn’t the Falcons muster it when it might have mattered?
And, to Ulbrich’s point, we are left to determine what would constitute “special” in the final seven weeks of this Falcons season.
If it’s winning a handful more games and feeling somewhat better about yourself, then that’s a low bar.
If it’s making the postseason, then that’s just preposterous (sorry, coach, I just can’t ride that unicorn).
Math weighs heavy on these Falcons. Reality answers any talk of a miracle playoff run with a hard, agnostic stare.
Even with Sunday’s victory, the Falcons remained at the bottom of the NFC South, five games back of the Saints. With seven games left.
And winning the division — which would require an extinction-level event in New Orleans and a corresponding miracle here — is more likely than getting in through the back door of the wild card.
As of now, the NFC wild card belongs to 8-2 Seattle and 7-3 Minnesota. And if those leads don’t seem oppressive enough, how about those of the dozen other teams in the conference with a better record than the Falcons?
It’s ridiculous, really, to even play with such numbers. I feel a little embarrassed for having gone there.
Now to the question of simple survival.
Is there anything these Falcons can do down the stretch that would save Dan Quinn’s job? Is there a commutation of sentence out there for the leader of the The Brotherhood?
If there is a magic number of wins the Falcons must get in their last seven games to see Quinn through to next season, none comes readily to mind. If they won out, it would be a remarkable reversal. If they got to .500, requiring six more wins, that would be the kind of bold climb usually requiring a team of Sherpas.
But even such an unlikely event would only serve to highlight just how dysfunctional the Falcons’ first half was, how disconnected they were from their potential. And that always points to coaching.
What’s left this season for the Falcons? I wish I could come up with something as stirring as Ulbrich, but it’s just not there.
Asked Wednesday about the goal for the remainder of the season, linebacker Deion Jones was more succinct than his coach.
“Win,” he said.
To even that the skeptic adds a disclaimer.
Warning: Winning at this stage may be hazardous to your draft position.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.