The Falcons’ latest loss reminds us what they are

The Atlanta Falcons lost Sunday, which meant clarity won. The two-game blip was revealed as just that. They're 3-8. They cannot win the NFC South. For them to make the playoffs, Green Bay must lose the rest of its games while the Falcons win out. There's also a scenario in which Minnesota loses out and Chicago rises from 5-6 to 8-8 and triggers a three-way tiebreaker, but that's it. As of today, Football Outsiders puts the Falcons' postseason odds at 0.0 percent.

It's not yet Thanksgiving, and the Falcons have already been reduced to praying for 8-8 tiebreakers. For the third time in five years under Dan Quinn, they're guaranteed a non-winning season. They're 10-17 over last season and this. They're 21-25, counting playoffs, since winning the NFC title on Jan. 22, 2017. They're 42-38 under Quinn. (Under predecessor Mike Smith, they were 55-25 after 80 games.)

These aren’t new numbers. Nothing really changed with Tampa Bay. The game merely reacquainted us with reality.

The Falcons started last season 1-4. Then they beat three bad teams to give themselves a chance. Their next two games were against Cleveland, which was 2-6-1 and had fired its coach, and against Dallas, languishing under .500. The Falcons lost both. They wouldn’t win again until they’d assured themselves a losing season.

This year's Falcons started 1-7. Then they won at New Orleans and at Carolina, both times in routs. Where had this come from? (Or, if you prefer, where had it gone?) And then, with their next three games were at home, they were beaten 35-22 by a band of Buccaneers that had lost four of five. The final score flatters the Falcons. They scored last — behind backup quarterback Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan having been pulled after six sacks — and the visitors contrived to miss three PATs.

Of the Falcons’ eight losses, this was the fifth by double figures. It was the seventh time in those eight they’d trailed by more than a touchdown at the half. It was their fourth consecutive loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (The Falcons’ record in their swanky new digs: 10-11.) In the previous two weeks, facing teams with winning records, the Falcons hadn’t trailed. Against 3-7 Tampa Bay, they didn’t lead over the final 37:55. They had 11 sacks against New Orleans and Carolina. They had none against the Bucs.

After those two road upsets, we wondered which were the real Falcons — the hapless bunch that won once over the season’s first half or the sprightly crew that had snapped to attention? We should have known that the answer was “both.” This team has taken to spending a lot of time looking awful, but sometimes — not nearly enough times — it remembers what it’s supposed to be and acquits itself accordingly. Then, as suddenly as it arrived, the mood passes.

The back-to-back wins showed us what the Falcons coulda/shoulda been. The Tampa Bay loss reminded us that they’re still the Falcons. You don’t fall to 1-7 by accident. You do it because you’ve thrown consistency — unless consistent inconsistency counts – to the winds. You don’t get great because Raheem Morris switches meeting rooms. The NFL isn’t about Who Wants It More. It’s about who pays attention to detail every week, every quarter, every snap. (Bill Belichick’s only slogan: Do your job.)

The cosmic flop offered Sunday can’t have surprised anybody but, in the grand scheme, it was the right result at the right time. Had they run off a string of wins, enthusiasm for the status quo would have gathered strength. That’s human nature. Arthur Blank is the only vote that counts, but he too is human. He knows these people. He likes these people. He hired these people. But the owner must also know he has given this regime every chance to succeed, and it hasn’t.

Yeah, yeah. The Falcons under Quinn almost won the Super Bowl. But let’s be honest: As constituted, is this franchise anywhere close to another Super Bowl? It has gone 2-1/2 months without winning a home game. Against Seattle, New Orleans and Carolina, the Falcons yielded no touchdowns over 10 quarters. The Bucs scored four touchdowns in the first 35 minutes.

These are the Falcons. They look great on occasion, but only on occasion. They have good players, but they’re not a good team. They can rearrange the names on the org chart — Morris hasn’t tried his hand with kickers, has he? — but the only way anything will change for the better is if those names change. This team can finish 7-9 and prove nothing. Last year’s team won its final three games to reach 7-9. How’d that work out?

The Tampa Bay game wasn’t the worst performance of the season — heck, it doesn’t make the podium — but it was the most useful. It proved what, down deep, we already knew. These Falcons will never be good enough. These Falcons will only break our hearts.