Sunday’s missive went big-picture: The Atlanta Falcons are 1-6; Dan Quinn needs to go. It didn’t dwell much on the game, in which a visitor that entered with a .500 record toyed with its host. The Rams will recall it as the day they began to get well. For the Falcons, a 27-point home loss was more of the new normal.
On Jan. 16, 2018, these teams met in the Wild Card Round in L.A. The Falcons won 26-13. It was their best win since claiming the NFC title on Jan. 22, 2017. They’ve had nothing half as good thereafter. On a sunny Sunday beneath the open roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we were given another side-by-side comparison.
The Rams could have named the score. Heck, they pretty much did. Even when it was 13-3 at the halftime, there seemed no way back for the Falcons. That told us all we needed to know, not that we didn’t know it already.
The defense couldn’t stop the Rams, who with their double tight-end sets aren’t a quick-strike entity. The offense couldn’t stop the Rams from slamming into Matt Ryan. Oh, and special teams were horrid, too. Those three new coordinators are having quite the season.
An example: On fourth-and-3 from the Atlanta 46, the Rams aligned themselves to punt. Then they shifted. It was clear — clear to everyone save the Falcons — what was about to happen. That was prime fake-punt terrain, and the Rams fake punts all the time. Once a high school quarterback, punter Johnny Hekker had thrown 19 NFL passes. He’d completed 11. He’s now 12-for-20.
Might the Falcons have called timeout when the Rams reset? Sure. Did they? No. Did they cover Nick Scott? No again. Brian Hill charged off the left flank toward Hekker. Scott left Hill unblocked — another tip-off — and flared into the flat. No Falcon was within five yards of him when he caught the ball. To call this taking candy from a baby would be an insult to babies.
The Falcons have personnel issues. On this we can agree. Their offensive line is awful. (Good thing they devoted two Round 1 picks to O-linemen, though we stipulate that Chris Lindstrom hasn’t played since Week 2.) The Rams had as many sacks Sunday as the Falcons have managed this season. (Good thing the Falcons spent their first picks in 2015 and 2017 on pass rushers, huh?) There are things this team can’t do. Alas, these Falcons have reached the point where they can’t do anything.
They managed 10 points and 224 yards Sunday. Their only touchdown came off a 75-yard drive engineered by Matt Schaub after Ryan had been hurt and the game was long gone. The team that lost Super Bowl 51 to New England was routed at home by the team that lost Super Bowl 53 to New England, and the chilling part was that the Rams geared down for the final 20 minutes.
Todd Gurley, a running back, beat Vic Beasley, who used to be a pass rusher, for a touchdown catch. (Of further interest: The Falcons could have picked Gurley in April 2015; they took Beasley.) Jared Goff, a quarterback, scored by making Deion Jones, one of the best in a bad lot of defenders, whiff in the open field. Matt Bryant missed a field goal. Ryan threw a deflected-by-Mohamed-Sanu interception and fumbled while being hit/hurt. Devonta Freeman got himself ejected. In a game that figured to be a referendum on Quinn, his Brotherhood spit the bit.
True confession: I never saw these Falcons as a Super Bowl winner, but I thought they’d go 9-7 or thereabouts and maybe make the playoffs. I figured there was no way they’d be as bad as last year’s 7-9. They’d need to finish 6-3 just to get to 7-9. According to FiveThirtyEight, they’re one of four NFL teams with less than a one percent chance of making the playoffs. The others are Cincinnati and Miami, both winless, and Washington, which has won once and fired its coach. That’s the company the men of Quinn are keeping. After 4-1/2 years of work, that’s what he has built.
When you saw Falcons-Rams on the schedule, you thought, “Big-time game.” Only one of the participants appeared in any way big-time, and that was the team that entered having lost three in a row. When you’re 1-6, the details of any one loss shouldn’t much matter, but what happened Sunday underscored everything we’d seen over the first six weeks. This team is terrible. It has bad coaches who have turned good players into forlorn figures. Nobody saw this coming, but here it is.
The first words of the first song on Elvis Costello’s first album: “Oh, I used to be disgusted/Now I try to be amused.” For those of us on the outside, that’s really the only way to approach this. A team we once believed might do something has done nothing but fail. Fooled us. Hardy-har-har.
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