When next the Atlanta Falcons win a game, we’ll be treated to another round of paeans regarding their “resilience.” Pardon the snark, but the thought occurs: If they’d win more often, they wouldn’t need to bombard us with bromides about bouncing back. If they’d win more often, they’d be a good team.
The Falcons are 1-2, which isn’t good. They needed a fourth-down conversion and a fourth-down stop to outlast Philadelphia. Up next was Indianapolis, a team that saw its franchise quarterback retire at 29 less than a month ago. This seemed a splendid opportunity for the Falcons to steal a road win. These, however, are the Falcons, who see splendid opportunities and say, “Eh, can’t be bothered.”
They trailed 20-3 at halftime in Indy, only the barest upgrade over their opening Sunday in Minneapolis, which found them 21-0 in arrears after two quarters. On the season, they’ve been outscored 48-13 in first halves. This is not an encouraging sign.
The first half is about game plans. (Also execution, but every play of every game is about execution.) The first half is a function of the work put in during the week, not so much in on-the-field practice but in meetings and film study. Well-coached teams tend to show it in the first half, which brings us to the Falcons.
The second half is about tweaking the game plan, but when you’re behind it’s mostly about desperation. The Falcons outscored the Vikings 12-7 and the Colts 21-7 in those respective second halves. They lost both games, never having the ball with a chance to win. They’d fallen so far behind that, even with — Dan Quinn-ism Alert — the best part of themselves being brought to bear after halftime, it didn’t matter. That they finally played better after starting so abysmally availed them nothing.
So now, three games in, the Falcons are back below .500. They’re a game behind the Saints, who won in Seattle without Drew Brees. They’re tied with the Panthers, who won Sunday without Cam Newton, and the Buccaneers, who for better or worse still have Jameis Winston. When Sunday dawned, there seemed a chance that the Falcons would be no worse than tied for first — the 1-1 Bucs were playing the Giants — at the close of business. Didn’t happen.
Didn’t happen because the Falcons induced the Colts, working behind promoted backup Jacoby Brissett, to punt once. Didn’t’ happen because the Falcons incurred 128 yards in penalties. (Through three games, they’re second-worst in the league in penalty yards.) Didn’t happen because Matt Ryan delivered another interception, again in the shadow of the opponent’s goal line.
(Memo to M.R.: Don’t throw to Luke Stocker. Nothing good can come of it.)
For the third consecutive game, Ryan passed for 300-plus yards. On this Sunday, he completed every second-half pass save one. His stats on the season — well, some of them — look fine: He’s fourth in passing yards, fifth in completion percentage. He also leads the NFL in interceptions. His team has lost twice without facing a quarterback of Ryan’s portfolio or with the resources he has.
The Falcons often look like the better team — until you check the scoreboard and the standings. When they throw out whatever their game plan was and let Ryan start slinging, they’re still a sight to see. (Until he throws another INT and you hurl a shoe at the TV.) That’s both a compliment and the greatest possible criticism. When you’re capable of such wonders after falling way behind, why can’t you do similar work when the game’s there to be won?
You know where this is leading — the same place it has the past two seasons. Even with three new coordinators, one of whom is also the head coach, the Falcons aren’t maximizing their conspicuous gifts. These new coordinators weren’t commissioned to oversee a three-year restoration plan: They’re in place to win now. Dirk Koetter was here before. Quinn has been here since February 2015.
Yeah, 13 games remain. When you have talent and the Saints are without Brees, almost anything’s possible. But it has been so long since the Falcons have played at anywhere near peak capacity for more than a half that it’s unclear if they’re still any good. (They’ve been an underdog in all three games, which tells us what the Vegas pros think.) They’ve become more a curiosity than a force.
The Philadelphia game was a must, seeing as how nobody wants to start 0-2. The Falcons won that night. They were lucky, but luck counts. With beatable opponents in Indy and Tennessee up next, you’d have thought they’d take that precious victory and parlay it into 3-1 heading into the run of Texans/Rams/Seahawks/Saints. But no. Whenever these Falcons turn a corner, they slam into the side of a bus.
They’re 19-19 since winning the NFC title on Jan. 22, 2017. They have a slew of good players, but as a whole they’re a mediocrity. They’ve changed their coordinators, and again they’re 1-2, same as last year. That this still hasn’t gotten better makes us wonder if it will.
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