» MORE: What Matt Ryan said following loss
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.