Last year it was Julio Jones. This time, it was Dante Fowler.
Once the Falcons were back in the locker room after an astonishing 30-26 defeat to the Chicago Bears, Fowler, the pass-rusher the Falcons signed to a three-year contract worth up to $48 million this offseason, delivered an impassioned post-game speech to his teammates. Fowler, like everyone else in the locker room, was in disbelief yet again. For the second consecutive week, the Falcons blew a fourth-quarter lead of 15 points or more.
Last week, it was against the Dallas Cowboys. This time, the Falcons held a 26-10 lead in the game’s final period. Yet in a span of only 4 minutes, 29 seconds, the Bears were able to score three times, with backup quarterback Nick Foles, to get the victory.
“I don’t know how to explain it but we found a way to lose these games,” Fowler said. “It doesn’t get any worse than this. We found probably the two worst ways to ever lose a football game. I feel it can only get better from here, it can only go up from here.”
Fowler said he spoke to the team afterward he’s been on some teams that started poorly before, most notably with the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2016, Fowler’s Jaguars team started 0-3. Before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, the Jaguars were 3-5 at the bye.
Fowler, who began playing football at 4-years-old, said these past two games have been the craziest losses of his entire career. While no player following the game could offer a great explanation as to why these two losses occurred the way they did, everyone involved offered up a sense of agitation and annoyance at being 0-3 in such strange fashion.
While the mood of the locker room ran the gamut of emotions, Fowler said he wanted to ensure everyone knew there were 13 games left to be played.
“I told them at the end of the day, we’re just facing adversity right now with our back against the wall,” Fowler said. “Right now, these times are here to see how we’re built. What kind of team are we? What kind of players are we? We’re going to sit here and go in the gutter and quit? Or are we going to fight. I told them all I know how to do is fight. When my back is against the wall, all I know how to do is keep swinging. It’s 0-3 but it’s a long season. We have 13 games left. A lot can happen in 13 games.”
The message was well received by his teammates.
Running back Todd Gurley, who totaled 14 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown, said Fowler showed plenty of emotion when delivering those remarks. Like Fowler, Gurley was also perplexed as to how the Falcons were unable to finish a double-digit fourth-quarter lead for the second consecutive week.
“We’ve got to overcome it,” Gurley said. “If you don’t then [expletive] is going to look like this every week. And that’s not who we are. We know what kind of team we got. It’s going to be tough. Everybody’s going to have something to say after this game but there’s a lot of football left.”
Gurley added that the Falcons aren’t even a quarter of the way into the 2020 season. He said the team must do whatever it takes to get past this loss before moving forward to next week’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
“There’s so much football left,” Gurley said. “We just take care of the next game, put this behind us. Whatever you gotta do, 24-hour rule, go drink yourself to death ... come back tomorrow, Tuesday, and we gotta get this thing going.”
Receiver Calvin Ridley, who caught five passes for 110 yards, also was visibly upset, albeit via a virtual news conference, following a third consecutive loss and second of bizarre proportions. When Ridley was asked to assess the team’s mood after this loss, he paused for a few seconds before saying, “Not good.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Ridley, who has lit up the stat sheet with 349 receiving yards this season, said Fowler’s message could be summed up easily.
“Finish the game, win the game,” Ridley said.
Fowler said there was another purpose for speaking up in the locker room. Like Jones did after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams a year ago, Fowler wanted to use his time to defend Falcons coach Dan Quinn, whose seat has never been hotter since joining the franchise in 2015. When Jones stood up for his coach, he did so with owner Arthur Blank watching. The Falcons lost a week later, which finished their 1-7 start.
After a bye, the Falcons then went on a run that finished with a 6-2 second half of the season. Fowler was asked Sunday evening if this team still believes in Quinn following this 0-3 start
“Yeah, we have Coach Quinn’s back,” Fowler said. “That was the reason for us talking in the locker room, to let him know that we have his back.”
Quinn seemed appreciative of Fowler’s message and mentioned there were others who showcased some emotion too. Obviously, with this kind of start and with the last two weeks playing out the way they did, Quinn can only hope Fowler’s speech brings forth some sort of spark.
“At that moment the emotion comes out and how badly everyone wants it,” Quinn said. “You could sense that from Dante and others — Alex Mack, Matt (Ryan). Just knowing what’s at stake, how hard we gotta go. Yeah our backs are to the wall, we recognize that. So let’s fight like crazy to do that. When you’re cornered, you fight harder and you dig deeper.”