The Falcons may be favored to beat the Jets, but will need to upset the Giants and Washington to have a 3-2 record at the bye week.
After the hiring of Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot, the Falcons steered clear of the “R” word. No one wanted to say the team was rebuilding.
“They hired the wrong guys if they thought we were going to lower expectations, take our time, and rebuild,” Smith told Peter King of “Football Morning in America” in May. “That’s just not who we are. The expectation is to win now, build for the future, have plans.”
Despite the early-season routs, the Falcons believe they can salvage the season and get on track.
“The effort, the competitiveness, I think those are things that you can hang your hat on,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said when asked if his team can salvage the season. “I thought some of that was really good. I think it needs to be more consistent.”
Ryan, who’s been the quarterback since 2008, has not been through a full-blown rebuild.
“I think when you look at some of the execution that we’ve had at certain times throughout games has been very good, but it needs to be more consistent,” Ryan said. “I think you draw the positives from our start, some of the good things that we’ve done.”
There haven’t been many positives.
The Falcons had two drives against the Eagles that ended in field goals and then punted for the rest of the game.
The Falcons rallied from a 28-10 deficit to close to within three, at 28-25, only to allow 20 consecutive points in blunderful fashion, including two pick-six passes tossed by Ryan.
Throughout the Tampa Bay game, the offensive line appeared to be overmatched, especially in short-yardage situations. Ryan was stuffed on a quarterback sneak, and Cordarrelle Patterson was dropped for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-1 when three Bucs penetrated the line with ease.
“If you can do it once, you can do it again, and you have to hammer home to our young players that it’s not going to require anything extraordinary,” Ryan said. “It’s just going to require lots of really ordinary plays that you do really well, consistently for four quarters. That’s kind of the message that I’m trying to hammer home to our guys. It’s just you have to do your job really well play after play after play.”
The Falcons flipped 50% of their 22 starters this season. For some reason, they elected not to play the starters in the exhibition games. Now, when the games count, they are still feeling each other out.
That point has been made by defensive coordinator Dean Pees twice over the past two weeks.
Ryan believes if the players can become consistent, they’ll have a chance to get things turned around.
“I think you do when you have young players, but you also got to clip off wins along the way,” Ryan said. “You live through some of those things when you’re playing with young guys. I know that firsthand being that guy.”
The Falcons know they have a lot of issues.
“There’s a lot of improvement that you have to make, but you also have to find ways to get the job done, regardless,” Ryan said. “We can harp on the positives, try and be more consistent, but we got to find ways to win.”
The reality of the blowout losses has hit the Falcons.
“We are not concerned at all,” Patterson said. “We’ve got real men in that locker room with real families. We do this for a living. This is our job. We are not concerned.”
Ryan keeps stressing that the team has to keep improving.
“Your very best play should be the standard for what you go out there and do,” Ryan said. “I don’t know where it came from, but I’ve kind of used that for a long time.”
Smith has elected to stay with younger players, who have made mistakes. The developmental tactic may pay off over the long haul. Instead of getting benched after a poor showing in the opener, rookie left guard Jalen Mayfield earned his way back into the lineup with a good week of practice.
Smith and his staff will need to develop a lot of the younger players, very quickly, if they indeed plan to “win now.”
Ryan was impressed with how Mayfield bounced back.
“He just played within the scheme,” Ryan said. “That’s one of the messages I was kind of referencing is that you don’t have to be a hero every snap. You just have to be detailed and do what you’re coached and asked to do.”
Mayfield held up much better against a stronger Tampa Bay defensive front.
“I thought he did a better job of that for sure,” Ryan said. “But all of us have to do that, it’s not just him. All of us have to kind of, find out exactly what we’re being asked to do and try and execute it as best we can.”
Other young players are coming along. Second-year safety Jaylinn Hawkins earned some playing team against the Bucs.
Others are not. Rookie safety Richie Grant, a second-round pick, is struggling to pick up the defense.
“Just learn the defense better,” Pees said. “He’s a rookie. It’s a lot of defense. It’s a lot of stuff. He’s just got to get to that point where he knows it and we know that he knows it.”
In the meantime, Grant is helping on special teams.
A better effort is going to be needed across the board. The Falcons know they can’t keep getting blown out.
“This is something that we signed up for,” Patterson said. “To come in and play football each and every day. If you are concerned, you’re in the wrong sport. It’s football. It’s a kid’s game. We are having fun while we are playing it. You just have to keep that same mind-set. You can’t get frustrated. It’s a long season. Things happen. You have to pick your stuff up and keep moving.”
The Bow Tie Chronicles
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Falcons’ 2021 schedule features trip to London, January trip to Buffalo
Atlanta Falcons Schedule
Eagles 32, Falcons 6
Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25
Falcons at New York Giants, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m.
Washington FT at Falcons, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m.
New York Jets vs. Falcons in London, Oct. 10 at 9:30 a.m.
Here’s the rest of full schedule.