After three straight colossal second-half collapses, the question of the Falcons' physical fitness has been called into question.
After an offseason of virtual learning with no offseason conditioning program due to the coronavirus pandemic, did the Falcons enter the 2020 season not in good enough condition to close out games?
The Falcons, after another fourth-quarter collapse Sunday, are 0-3 and set to face the Green Bay Packers (3-0) at 8:15 p.m. Monday at Lambeau Field.
“A coach knows his locker room and I certainly know ours, the strength of this group has been to fight and keep battling through,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on Monday. “We’ve got a tough team and we’re ready to fight through what we need to fight through to play like we can play. We are certainly looking forward to do that.”
Quinn, who’s off to another slow start after starting 1-4 in 2018 and 1-7 last season, gave the same stock answer for the fourth time when asked about his job security. He doesn’t want to detract from the team.
But they are now officially a longshot to make the playoffs.
In 1978, the NFL went to a 16-game schedule. From 1978 to 2020, 192 teams started the year 0-3, the average finish of those teams was 5-11. A total of six have made playoffs (3.1%) and zero have won the Super Bowl.
The best finish was 11-5 by two teams, including the 2018 Houston Texans. The worst finish was two teams that finished 0-16, with the 2017 Cleveland Browns being the most recent.
“You want to fight like hell for what you believe in,” Quinn said. “I definitely believe in this team.”
In the season opener, the Falcons trailed the Seahawks 14-12 at halftime. They were in the game. Early in the third quarter, the game went sideways as Seattle swiftly built a 31-12 lead with 11:19 to play. The Falcons added two garbage-time touchdowns to make the final score look close, 38-25.
In Dallas, the Falcons held a 20-0 lead and 29-10 at halftime. They couldn’t close out the Cowboys and failed to recover an onside kick, which led to a 40-39 loss.
On Sunday, the Falcons fell apart again in the fourth quarter, blowing a 16-point lead in a 30-26 loss to the Bears.
If the Falcons were in better condition, could they have held on and been 2-1 heading into a game with the Packers, who look like a NFC title contender and are seven-point favorites?
“I don’t believe that conditioning has been a thing, but this offseason was unusual,” Falcons cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said.
The Falcons try to simulate coming out for the second half in practice.
“I think we do a good job at practice,” Wreh-Wilson said. “We actually have a mock halftime everyday in practice. We come out and we are really attacking in the second half of things, kind of making it an emphasis.”
The Falcons continue to say they need to finish stronger, which raises the issue of conditioning.
“The team came back in good shape,” Quinn said. “There is nothing like football playing, but I don’t see that being a factor as you’re going into.”
The second-half slippage in the level of play has been pretty clear.
“There are certain games where one side of the ball will play more than the other,” Quinn said. “Often times, that factors into third-down or turnover margin.”
The Falcons still believe they made some strides against the Bears.
“In this game, defensively we improved on third downs,” Quinn said. “That was one of things from last week that we hit on. We had our chances to get off the field and not have some of those extended (drives). Conversely, at the end having a couple of three-and-outs offensively, it impacted time of possession and the number of plays.”
Whatever the reason, the Falcons have not been able to string together four quarters of football.
“From a conditioning standpoint, I do feel like the team is fit,” Quinn said. “You hate to see the injuries that come up, but I don’t see those being related to a conditioning issue.”
Quinn, who doesn’t have to release his official injury report until later in the week, was vague about the statu of injured players. The Falcons faced the Bears without six starters and lost wide receiver Russell Gage (concussion) and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (hip) in the game.
“I’m fully anticipating getting some of the players back that missed the last game,” Quinn said.
Falcons' next four games
Falcons at Green Bay Packers, at 8:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5
Panthers at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11
Falcons at Vikings at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18
Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25
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