The Falcons season on the brink went over the edge with the 26-16 loss to the Ravens on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The former Super Bowl contenders, must now run the table in order just to reach .500 and save some pride from what was a once-promising season. Their playoff hopes dipped to one percent with the latest loss, their fourth straight, according to the New York Times playoffs simulator.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows that his task will be to keep the team from splintering into factions that he called “separation.”
He spoke to the team about that issue after the game.
“The natural tendency, when you are in tough spot, you could have some separation,” Quinn said. “What I said is that’s not who we are as a team. Stand up, fight for one another. Stand next to one another and fight for it. The energy, preparation and mindset coming into this game, I thought was on point in terms of where the guys were at.”
Even as the Falcons are essentially eliminated from the playoffs, Quinn expects the team to be ready to play when they face the Green Bay Packers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“I told them, you got a chance to do something about it a week from today, this feeling that we have,” Quinn said.
The locker room seemed resigned to their fate.
“It’s been an emotional year, up and down,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “It’s an emotional year for everybody involved. For us in here, the fans. It’s an emotional roller coaster we are not coming out on the right end of it.”
The loss to the Ravens was decisive. The Falcons have lost some close games, but this wasn’t one of them.
“We’ve been in a lot of tight games and we haven’t come out on the right end,” Jarrett said. “There’s no excuse. We’ve got to find a way to come down on the right end.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan passed for only 131 yards, his lowest total when he’s played in full game over his career.
He’s also concerned about the spirit of the team.
“We've got to find a good way to win,” Ryan said. “As far as staying together, I think we have a good group of men in our locker room, coaching staff, and front office that are willing to work. We need to do our jobs better than we've done up until this point.”
Ryan, like always, pointed to a return to practice to fix the woes.
“I think the effort has been good,” Ryan said. “We need to play well. At the end of the day, I think that's the most important thing is to play well, and we haven't done that.”
The Falcons have to fix their offense, which hasn’t scored more than 20 points over the four-game losing streak. Also, the rushing attack, off which the offensive scheme is based, has been ineffective.
The Falcons rushed for 26 yards and 34 yards in the past two games. Without a rushing attack, Ryan can’t set up the deep passes off of play-action fakes that are a main part of the team’s outside zone blocking scheme.
“We got into a drop-back game and that makes it tough,” Quinn said. “We have not opened the holes in the space and the level that we’ve come to understand is acceptable. We’ll continue to dig to find ways (to run the ball) because that part of our game has to be on the same function as everything else. When that’s out of whack, you become one dimensional.”
After facing the Packers, the Falcons play the Cardinals on Dec. 16 in the regular-season home finale followed by road games against the Panthers on Dec. 23 and Buccaneers on Dec. 30.
“We're going to fight,” cornerback Desmond Trufant said. “Regardless of whatever the situation is. That's in our DNA.”
The defense received a boost from the return of linebacker Deion Jones. He finished with 15 tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss. He had not played since the season opener as he recovered from a broken foot.
“Just fight,” Jones said of the plan for the rest of the season. “We've still got games left.”