What can I say? I was wrong, and not just garden-variety wrong. I was 1996-Braves-vis-a-vis-1927-Yankees wrong. (Ask anyone who was here 20 years ago. They’ll remember.) I believed you were leading the Falcons down the garden path.I believed your best claim to continuing NFL employment had to do with DNA. And today …
Well, how does “our man Shanahan — greatest thing since sliced bread” sound?
This missive isn’t being written with an arched eyebrow. I am really, truly in awe of the Falcons’ offense, which means I’m in awe of you. Matt Ryan was asked after Sunday’s 41 points and 550 yards if he’d ever been part of such an irresistible attack. Being Matt Ryan, he deflected the question. So I’ll say what he wouldn’t: The Falcons have never moved the ball and scored touchdowns like this. If we (meaning me) faulted you for the team not scoring touchdowns last year, we cannot in good conscience become a denier of unfolding truth.
Despite being seventh among NFL teams in total yards, the 2015 Falcons were 20th in offensive touchdowns. They averaged 2.1 per game. This year’s Falcons average 3.6 offensive touchdowns, which is the best any team has done since the 2013 Denver Broncos, who hold the record with 606 points.
You’re at 469 – already a franchise record – with two games to go. You lead the league in first-half scoring and in second-half scoring, which tells us nobody has figured you out. If your guys hit their average (33.5 points) the next two weeks, you’ll finish with 536 points. That would be the eighth-highest total in NFL annals. The top seven: 2013 Broncos with Peyton; 2007 Patriots with Brady; 2011 Packers with Rodgers; 2012 Pats/Brady; 1998 Vikings with Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss; 2011 Saints with Brees and 2000 Greatest-Show-On-Turf Rams.
(If there’s a downside to joining that array, it’s that none of the above won a Super Bowl. But let’s worry about that another day.)
If I had to pick a series to illustrate your acumen, I’d point to one in Sunday’s second quarter. A holding call on a punt meant that your offense started from its 6. First play: Tevin Coleman for a yard. Then Ahmad Brooks lurched offside. Break for your guys, and here they went.
Ryan found Mohamed Sanu down the left side for 22 yards, then hit Aldrick Robinson over the middle for 20 more. Now you’re on the 42 and flying and the Niners, already trailing by 14, were desperate. You fed on that.
Desperate to get to Ryan, the 49ers blitzed on first down. Your call was the utter definition of wrong-footing an opponent. Coleman took a quick-hitting handoff and ran between blitzers for 29 yards. The next play involved a handoff to a different guy going a different way: Devonta Freeman around right end. Twenty more yards.
So: First-and-goal at the 9. It’s not easy to run the ball in from the 9. Your guys did. Freeman broke off right guard, shedding three defenders. Six plays, four of them runs, took your team 94 yards and effectively decided the game. Great stuff.
All the reasons we (meaning me) cited as to why this offense wouldn’t work have been swept away. Freeman and Coleman, previously viewed as change-of-pace backs, run as tough inside as much bigger men. The offensive line zone-blocks like thunder. The share-the-ball approach looks pretty darn smart given that Julio Jones, the NFL’s leading receiver, hasn’t played in two weeks and Jacob Tamme, the starting tight end, was lost for the duration.
You’ve taken Taylor Gabriel, a Cleveland castoff, and made him your Percy Harvin. (Sorry to keep using that comparison, but I can’t find a better one.) You took Robinson, a sixth-round draftee on his third organization, and bled 111 receiving yards out of him Sunday. You’ve taken whatever tight ends you have – and you don’t have a Tony Gonzalez – and made do. The go-ahead touchdown in Seattle was snagged by Levine Toilolo, who was scandalously open. When everyone can catch, someone’s always open.
As for you being the absolute wrong coordinator for Ryan: As good as he has been, he has never been this good. Even if he does throw the occasional interception, it’s surely more him than you. You weren’t here for the Tramon Williams playoff Pick-6 or the throw to nowhere at Wembley. Once in a while, Matty Ice just gets a wild hair. It’s his nature.
As for you: You’ll probably parlay this season into a head coaching job, which would be nice for you but deflating for those of us who track the Falcons. Because your offense is a thing of rare and beautiful balance — third in passing yards, eighth in rushing.
I know you’re a reggae aficionado, so I’ll borrow a verb from Mr. Marley (Bob, not Jacob) and say: You, Mr. Kyle, have livelied up Atlanta. You’ve gotten it right. And I remain …