The team with a record of 6-2 didn’t look any better than the one that was 2-6. Actually, it looked worse.
The quarterback who’s been starting for eight seasons and was gift-wrapped a $103.75 million contract didn’t look any better than the one who was left on the sidewalk by Jacksonville, in a bin next to the recyclables.
The Falcons’ coach, the one who preaches playing fast and physical and above all else aggressive — he turtled. Down by four points with three minutes left and the ball on the San Francisco one-yard line, Dan Quinn chose to kick a field goal.
The Falcons’ started the season 5-0. But they look far closer to the team that has dropped three of four games since, including Sunday’s nauseating performance against the remains of the San Francisco 49ers.
“We came out too flat again,” wide receiver Roddy White said. “For the last five, six quarters at least we’ve been playing that way. We’re playing methodical. Everything looks slow. Tempo’s not up. I keep telling everybody, we have to play ourselves into a groove. But we’re not doing that.”
No. Instead, they’re playing themselves into the ground.
This is the kind of football that got Mike Smith fired.
The Falcons followed up an embarrassing home loss to Tampa Bay to a possibly even worse loss to the 49ers. That was believed to be a scientifically impossible.
San Francisco was missing its three best running backs. And it best wide receiver. And two starting cornerbacks. And it traded its tight end to Denver in a clear white-flag waving at midseason. Worst of all, San Francisco coach Jim Tomsula, who’s renting month-to-month, and benched maligned quarterback Colin Kaepernick to start Blaine Gabbert, who had a career starting record of 5-22 and hadn’t won a game in more than three years (Sept. 23, 2012).
At 5-0, many viewed the Falcons as a relative house of cards. Now we’re seeing why. This has been the mother of all market corrections.
The loss to New Orleans came to a team that was 1-4.
The loss to Tampa Bay came to a team that was 2-4.
The loss to the San Francisco – to a team that 2-6.
“It’s disappointing any time you have back to back losses,” Quinn said.
You know what’s most disappointing? The players’ string of weak performances and the even worse efforts by Quinn and his assistants, particularly offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. This was not the way a team should respond to home embarrassment. Specifically:
– The Falcons trailed 17-13 and had a first and goal at the 49ers’ eight-yard line in the final minutes. But three ineffective pass plays by quarterback Matt Ryan (four yards, incomplete, three yards), left the ball at the one with three minutes left. Most coaches go for it in this situation, especially on the road. But Quinn had Matt Bryant kick a short field goal, hoping the defense would get a quick stop.
Bad decision. Gabbert scrambled to a first down on third-and-four and that was the game.
Quinn: “I chose to kick it, get a stop. I felt like we would stop them defensively. Looking back, yeah, there’s always a chance to second-guess. We had two ways to go. It didn’t work out for us.”
– White continues to be a ghost in the offense. He was targeted twice and caught one pass. White is trying to bite his tongue but clearly isn’t happy. It’s as if Shanahan suddenly thinks he can’t contribute.
“It’s frustrating,” White said. “But I’m finding a way to get through it. We’re 6-3. We’ll make the playoffs if we pick it up in the second half. There’s been darker days.”
White said he and Shanahan “have had conversations the last couple of weeks about my role in the offense. I’m just playing the role I’ve been asked to play.”
He vented about the team’s offensive performance, saying, “We go down and score a touchdown before the half and then then we come back out again (in the second half) and we’re methodical, not completing passes, and then we’re third and long again.”
– Play-calling has become predictable. Tackle Ryan Schraeder, “They’ve figured us out.”
White: “We’ve got to mix it up more.”
Shanahan and/or Ryan also abandoned the running game after Devonta Freeman had only 12 yards on 12 carries. The team rushed for only 17 yards on 14 attempts. Question: Where was Freeman on the last drive?
The 49ers didn’t a score touchdown in the last two games. Yet, this was the feeble offensive unit that drove 84 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give San Francisco a 7-3 lead. Gabbert completed a 41-yard pass to Quinton Patton, had a couple of nice scrambles and tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Garrett Celek. Later in the quarter, Gabbert connected with Celek again for an 11-yard touchdown to pad the 49ers’ lead to 17-6.
So that’s where the Falcons’ defense is today: They’ve turned Gabbert-to-Celek into Montana-to-Rice.
Welcome to 6-3. It feels like 6-10.
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