Easier stretch for these Falcons? There is no such thing

So now comes the soft spot in the Falcons schedule, right? A real chance to fill that emptiness in the win column. An opportunity to heal spirits, if not Julio Jones' hamstring.

That first quarter of the physical year was a bear, and in fact included the 3-1 Bears. Along with 4-0 Seattle and 4-0 Green Bay. No reason the Falcons shouldn’t have beaten 1-3 Dallas, except for the small detail of treating an onside kick like it had a pox.

Ah, but the Falcons' next five games will feature four teams – none with a winning record – that have begun the season a composite 5-11.

But before we get too carried away, what if it’s those teams that are feeling relief to have the Falcons on their agenda? Give one reason why Carolina, Minnesota, Detroit and Denver shouldn’t be looking at a game against the Falcons as their own soft place to land.

Because their .312 combined winning percentage looks like the loftiest of summits from where the Falcons now stand.

After his team lost in Green Bay on Monday night, Falcons coach Dan Quinn said that he expected this next quarter of the season to look a “hell of a lot different” than the winless one just gone by.

And by Tuesday, he had begun to alter the team’s vocabulary accordingly.

The word that he said he used immediately after the 30-16 – at least the one suitable for print – was “frustrated.”

The one he tried to sell less than 24 hours later was “determination.”

Quinn’s most important playbook now is a thesaurus.

“We have Carolina up next, but honestly it really comes down to us and all the things we need to do,” he said to lead off his Tuesday briefing. "We’ve got to stop beating ourselves. We’ve had some opportunities, and we haven’t nailed them like we need to.

“That’s why I have so much faith in the locker room and the men inside it because I know we will fix that. That’s why ‘determination’ is the word I’m using today.”

“Extermination” has been claimed by all those who have seen too many other Falcons collapses and are worn and weary only a month into this season.

The guess here is that if Sunday’s game against Carolina doesn’t appear markedly different on at least the scoreboard, Quinn will not be part of the Falcons' look afterward. Using the term “last stand” might imply that there remains a chance for Quinn to save his job. When in fact, it seems the best he can hope to do now is delay the inevitable. That delaying action reaches critical mass Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Already one winless coach has been fired, and Houston’s Bill O’Brien had more going for him recently – a 21-11 record and a pair of division titles the past two seasons as well as a recent promotion to GM – than Quinn. Testimony to the patience of Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who despite a measured nature, may yet see both his NFL and MLS sporting enterprises operating under interim management.

Such is the state of these Falcons that we are reduced to rating losses on a comparative pain scale. To that end, Monday night’s was relatively mild.

Expectations were low. Reasons to fall short abounded, beginning with the wildfire of injury that has swept through the secondary. There was no big lead lost this time. And for all their defensive deficiencies, the Falcons did hold Green Bay to its lowest point output of the season (the Packers had gone for 43, 42 and 37 the previous three games).

Still, Monday night provided one moment that typified this thus-far woeful season. The perverse highlight reel of 2020 must include Falcons desperation safety Jamal Carter – called up from the practice squad only Monday – tackling Green Bay tight end Robert Tonyan as he ran his third-quarter route. And even then, the Falcons couldn’t stop him. Tonyan somersaulted and resumed running while everyone in Falcons white went their own way. Wide open, Tonyan snagged another touchdown reception. He had three for the night.

The Panthers, even without the injured Christian McCaffrey and with Cam Newton taking his zoot suits north, loom as a surprisingly stout opponent. A young defense looks to furiously swarm. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been steady and effective. “Over-achieving” is their word of the moment.

If such defenders as Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Takk McKinley can make it back for the Panthers game, then there will be far less reason for the Falcons to lose a fifth consecutive. Maybe they can give even the limited fans returning to Mercedes-Benz Stadium a reason to produce authentic joyful noise.

Still, never make the mistake of presuming an easy stretch for these Falcons.