Falcons exploring new, dark offensive depths

Falcons fans are breaking out an array of dismal adjectives to describe the turn this season has taken. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Falcons fans are breaking out an array of dismal adjectives to describe the turn this season has taken. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Lord, how I long for the day the Falcons could lead anyone 28-3.

Yes, those numbers remain the source of ridicule even almost five years after the worst Super Bowl collapse ever. On Thursday night, the team that trailed by that damnable score to the Falcons before winning Super Bowl 51 was in the house. That dredged it all up again.

Even the heavens laughed. Before the game the Patriots delighted in tweeting the expected length of the night’s partial lunar eclipse, because it contained certain meaningful digits: 3 hours and 28 minutes. The roof at the Benz remained closed, saving the home team the pain of watching the moon punk it.

But at least 28-3 was ... something.

Better certainly than the offensive farce that was Thursday’s 25-0 loss to New England. Back that up to the 43-3 loss to Dallas just four days earlier, and this represents the worst back-to-back offensive performance since the 3-12 Falcons of 1987 scored three points total in games No. 8 and 9.

These poor Falcons and their undernourished offense can only dream of scoring 28 points at this stage. Matt Ryan is a man totally alone, waiting while the recorded music plays on and on at the other end of his call to customer service, with no one coming to help.

All that’s left after a night like this is hollow oaths. “We’re going to get out of this hole. We have to, and we will. And we got the right guys to do it,” Arthur Smith said.

He must be working with a different roster than everyone else, one from that other game against the Pats in 2017. In truth, the new coach brought onboard because of his offensive acumen is now the mathematician trying to solve an equation without numbers.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith reacts on the sidelines when his team fails to make a fourth-and-1 attempt against the Patriots during the third quarter.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Thursday was cast as a night to see what Smith’s first Falcons team was made of. Win or lose, it would be some kind of referendum on how he could get a team to respond after a royal thumping Sunday. The finding: They might be well-intentioned, but they haven’t the talent to make any kind of convincing statement.

Even when Cordarrelle Patterson was active, these Falcons couldn’t run. And the versatile Patterson was gone Thursday with an ankle issue. The Falcons gained 40 ground yards, most of that on back-to-back Qadree Ollison rushes of 10 and 12 yards. The other 14 rushes accounted for 18 yards (that’s a 1.29 yards-per-carry average). That’s fewer yards than an average man could accumulate by just falling down.

Ryan’s receiving corps is down one difference maker, Calvin Ridley out tending to his mental well-being. The five wideouts the Falcons deployed Thursday night consisted of one fifth-round draft pick, two sixth-rounders and two of the undrafted. While the world loves a good long-shot story, five of them in one position group is a bit much.

Early this week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick posited that the Falcons’ top draft pick, tight end Kyle Pitts, was a combination of Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. This hybrid Julio Gonzalez had three catches for 29 yards, Belichick taking him away as easily as he takes away all the oxygen in any given press conference.

The lack of professional bearing with the Falcons’ offense was obvious: The Falcons’ second play of the night was a 7-yard gain called back on the first of two illegal-formation penalties. The second one took a field goal off the scoreboard, Younghoe Koo missing the 50-yarder after the mark-off of the penalty.

The lack of any muscle on the line of scrimmage was stunning: After going 0-for-2 on fourth-down conversions against the Cowboys, the Falcons were again stonewalled Thursday. A key moment came on third-and-1 on the New England 16, with less than a minute left in the third quarter of a then 13-0 game. Running twice into the line gained nothing more than an invitation for the Patriots offense to rejoin the game. In terms of inspiration, such fruitless plunging was to play-calling what a stop sign is to literature.

The punchline at the end of the game was amusing only for those particularly warped by prolonged exposure to the Falcons: On this team’s final five throws of the game, three different quarterbacks threw an interception - I’ll never forget where I was the night I witnessed that feat.

Devoid of any help, Ryan is not the player to go 1-on-11 against any opponent and come out looking good. That’s four interceptions in his past two games (to no touchdowns), five in his past four. On Thursday, he was sacked four times, knocked down a total of a dozen occasions and picked up a limp early in the game.

“It’s been a tough five days offensively,” Ryan said. “It’s across the board. We haven’t thrown the ball well enough; we haven’t run the ball well enough. I’ve got to be more accurate. We all have to be more effective with what we’re asked to do in terms of the game plan.”

Nobody likes watching bad teams. They really avoid bad teams that can’t generate even the faint odor of an offense. Forget the famously cheap hot dogs here. So many New England fans took up the amply available seats Thursday that if Arthur Blank was really serious about appealing to the tastes of his customers, he would have introduced the $1.50 lobster roll.

The Falcons promise they’ll do better, that one day they will be able to score as many as 28 points again. How they’ll do this without better players is a real head-scratcher.