When last we saw these Falcons, they were lecturing us on the value of continuity. Here’s a slice of continuity for you: This club hasn’t won an opener since Sept. 10, 2017, which was their first game after surging from 25 points ahead to finish second in Super Bowl 51. Coach Dan Quinn has entered the latest of what’s supposed to be a win-big-or-get-gone season, and his team is, for the third consecutive year, 0-1.
There was no compelling reason the Falcons lost 38-25 to Seattle on Sunday. They weren’t outmanned. They made only one turnover until the game’s final seconds. They outgained the Seahawks by 123 yards, though a goodly chunk of that came after they’d fallen 20 points behind. (Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards, the second-best total of his distinguished career.) The trouble with these Falcons — and this, we stipulate, won’t come as news to longtime observers — is that they’ve forgotten how to make difference-making plays.
Consecutive losing seasons can have that effect on a club. Even after an offseason laden with high-profile imports — Todd Gurley, Dante Fowler, A.J. Terrell — the Falcons looked to have changed little. They faced a good team and lost by double figures. Clock’s ticking, folks. Clock’s been ticking since it was 28-3 in Houston’s NRG Stadium.
We know from that Super Bowl season than an opener can mislead. That year the Falcons were beaten here by Tampa Bay in a horrid display. Those Falcons wound up being NFC champs on merit. But that was five years, and several DQ votes of confidence, ago. When you see a game like Sunday’s — after seeing SO MANY games like Sunday’s over the past few years — you wonder if all the continuity in the world is apt to make a lick of difference.
“We really came in ready,” Quinn said Sunday, which makes us ask: How might un-ready look?
Also from Quinn: “We’re pissed and upset. We thought we’d thrown a great camp.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Thing is, that great camp was thrown against themselves. The Seahawks are a good team. The Falcons haven’t been a good team for a good while. They’ve got lots of big names, lots of lofty draft picks, and yet you look at the scoreboard and ask: What about this team, apart from Ryan throwing and Julio Jones catching, is all that special?
The first half was about what you’d expect after an offseason that featured OTAs via Zoom, no minicamp, a delayed and socially distanced summer camp and no exhibition games. The Falcons moved the ball — they outgained Seattle 240 yards to 135 — but scored only one touchdown. An intentional grounding call limited them to a field goal on their first possession. A PAT after their first touchdown became a non-PAT after a false start made the distance more problematic. They settled for a field goal at half’s end, which brought them within 14-12, which wasn’t a bad place to be after trailing 14-3.
By that point, the Falcons' defense — under yet another new coordinator — had begun to get a handle on Russell Wilson. He’d completed 14 of 15 passes, but his longest gain came on a 28-yard option run. He’d been sacked three times. (Isn’t it against NFL rules for the Falcons to have a pass rush?) Were you the Falcons, you had to like the matchup of Raheem Morris, the latest-and-maybe-greatest DC, against Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who in a previous posting helped get Mark Richt fired at Georgia.
The game changed, as games will, on one play. On the Seahawks' first possession after halftime, Deion Jones obliterated a sweep on third-and-3. Now Seattle faced fourth-and-5 from the Atlanta 38. This is one of those coaching pickles: It’s a bit too far to kick a field goal, and a punt mightn’t net much. On the other hand, a failed fourth-down try gives the opponent a short field. Pete Carroll, who messed up a Super Bowl by throwing from the Patriots' 1, went with his gut again. Apparently his gut has gotten smarter.
This was clearly a play designed to get receiver D.K. Metcalf against man-to-man coverage. The coverage, as attempted by Isaiah Oliver, didn’t last long. Metcalf shook free coming off the line and essentially run the same route and caught the same pass as Alabama’s Devonta Smith did to beat Georgia in this building on the night of Jan. 8, 2018.
Metcalf had gotten so open so soon that someone wondered afterward if he’d been expecting safety help. Nope, Quinn said. “It was man-to-man, single-high.” Metcalf just beat his man.
That made it 21-12. It would soon get worse. The Falcons ran a fake punt that technically succeeded — safety Sharrod Neasman took the snap and made the yardage — but ultimately failed. Neasman neglected to bring the ball with him. The Seahawks recovered the fumble. Five plays later, Seattle scored again, Wilson finding tight end Greg Olsen, who as a Carolina Panther had caught a few passes against the Falcons.
Down 28-12, the Falcons began making haste. They moved to the Seattle 11. On fourth-and-2, Ryan dropped to pass. He was sacked by lineman Brian Mayowa. The Seahawks moved to another field goal. With 11:19 remaining, the game was gone. The Falcons were again 0-1. For at least one week, continuity had availed them nothing.
“We just got stalled down,” Ryan said. “We went for it three times on fourth downs and were 0-for-3.”
Seattle went for it once on fourth down and scored a touchdown. Funny how that works. Funny how a team with this much talent keeps starting seasons the same way. So why is nobody laughing?