Bradley’s Buzz: Is it possible the Falcons aren’t any good?

Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) fumbles the ball during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, November 5, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. 
Miguel Martinez/

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) fumbles the ball during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, November 5, 2023, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  Miguel Martinez/

Credit: Miguel Martinez

What now? Back to Desmond Ridder? Nope. Arthur Smith just announced the Falcons will stick with Taylor Heinicke because ... well, who the heck knows? Smith might be better off scribbling a note to self: “When in doubt, trade for Joshua Dobbs?”

Doubt has begun to take hold in the mind of one observer — this one. The Falcons have lost five of seven. Worse, they’ve begun to lose games they shouldn’t. Worse still, they’re losing despite facing a cake schedule and having gotten beaucoup breaks, opposing-quarterback wise.

Sunday marked the third time this season — the second time in two weeks — the opposing QB was making his first NFL start. The Falcons contrived to lose twice in eight days. On Sunday, they lost to a team so strapped for someone to take snaps that they turned to a guy who was an Arizona Cardinal when the week began.

I’m wondering if I’ve overrated the Falcons. (For all my failings, expecting too much of this franchise has seldom been among them.) I’m wondering if I’ve overrated their coach.

When this team drafted Bijan Robinson, I assumed he’d become a focal point. Why else take a running back in Round 1? On Sunday, he rushed 11 times and caught two passes. Tyler Allgeier, who was already on hand, had a slightly busier day — 12 rushes, two catches.

Robinson averages 14.6 touches per game, 27th-most among NFL players. Take away the one touch on a sick day against Tampa Bay and he’d be averaging 16.3, which would bump him to 19th.

Heinicke completed a 55.3 percentage of his passes Sunday. Ridder’s completion percentage this season is 65.4. Heinicke averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, which is the YPA rate that got Ridder benched. The Falcons are 0-1 in games started by Heinicke. They were 4-4 in games started by Ridder.

The Falcons did score 28 points Sunday, a season best. (Not to pick nits, but two points were scored by the defense.) They managed two touchdowns against four field goals. One FG came at the end of a possession that began at the Minnesota 1-yard line and ended at the Minnesota 5. Ye gods.

I understood, kind of, the rationale for Heinicke. Ridder was getting sacked and losing the ball. The career backup was supposed to bring stability, and he was OK on Sunday. His ceiling, however, is established. Against an opponent having to explain to its QB how each play worked, the Heinicke-led offense wasn’t enough. Among losses not involving a blown double-digit lead, this ranks among the club’s worst.

The Falcons have an offense — as scripted by the head coach — that gains yards but leaves points unbanked. They’ve scored 15 touchdowns in nine games. Twenty-five teams have scored more. They’ve kicked 20 field goals. No other team has kicked more. They’re 4-5 having been favored six times. They’re 4-5 with victories over opponents who are 11-21.

I thought this would work. Being sub-.500 against this schedule is the definition of “not working.” But you know what? As bad as this has gotten — Sunday was as bad as it gets — there’s a path to the playoffs. Their next game is against Arizona, which is 1-8 and coming off a 27-0 loss to Cleveland. That should get them to .500 at their bye week.

Really, though, all bets are off, and we use that phrase advisedly. The Falcons were favored in their past three losses. Their defense — now without Grady Jarrett — has begun to wobble. Drake London has been lost for the foreseeable future, not that anything about this bunch is foreseeable. By changing quarterbacks, Smith threw open a door that could have remained closed.

Ridder mightn’t be this team’s answer. Heinicke, on his sixth NFL organization, is no team’s answer. But if Ridder’s not the guy and Robinson’s not making a difference, what was the point of the offseason?

With 0:05 remaining Sunday, the Falcons needed 15 yards to give Younghoe Koo a chance at a 62-yarder. They had a timeout remaining. The Vikings sent three rushers. Damiere Byrd, uncovered, ran an out that might have gotten 10 yards. Heinicke threw long instead, his Hail Mary falling short of the end zone.

And where was Robinson, the No. 8 pick of the 2023 draft? He stayed in the backfield to block.

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Falcons at Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., CBS, 92.9

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