The Falcons’ biggest problem? Self-delusion

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons owner Arthur Blank discusses the team after the 4-12 season and how it is ready to move on to the coach and general manager searches.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

The men who run the Falcons — well, not counting the general manager or the permanent head coach, those jobs being vacant — met the virtually assembled media Monday to speak in triumphant tones about yet another in an unbroken string of hugely successful seasons.

No, wait. (Checks notes.)

The men who run the Falcons — meaning owner Arthur Blank and something-or-other Rich McKay — met the virtually assembled media Monday to speak in triumphant tones about a third consecutive losing season and a sixth non-winning year in eight, and if you’re wondering, “How exactly do you do that?” … well, I have no clue.

Said Blank: “The record is 4-12, but anyone who played us along the way will tell you, the players have played really hard.”

ExploreFalcons looking for ‘collaborative’ GM and head coach

Then: “We have a chance to be very competitive this coming year (meaning 2021). Any team you we played will tell you this team fought hard throughout the game. We didn’t make all the plays, and made some plays we shouldn’t have made, but it wasn’t due to the lack of urgency or the lack of commitment and doing all the things that are really fundamental as an organization.”

Forget that this club has gone 57-71 since the NFC championship game of January 2013. Focus instead on those famous Falcons fundamentals. Holy mackerel.

(Oh, and about that NFC title tilt, in which the Falcons blew a 17-point lead against the 49ers, Blank said: “If Roddy White’s not held, we’re in the Super Bowl.”)

The Falcons are searching for both a GM and a head coach in large measure because, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, they believed everything about their organization was cut from championship cloth. The Falcons were wrong about that. They’ve been wrong about many things. Their biggest wrong has become the inability to see themselves as they are. They walk around like they’re the Patriots, except that the Patriots have six Super Bowl rings to the Falcons’ none, and one of those carries a inscribed jab at their forlorn opponent – “28-3.”

Here was Blank, asked what might make being GM/coach here more appealing than in the many other cities that are also hiring: “I think if you would ask the candidates that … they would say, ‘Who are the owners?’ It’s difficult for me to talk about that because it’s about myself in that sense, but certain ownership groups around the league have a stronger reputation for being committed to whatever it’s going to take to win it all costs – not at all costs in terms of culture, but win at all costs in terms of resources and facilities and staffs. Generally I would say, and others could comment on this and you all probably might or will, but I would say that regard we would get fairly good marks.”

Reality check: The Falcons have an owner who makes a sideline appearance toward the end of every game, who insists on monitoring his coach’s postgame press conference in person in non-pandemic seasons and who holds a meeting with said coach the day after every game. Some might see this as overbearing. Blank sees it as a way of “showing support.”

And here’s the thing: Nobody around the Falcons dares to say, “Mr. Blank, sir, you need to back off.” Certainly the notion hasn’t occurred to the man himself, given that he regards “ownership,” meaning him, as the franchise’s chief asset.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Falcons president Rich McKay discusses the talent level of the current team.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

Blank bought the Falcons in February 2002. His team has reached one Super Bowl, which ended badly. It reached the NFC championship game in January 2005; the coach of that team was fired on Jan. 1, 2007. The Falcons again played for the conference title in January 2013; the coach of that team was fired on Dec. 29, 2014. In 19 seasons under this owner, his team has finished above .500 nine times. That’s not awful, but it’s not quite as great/grand as the Falcons would have us believe.

“We want to win tomorrow but prepare for the future as well,” Blank said. “We want to be among the NFL’s top six-seven-eight teams every year.”

If you were waiting for Blank to suggest that his Falcons might need to take two steps back before moving even an inch forward, your wait was in vain. “We have a roster that’s much better than 4-12,” he said, hopping back on that hobbyhorse. Although later, he did allow: “The team is better than 4-12 but not better than 7-9 or 8-8 … We can’t fool ourselves.”

But you know who, this time a year ago, fooled themselves? These Falcons! Blank opted to keep Dan Quinn another year when common sense dictated otherwise, which is why the 2020 Birds could start 0-5 under one coach and finish 0-5 under another.

Blank: “We’ve made some mistakes in the draft, which hurt us. We’ve probably made some mistakes in free agency.”

But also: “We’ve done plenty of internal analysis.”

And then: “We need to be an important team throughout the year, but also year after year.”

Just how the Falcons figure to do this is difficult to say. They’ve had Matt Ryan for 13 mostly distinguished seasons and managed four playoff victories. (Although McKay said Monday: “We should’ve won the playoff game in Arizona.”) They’ve had Julio Jones for a decade and managed four winning seasons. They’re smack up against the salary cap, though they’ll never admit it. They haven’t been an important team, big-picture-wise, since they led by 25 points with 17 ½ minutes left on Feb. 5, 2017.

And yet, here was Blank on Monday: “The national media look at us as being a really good opportunity (for GMs/coaches).”

Maybe they’ll find a pair of aces capable of righting everything. First, though, the Falcons need to face reality. An awful lot had to go wrong for them to fall to 4-12, but they can’t even cite that meek number without hedging. Said McKay: “We are what our record says we are, but we probably should have won a few more games.”

Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. It’s also a creek that runs through Flowery Branch.

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