(Or, if you’re a member of the Win Never/Draft Trevor set, they did what they absolutely shouldn’t do: They compromised their chances of landing the No. 1 pick. Ah, well. Can’t please everybody.)
You missed seeing the Falcons beat the team that, 2½ weeks ago, closed the curtain on Dan Quinn’s reign of error. There was no way Carolina, a team in Year 1 of a massive do-over, should have beaten a team that had geared up for a big playoff run, but somehow the Panthers came to Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Oct. 11 and won. Indeed, they bled three victories out of their first seven games, none of the victories coming in games worked by Christian McCaffery, their best player.
In that game, the Panthers, in their first season under coach Matt Rhule, offensive coordinator Joe Brady and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, gave the Falcons a lesson in how to maximize talent. The signature of Quinn’s teams since Super Bowl 51 was their rampant underachieving. In giving Quinn the gate six hours after that Carolina loss, the Falcons cleared the air. They’ve done better since. (They could hardly have done worse.) They’ve won twice and are another epic flop – OK, so the DQ stamp isn’t completely gone – from a three-game winning streak.
On a rainy Thursday in Charlotte, the Falcons looked the better team from the first, even with Calvin Ridley departing early because of injury. For this franchise, looking good is never an inoculation against an indescribable loss. This time, though, they didn’t go belly-up at the end. They won 25-17. They should have won by more, but hey, they’re the Falcons. They’re 2-6, which is a game better than they were this time a year ago. We say again: Progress!
Said Morris afterward: “You always have to enjoy these things when they happen.”
Yeah, the Falcons kicked too many field goals (four, against two touchdowns) and missed a PAT that left the door ajar for Carolina at the end. Sure enough, Teddy Bridgewater hit DJ Moore, who’d outmaneuvered A.J. Terrell, for a 42-yard gain that put the Panthers on the Falcons' 34 with plenty of time to send this to overtime. Three snaps later, Bridgewater threw into triple coverage. Bidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted. That was that.
Morris again: “That’s what we’ve been talking about – ending a game with sacks or interceptions.”
Then: “We want to end the half with the ball. We did that in both halves.”
The Falcons gained 401 yards to Carolina’s 304. They had 10 more first downs. Julio Jones did his usual bit against this opponent – he’d missed the game earlier this month – by catching seven passes for 137 yards. Ryan scrambled six times for 25 yards, prompting Morris to call him, tongue in cheek, “one of these New Age quarterbacks.”
Said Ryan of his running: “I can’t tell if (teammates) are laughing at me or if they’re fired up when we get a first down.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
It was a happy night in what was, not so long ago, a wretched season. Even now, nobody should be setting off skyrockets at the thought of this team being 2-6. The Falcons still are last in the NFC South. They still have five games remaining with Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Kansas City. But two wins in three games when you start with the most egregious 0-5 in the history of football shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
On this night, you could see why people thought these Falcons might do a little something this year. They have some nice players. They have a quarterback. (No, Ryan won’t be traded by Tuesday.) And they do appear a bit more energetic under Morris than in the final days of DQ. “I thought we wore them down at the end,” Ryan said.
Maybe this is just a dead-cat bounce. Or maybe it’s the start of a campaign that will lead to Morris being granted four more years by his electorate of one, namely Arthur Blank. We can’t know exactly where this will lead, but we can know this: Whatever’s happening, it’s better.