ONE GAME FROM FIVEHUNDREDVILLE – The 28-19 loss to Carolina may be the low point for the Falcons under second-year head coach Mike Smith.
They have played hard in every game over the 26-game Smith era, but it may have been just the second time that they were defeated when they were favored. (You guys can look that one up, but I know they were favored to win on the road in Arizona for the playoff game last year.)
But the schedule doesn’t get any easier. They travel to rickety Giants Stadium for a showdown with Tom Coughlin and the G-men, who are 5-4 and have been stewing about it over their bye week.
When considering the Falcons schedule this season — four games against teams coming off byes -– and the aftermath of the DeAngelo Hall incident, it doesn’t appear that the Falcons have many friends at the league office. The schedule is atrocious and how Hall got away without being fined is one of the great mysteries of our time. Hall did say he was going to give his “peeps” a call.
After rolling back down I-85 late last night, I had a little extra time to think about the five things we learned from the game.
1. The Falcons still don’t have a left cornerback. The Falcons knew that Tye Hill probably wasn’t the answer when they traded for him, but were likely hoping that by acquiring him and Brian Williams before the outset of the season, that the other corners would step up their games. Brent Grimes played much stronger, but his man was still open. It’s probably time to go ahead and include rookie Christopher Owens in the rotation at left cornerback. At least get him some spot duty.
2. Matt Ryan may have some limitations. One NFL quarterback coach told me and a few other friends at the NFL
Combine last spring that he wasn’t completely sold on Matt Ryan. Stunned and perplexed, we asked why? The coach said that Falcons offense was so simple last year that teams would figure it out. He said with a 1,700-yard back, that all Ryan had to do last season was find the single safety and throw away from him. The Falcons knew this. That’s why they spent most of their offseason working on the passing attack and why they went out and got Tony Gonzalez. One other thing, the second knock on Ryan coming out of the draft was that he sailed passes to the left. Both of the interceptions were passes to the left on Sunday. The No. 1 knock was he threw too many interceptions, but that was blamed on the quality of the Boston College receivers. (Matt has a Fathead deal. You can get a life-sized image of Ryan in the Falcons’ throwback jersey at Fathead.com.)
3. Where in the heck is John Abraham? With teams knowing that at least one receiver (usually the one guarded by the left cornerback) is going to be open, they are running their “quick game” stuff against the Falcons. Slants and quick outs to get the ball out fast. Rarely did Jake Delhomme take a seven-step drop and drive the ball up-field. So Abraham and the rest of the defensive line don’t have enough time to get to the quarterback like they did in the first half against Washington when they had five sacks. But still Abraham only has 3.5 sacks. I’m inclined to concur with Jeff Schultz that the 16-plus sack Abraham from 2008 has been abducted by aliens.
4. Long snapper might not be long for the roster spot. Had too much other stuff going on with Turner being hurt and Ryan’s picks and by the time I tried to find long snapper Bryan Pittman, punter Michael Koenen or kicker Jason Elam, they were on one of the buses. But clearly the timing was off on the 34-yard field goal kick and Elam wasn’t happy about it. But when you got four hours to drive you can come up with some theories. My neighbor George – a season ticket holder and Falcons road warrior – and I were wondering if the Falcons were trying to draw the Panthers offsides (they only needed an inch) and maybe somebody forgot to tell Elam? Maybe they weren’t supposed to kick it. Just line up try to draw them offsides and then if the Panthers didn’t jump, just take the penalty and kick it from 39 yards?
5. The Falcons can block kicks. A big special teams play got lost in the shuffle. Defensive end Chauncey Davis busted through to block a Panthers 51-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. The blocked field goal was the first for the Falcons since Nov. 30, 2008 at San Diego. Earlier this season, cornerback Brian Williams blocked a Carolina punt in Week Two. “Me, Jamaal (Anderson) and Babs (Jonathan Babineaux) had a great push and once we get those two steps we have to throw our hands up,” Davis said. “The ball was coming. We got a great push, got the guys knocked back and I got my hands up.”
It had to be a long ride back to Flowery Branch for the Falcons. They kicked away a winnable game, running back Michael Turner might be out for awhile and their second-year quarterback has to find his magic for them to make a playoff run.
“It’s was real tough,” Davis said. “We had plenty of opportunities to take over the game. We just kept making mistakes.”