The Atlanta Falcons avoided a catastrophic defeat against the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday in a game that was one of the ugliest in recent memory, but found a way to claw and fight for the victory, keeping the playoffs still in the picture. Injuries were the theme of the day with the Falcons, losing starters across the board: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Harvey Dahl, Sam Baker, and Chris Owens. The Falcons defense did everything they could to allow Josh Freeman and the offense to get into a rhythm, with the rookie QB going over 250 yards passing and 2 touchdowns. One drive lasting a whopping 2 plays, 80 yards, and a touchdown. There are serious issues on the defensive side of the ball, be it players, coaches, schemes, or a combination of all the above. The Falcons did do what they had to on defense to give the offense a chance to win the game, but after being up 10-0, the Bucs stormed back and did pretty much whatever they wanted. The injuries piled up, but the Falcons showed serious resolve in finding a way to win the game. The offensive performance wasn’t pretty, but Chris Redman came in relief and led the final scoring drive to win the game, albeit with some help from the Buccaneers in the redzone’s closing seconds in getting a holding call which gave the Falcons a new set of downs with goal to go on the five yard line. The Falcons seemed to sleepwalk through much of the game and definitely played down to a team that was 1-9 and had fired both of their coordinators through the season. The Falcons had a really rough game, but managed to come out on top. After getting through last year pretty injury-free, the Falcons are getting their share of tough injuries and then some this season.
After escaping the injury bug very well last season, the Falcons are getting hit hard by tough injuries this year. The Birds had already had a hard time this year with their players getting nicked up and even lost for the year. Harry Douglas was lost for the year in training camp, something that obviously has been more detrimental than thought concerning the passing attack. 1st round draft pick Peria Jerry was lost for the year in the second game of the season. 2nd round draft pick William Moore battled injuries throughout camp and finally was put on injured reserve early in the year. Brian Williams, the Falcons best CB, was lost for the year against the Bears. Jerious Norwood has battled the hip flexor all year and had less than 80 yards rushing before today because of it. Brian Finneran has been lost for many games with injuries. Ovie Mughelli missed several games as well. Michael Turner was lost last week with a high ankle sprain. And that was all BEFORE today’s red cross melee. The starting quarterback (Ryan) was lost on the first series, the starting left tackle (Baker), starting guard (Dahl), starting running back (Turner), and even starting cornerback (Owens) were lost for the day. How many injuries can one team sustain before expectations have to be re-adjusted? How good would other teams be with this many injuries? Wednesday’s injury report should very interesting to say the least.
The Falcons talked all week about the Bucs being a dangerous team at 1-9, and they certainly allowed them to be every bit as dangerous as they discussed. The Falcons seemed out of it from the first snap in a game they had to have to remain in the playoff hunt, but sure didn’t play like it. They committed penalties, dropped passes, made a QB rookie look like a Hall of Famer, and uncharacteristically even had a punt blocked. The Atlanta Falcons had no where even close to an effort resembling a squad that possessed a killer instinct to put away a team that was at the bottom in terms of records and admittedly in pure rebuilding mode. Injuries probably played a part, but the team is guilty of playing up or down to their competition this year and nearly lost a game that would have surely derailed the season. Great teams may find struggles for a little while in games with much lesser opponents, but will find ways to pull away at some point. The Falcons are definitely not too that point yet, but they did win the game to their credit.
The Falcons defense have a pretty good streak going this season in allowing any quarterback they play to have a really, REALLY good day. Be it a future Hall of Famer, a grizzled veteran, or brand new rookie, the Birds are guaranteed to allow the opposing quarterback to have a field day. Josh Freeman looks to be the real deal as a first round draft pick, but the defense made him look like an all-pro in the Georgia Dome, passing for over 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. On one remarkable drive, the defense even allowed the Bucs to complete a 2 play, 80 yard touchdown drive. With the Falcons up 10-0, the defense sputtered again and allowed the Buccaneers to get right back in the game. The running defense has improved this year, but the Falcons have absolutely one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL, fans and stats prove that alike. The defensive line regularly gets no pressure whatsoever on the QB, the coordinator runs 4 man rushes and drops back defensive ends, and cornerbacks regularly look lost. Often times there is simply no one around the receivers when they catch the ball. All that and its not even considering the fact that the Birds can not get off the field on 3rd down to save their life. The defense is starved of talent at key positions, but the blame should go wide and deep. Thomas Dimitroff deserves much of the blame for refusing to address the situation in the off-season and preseason. The signing of Brian Williams was good, but was completely reactive as opposed to proactive. The Falcons may not have the best defensive talent, but the coaches deserve some blame too. The defense appears to be getting worse, not better. The aggression, toughness, and tenacity that Coach Van Gorder was known for as defensive coordinator at UGA must not have followed him to Atlanta, because the bend-but-don’t-break scheme is a joke. Were the best defenses in the history of the NFL known as “bend-but-don’t-break”? Nope.
Much was made of Chris Redman being one of the highest paid backups in the league during training camp and preseason. Theories were offered, including this author, that the Falcons could get younger at backup quarterback and save money because it was a backup position after all. This author feels really silly right about now. Chris Redman earned his salary today by stepping into a game the Falcons were snoozing in and did what he had to do to win the game. He was by no means perfect, but he did what had to be done to win the game. Redman threw for over 250 yards and 2 touchdowns. The last drive was masterful. He and the offense was helped by the untimely penalties by the Bucs, but he was smart with the football and delivered when it mattered most: 4th and goal on the 5 yard line with the game in the balance. The decision to throw the slant to Roddy White was a very risky one because any number of things could have gone wrong (a tipped pass, a deflection, an imperfect throw), but Redman threw an absolute strike right on the money and won the game, and saved a season. A loss would have been beyond embarrassing on many fronts, but Redman stepped in and stepped up. Redman’s contract is up this year and maybe he has earned the chance to start elsewhere. Great kudos to an unselfish player ready to do what the team needed to win the game.
Even though the defensive secondary had another forgettable and downright bad day, Chris Owens filled in nicely starting his first game as a rookie at cornerback. He may not have been perfect by any means and lumps surely lie in the future, but it was nice for fans to see some promise, any promise, from the cornerbacks musical chairs. Chevis Jackson had not been playing up to the level he established last year as the team’s nickel back, but Jackson had a good game today making many stops on third down and showing physicality and good tackling skills. The cornerback situation is in dire straits this year, but some hope may be on the horizon.
After having some big drops throughout the year, Jenkins showed fans that he can be a good complement to Roddy White when he’s on the top of his game. Jenkins had many nice catches throughout the game, particularly down the stretch to win the game. White and Jenkins are legit receivers for the Falcons, but the cupboard is bare after that. Eric Weems seems to have gotten some more looks Sunday, but still isn’t proving to be the answer a true #3 slot receiver. After showing some promise early in the year, the addition of Marty Booker has proved to add minimal value to the passing attack. Troy Bergeron finally was added to the active roster and would it hurt to see if he could carry some of his AFL magic to the Falcons aerial attack. Great to see Jerious Norwood back in action. He reminded fans of his game-breaking speed with his long TD jaunt on the shovel pass from Chris Redman. Norwood’s return was a welcome addition to a much maligned backfield.
Many fans think its safe to say that Jason Elam has lost it. The guy is almost a sure shoe-in to the Hall of Fame, but he has missed 7 field goals this year, and could have potentially lost another game for the Falcons. In consecutive weeks, Elam has missed at least one field goal in games that could have made a difference in the final score. The miss today continued a bad streak for Elam in failing to make fairly easy field goals. Elam is 39 years of age after all and every player reaches an end at some point. He did make two field goals, but the misses are piling up and Elam is only in the second year of a four year deal. The Falcons tried out four kickers this past week, but didn’t offer any contracts. That may change this week. The question for the Falcons organization is how do they handle the situation? Do they allow Elam to finish out the year and end his tenure in the off-season, or do they make a chance right now in the middle of playoff race? Would brining in a completely new kicker who’s never kicked in the NFL be any better? After being such a lock for so long, Elam appears to have lost his confidence if nothing else, and his kicks are showing it.
The Atlanta Falcons played one of their worst games of the year and were pounded yet again by the injury bug, but as they say “an ugly win is way better than a pretty loss any day of the week”. The Falcons didn’t really show up to the game and for all their talk of taking the Bucs serious, they sure did not play like it. Give credit where its due, the Falcons did what had to be done to win the game and every team has bad days, but if the effort on Sunday is replicated than playoffs will go out the window very quickly. All the side stories aside, the Falcons playoff chances rest against the Eagles on Sunday. If the Birds somehow pull it out they’ll be in the thick of the race, but if they lose to Philadelphia on Sunday than they will have lost head-to-head tie-breakers to all 3 teams vying for the same wild card spot. Should be fun.
-Proud the Falcons won or shouldn’t have even been close?
-What’s the deal with the injuries this year?
-Can the Birds be expected to do much with the injury problems?
-How concerned are you about Turner and Ryan?
-Can the Falcons beat the Eagles without #33 and #2?
-Is Chris Owens finally the answer at cornerback?
-Who is the MOST to blame for the defensive woes?
-Will Coach Van Gorder be on the hot seat if defensive slide continues?
-What’s your answer at FG kicker?