Well, to say that this season hasn’t gone as planned would be putting it lightly. There’s no shame in losing in the NFL, and there’s certainly no disgrace to losing to teams that were both in NFC Championship in January or a team that has had a meteoric rise with several great drafts and a division foe on the road in Tampa Bay. However, losing to all three while also looking really terrible in the two wins doesn’t strike any fear in the rest of the schedules, much less soothing a nervous fanbase.
The Falcons host the seeming hot Carolina Panthers and another division enemy. Yes, the Panthers are 1-4, but they have played close enough to win in all their games including Green Bay, Chicago, and New Orleans. Cam Newton has lit up the league with his throwing ability and the coaching staff have correctly just let him sling the ball and have no fear. Meanwhile, the Birds seem to be looking more desperate by the week. You have the head coach bravely accepting all responsibility for the Falcons troubles and also have the offensive coordinator essentially insulting anyone that questions his tactics, strategies, and beliefs (see the most recent Jeff Schultz post).
Bottom line, this is an absolute must-win. A game that seemed such a lock a few months ago has turned into a shaky, desperate feeling game with the Falcons hosting the Panthers. Bad thing is that it’s kind of a lose-lose for the Falcons if you think about it. If the Falcons win, then it’s what a 2010 NFC #1 seed, 13-3 should do against a team that only won 1 game in 2010. On the flipside, if the Falcons lose to the upstart Panthers in this setting, you might as well start rearranging the deck chairs.
Obviously, there is a ton of football left to play, but the Falcons then travel to the undefeated Detroit Lions (who beat both the Bears and Bucs), play the Saints twice, on the road to the Texans, and play both the Panthers and Bucs again. All this including that the Falcons have lost 3 NFC Conference games, including one to a division opponent. The Falcons can get it back together over the next 3-4 weeks, but the first step starts with the Panthers @ home.
Sorry, but the most recent article that the AJC’s own Jeff Schultz just wrote regarding Mike Mularkey has put a bur in many fans saddle. When asked about the reason for the Falcons being outscored 61 – 13 in the 3rd quarter this season, Mularkey responded with “we try to score every time we have the ball, so that stat is irrelevant to me.” Wow. So basically you feel that you have no accountability whatsoever. Instead of just saying “I have to do a better job, plain and simple,” you decide to go the arrogant, defensive, and insulting route of attacking the question.
And then when asked whether he examines himself regarding the play-calls, he merely says “well, not as much as you guys.” For a coaching staff, and in particular an offensive coordinator, who has been under fire since the “Debacle in the Dome,” perhaps it would be better to just say ‘no comment’ as opposed to insult the intelligences of the fans and journalists.
The one million dollar question. Can they? Of course they can. They have one of the more talented rosters in the NFL (yes, once again, Dimitroff has missed some, but overall there’s a lot of talent). They have a team, less only a few players, that went 13-3 and were the #1 seed in the NFC only 10 months ago. They added one of the best players in the entire draft and one of the best available free agent defensive ends.
As mentioned earlier, there’s nothing wrong with losing a few games in the NFL, but when you lose games that you shouldn’t over and over and over again, and even border on losing games that shouldn’t even be close, than there might be an issue. If the Birds can win the next three games, than they’re at 5-3 at the midpoint and right back in it. But pardon fans if they’re a little skeptical about this team to be able to get it turned around in a hurry.
In all seriousness, the 3rd quarter meltdowns have become stuff of legend in the Mike Smith Era. For whatever reason, this team has come out and had terrible outings in the 3rd quarter. They have either allowed teams to storm back into the game after being close to putting it out of reach (Eagles, Seahawks), needing a big quarter to mount a comeback (Bears, Bucs), or finding a way to allow the other team to take over and win the game themselves (Packers). The coaches were up 14-6 after a great half by both the offense and, especially, the defense. If you would have polled Falcons fans if they would take limiting the Packers to 6 points in the 1st half, they would’ve jumped for joy.
The offense was creative, unpredictable, focused, and extremely effective. The defense played some man-to-man, were aggressive, and played very well. They went into halftime and came out completely transformed into a conservative, predictable, and meek team hoping and praying to hang onto the lead. The rest is history. Fans don’t know if it’s the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, or head coach, and frankly, they don’t care who’s at fault anymore. There’s no excuse for teams looking worse after just getting supposed halftime adjustments.
The rookie from College Park, GA has lit the NFL on fire with his insane production in the pass game. Coming out of college, many questioned his accuracy throwing the ball and how that would translate in the NFL. Instead of protecting their young QB with a strong running game, the Panthers coaching staff have let the rookie sling the ball all around and the results have been impressive.
Even though their record is 1-4, they were very close to beating Chicago, Green Bay, and New Orleans. Will fans see the 1st half defense against the Packers, where they were aggressive and kept Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable? Or will they result to their good ol’ jumbo jet soft zone, where they let the QB have all day to pick apart the defense? Stay tuned….
This is essentially a rhetorical question since us fans have zero insight into what’s going on in Flowery Branch, but there surely seems to be a little evidence of it this year. Much of the window came with Mark Bradley’s interview of former punter Michael Koenen saying the team always played with a “nervous energy,” which has made complete sense with the way they’re playing.
Mike Smith looked downright desperate-looking when the game hung in the balance in Seattle. You hear some rumblings of players saying “we don’t have an identity.” You have Smith’s brother-in-law, Brian Billick, making a point several times during the telecast that Mike Smith was the one who called for the no-huddle, which essentially takes control away from Mularkey. There are players who feel the need to defend themselves against fans on twitter. And worst of all, you have the defensive coordinator saying he felt the defense played pretty good in the 48 – 21 “Debacle in the Dome.” Meanwhile, you have the offensive coordinator being insulting and smug when saying “that stat is irrelevant to me.” In other words, these are characteristics that are the exact opposite of the cool, calm, collected, and focused team that won 13 games in 2010 and achieved the #1 seed in the NFC. Perhaps it’s just a product of losing, but maybe it’s more.
Have a go at your Falcons as the surprising Panthers head to town………..
-Dawson Devitt; The Bird Cage, Atlanta Falcons Fan Blog