Pulverized, crushed, ripped to shreds, smashed, blown out. Choose any word you like to describe the pathetic display by the Falcons in New Orleans last night, but we’ll just go with completely embarrassed. Making the playoffs is mostly an afterthought for most fans after getting absolutely destroyed by the bitter rival Saints. Some will point to the poor refereeing; others may say that Payton, Brees, and Co. poured it on. The fact is that an effort that poor should be get piled on.
Yes, this organization as a whole has made great strides during the Smith/Dimitroff Era, but anyone who believes this teams is “really close” or “right on the edge” of being great or elite is certifiably delusional. Some readers may think this too harsh a critique and that’s fine. But this anger, disappointment, and hollow feeling inside is pretty representative of most fans. If they wanted a mantra of “us against the world,” than they certainly succeeded in getting that last night.
No, we’re not talking about the score of the actual game, we’re talking about how far away this team is from being considered great, elite, or worthy respect when it comes to postseason play. This team hasn’t earned it. The Falcons are 2-8 in games against the Saints in the Smith Era. Getting close or obtaining moral victories matters for jack squat. The brutal truth is that this team is not anywhere close to being great teams like the Saints, Packers, Steelers, or Patriots. They just aren’t, no matter how you slice it.
Great teams don’t get blown out and embarrassed twice in a calendar year. Great teams don’t play scared. Great teams don’t have coaching staffs who play not to lose as opposed to playing to win. Great teams don’t just gobble up average and poor teams, while folding like cheap tents against good-to-great teams. Thomas Dimitroff and Arthur Blank have some serious soul-searching to do this off-season because if they think they are only a few tweaks away from greatness, they’re dead wrong.
The two biggest games of 2011 involved playing the Packers in the playoffs AT HOME AS THE #1 NFC SEED and the other was last night’s game against the Saints with a shot at still winning the division title. The aggregate score of those two games is 93 – 37. That’s almost a tripling of the opponents score compared to ours. Despite Coach Smith once again ripping off more excuses about another dreadful and humiliating performance, it is not an aberration when it happens twice in a year on the biggest stages of the NFL.
Some think that it was Arthur Blank pulling the trigger on drafting Julio Jones, but we’ll just have to go with what was said and done publicly about the trade, which is that Dimitroff was the one behind the deal. This is not a criticism of Jones (even though that fumble was pretty bad), but rather the idea that Dimitroff took on during the off-season. His thought was that the Falcons were oh so close and that all they needed was another player or two to get over the hump…..wrong.
When have you seen teams be successful with that strategy? Another hint that it was the wrong gameplan was the fact that the Falcons didn’t just lose by a field goal or a touchdown, but rather were absolutely destroyed in all facets of the game. If Dimitroff wants to keep much of the goodwill he’s built up, he better consider making some big changes in the off-season, because we know exactly what to look forward to if no changes are made.
Two perfect examples are none other than the Saints and the Packers. The Saints have been without their first round draft pick Mark Ingram most of the season and just obliterated us (a supposedly great team against the run) with running backs that were undrafted (Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory) and a fourth round pick who was signed as a free agent (Darren Sproles). The Packers were able to go on a run and win a Super Bowl after having something like 13 players injured last year and they locked up the NFC #1 seed while having injuries to both starting tackles and losing their best wide receiver (Greg Jennings). The point is that truly elite teams don’t rely on high draft talent or “missing links” to get over an imaginary hump.
Arthur Blank has said that he wants a championship caliber team in Atlanta and he has put his money and resources into the Falcons accordingly. This off-season will really tell us fans what he wants. If he is happy with winning seasons and just making the playoffs, than the status quo will do just fine and they only need a few tweaks or maybe a few more “missing links.”
However, if he truly wants to give this city a chance at a Lombardi trophy, he’s going to have to make or force some big changes, namely in terms of both coordinators and do a complete audit of all coaches currently on this staff. This doesn’t mean that Smith’s seat should be warm, but expectations should be given that getting embarrassed and blown out is not acceptable. And neither is never being able to beat quality opponents.
Yes, the refereeing was particularly bad last night in some parts, but that does not excuse the fact that the Falcons were completely demolished on all fronts. Some of the calls against the Falcons were legit, and some were not. They seemed to never throw flags on the Saints, namely for holding, or doing the exact same thing in terms of hitting that the Falcons did (Curtis Lofton personal foul, but not the spear to the back). Regardless, refereeing had nothing to do with pitiful and pathetic effort on both sides of the ball, but especially from the coaching staff.
OK, so maybe that’s a little too harsh, but after four years of asking for patience in “the process,” and you play worse now than in 2008 and get scorched by an aggregate score of 93 – 37 in your two biggest games of 2011, than there’s a problem. Perhaps Dimitroff hasn’t hit on every single draft pick or free agent out there, but in general, he has fielded a pretty talented team. But he’s not a coach. Coach Smith has done great things for this franchise, but he also is one of the main reasons this team seems scared of the great teams and really don’t believe they should even be on the same field. Deciding to kick a field goal when losing by 18 points not once but twice, knowing you have one of the best quarterbacks in the league on the opposing sidelines isn’t just conservative, it’s illogical.
The stale, predictable, hyper-conservative offensive philosophy has finally come to the end of the road. If the Falcons can’t run the ball or Matt Ryan doesn’t have to call his own plays and win the game himself, than they lose. There is no plan B, C, or D. Good and great teams have no problem shutting down Turner and the run game, and they know what’s coming. Several opposing players throughout the years have even come out and said they knew exactly what was coming next. Do they have to become an all-out passing attack? Not necessarily, but they also don’t need to provide a slow and methodical running game to handcuff Matt Ryan.
So they got no help from their offense, but what else is new. But getting 45 points hung on you from your biggest rival only 11 months after getting 48 points hung on you is not an aberration or an exception to the rule….it is the rule. This defense has played like all-stars against inferior opponents, but when they run into a really good team they simply melt. They didn’t even lay so much as a finger on Brees all night and the one time that Vance Walker did sack him, Brees about had a conniption fit. They can’t pressure, they can’t tackle, they sure as the heck can’t cover anyone.
It looked like a practice session for Drew Brees last night. At one point they were 100% on third downs. Conversely, that means that the Falcons were 0% on stopping third downs. It didn’t matter if it was 3rd and 5 or 3rd and 18, they had no problem converting 3rd downs, driving down the field with ease, and putting up touchdowns. Drew Brees had nearly 300 years in THE FIRST HALF ALONE. Many will say that the defense has made enough progress for Van Gorder to get another year, but that’s becoming a more and more challenging, bordering on impossible, point to defend.
Fans have done their best to rationalize, justify, and defend this 2011 Atlanta Falcons team, but last night’s humiliating destruction likely dried up any remaining goodwill or warm and fuzzy feelings the team built up last year and backing into the playoffs this year. The majority of fans no longer believe this team is capable of beating good to great teams and have any legitimate shot at making waves in the postseason, without some pretty major changes in order.
You can talk all day long about how “talented this team is, how they’re just about to turn the corner, finally hitting their stride, or how it’s just a part of the process,” but when fans witness humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat, feel the team is underachieving, and the fact that you can no longer beat teams with winning records, than how is it the fan’s fault if they no longer believe this team is capable of greatness?
If you can fight back the sick feeling in your gut, than have fun analyzing this one………….