FLOWERY BRANCH – Mike Smith admits he doesn’t play poker. So when the Falcons’ coach said Monday, “You have to deal with the hand that you’re dealt,” he chose not to expand on that thought with, “Do I have to ante twice for new cards, or is this where I bluff?”
The Falcons went 11-5 last season. What went wrong? They added Tony Gonzalez and Mike Peterson and Peria Jerry to a team that went to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback who only figured to get better in season two. What happened? Are twos, fours and sixes wild? Because if so, they’ll be fine.
The Philadelphia Eagles and a well-known second-string quarterback come to the Georgia Dome Sunday. This game conceivably could determine the Falcons’ playoff fate. But they will be missing their starting quarterback (Matt Ryan) and almost certainly their starting running back (Michael Turner) and maybe a few others, because that’s how this season has unraveled.
Referring to Chris Redman, Ryan’s replacement, Smith said, “I don’t anticipate there’s going to be a significant dropoff in the effectiveness of our offense.”
And then he rode off on his Unicorn.
There are two ways to spin the Falcons’ season: 1) They’re 6-5 with five games left, three against losing teams, and therefore still in the thick of the NFC wild card race; or 2) They required a last-second touchdown to defeat arguably the worst team in football, the 1-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they played their first home game in three weeks Sunday before over 15,000 empty seats in the Georgia Dome.
In other words, they’re average, they’re desperate and the bandwagon still has plenty of room to stretch out and recline.
Were we so wrong about the possibilities with this team? Or did injuries simply wreck the season before things could get going?
Harry Douglas, the No. 3 receiver, punt returner and speed burner, suffered a torn knee ligament in the first week of training camp. There also have been season-ending injuries to the No. 1 pick (defensive tackle Peria Jerry), the No. 2 pick (safety William Moore) and the replacement veteran cornerback (Brian Williams). Running backs Turner (one and a half games) and Jerious Norwood (six games) also have missed time, making Jason Snelling relevant, which was neither the plan nor the desire.
John Abraham is invisible. Jason Elam may soon be.
This season was supposed to be special. It’s not. The Falcons’ playoff fortunes now rest on the arm of a guy who was selling insurance three years ago and the legs of the 244th pick in the NFL draft. Not Matt Ryan, who is out at least this week with turf toe. Not Michael Turner, who aggravated a high ankle sprain. Neither chose quick-healing injuries.
Last season, nobody expected much. But after a 4-3 start, the Falcons won consecutive games against Oakland and New Orleans and blasted off. They went 7-2 down the stretch and made the playoffs. It was a needed, post-Michael Vick, post-Bobby Petrino franchise cleansing.
But they’ve never really gotten into a rhythm this season. Even the 4-1 start included hiccups by Ryan and Turner, and certainly the defense. Then came the beat down in Dallas and the loss in New Orleans. The Falcons could’ve survived that. But losing to a mediocre team at Carolina two weeks later left little room for error.
Big problem: They have errors.
When asked about the way things have unfolded, Smith said only: “The big thing is you have to be able to improvise and adjust because the dynamics are changing all the time in this league.”
Dynamics: I believe they call that a euphemism. This hand is dangerously close to over.