Welcome to Week 2 for the Falcons. Can it be must-win week already?
Maybe so. I just thumbed through the franchise’s mostly inglorious history. Since their birth in 1966, the Falc0ns have started a season at least 0-2 15 times. They made the playoffs only twice in those 15 years: 1) the 1991 season under Jerry Glanville, finishing 10-6 and then beating the New Orleans Saints in the wild card game, before losing the division playoff in Washington; 2) the 2002 season, when they went 9-6-1 in Michael Vick’s first season as starter and upset the Green Bay Packers in the wild card game, before losing at Philadelphia.
So, after opening with the loud thud of a 15-9 overtime loss at Pittsburgh, is the season over if they fall to Arizona today in the Georgia Dome? No. But given that next week’s game is in New Orleans — and the Falcons still must play Philadelphia and Cincinnati in the first seven games before the bye week — losing to the Cards would dig a very deep hole.
By now, you’re familiar with the story lines surrounding the Falcons. But here are the big ones:
♦ Quarterback Matt Ryan wasn’t awful in Pittsburgh (27 for 44, 252 yards, zero TDs, one interception), but he failed to get his team into the end zone and was outplayed by a would-be third-string quarterback (the Steelers’ Dennis Dixon). This follows a preseason during which the first-string offense struggled (one touchdown in 13 possessions).
Whether more blame falls on Ryan or offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey isn’t certain. But let’s just say both need a strong showing today to inspire some confidence.
♦ Running back Michael Turner lost weight in the offseason and seemed primed to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season. But he was stuffed for only 42 yards on 19 carries (2.2 average). The Steelers have one of the league’s strongest defenses, but Turner didn’t show the burst or power he had in 2008. He needs to be better.
♦ Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux returns from a one-game suspension for his marijuana arrest last December. He seems motivated, saying earlier in the week: “I’m not taking things for granted anymore. I want to have fun every moment and play my hardest.” His presence should strengthen the interior of the defensive front and possibly open things up on the outside for John Abraham and Kroy Biermann to help get pressure on Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson.
One final thought: Being back home should help. The Falcons are 13-3 in the Georgia Dome in Mike Smith’s two seasons, and 13-1 with Ryan starting (both home losses last season, to Philadelphia and New Orleans, came with Ryan injured and Chris Redman starting.) Ryan’s only Dome loss was to Denver in 2008.
So there’s your primer. I’ll be live blogging through the game but if you have some early thought now, let’s hear them. How crucial would you rate today’s game?