CHICAGO – When the Falcons said they wanted to get more explosive this season, did they mean like Wile E. Coyote explosive?
They said the intent was to open up the offense. Stretch defenses. They said they wanted to get more aggressive on defense. Pressure opposing quarterbacks. Let it fly, baby. Light the fuse. Problem is, when you don’t follow your own directions, it’s easy to inadvertently wire your big toe to the ACME dynamite kit. Then when you push the plunger on the season opener . . .
The Falcons opened the season Sunday. Three hours later, all the remained was a pile of ashes.
Chicago Bears 30, Falcons 12. How’s that for your potential Super Bowl team? Instead of giving you a reason to forget their 48-21 playoff loss to Green Bay last January, the Falcons succeeded only in extending the hangover. They have been outscored in their last two games by 45 points.
And about that 0-4 record in the preseason. Maybe it’s not so meaningless after all.
“Stunned is an understatement,” linebacker Mike Peterson said.
“This isn’t what we planned on — it was awful,” Roddy White said.
It was worse than that. It was inexcusable.
Was all that talk about explosiveness just lip service? This was a season opener. This game followed months of hearing coaches, players and the front office talking about the need for wows and pyrotechnics on both sides of the ball. The Falcons traded a blur of draft picks so they could move up to draft wide receiver Julio Jones. They snagged defensive end Ray Edwards in free agency. They talked a big game.
But when the gates open, they pressed the trigger and a flag saying, “Bang!” popped out. The Bears didn’t play dead.
Many Falcons players chose to credit Chicago’s defense for playing a strong game and taking away the deep threat. But quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey seldom left the impression they were in attack mode. Ryan never threw deep. Never. He says he thought about it several times but there was nothing there. Ryan also committed two horrific mistakes — an interception by Brian Urlacher, which led to a second-quarter touchdown when the game was still 3-3, and fumbling in the third quarter, leading to an Urlacher return for another score.
Ryan also was hoping to leave his Green Bay playoff performance behind him. This didn’t help. He has five turnovers and one touchdown pass in his last two games.
The Falcons didn’t just look bad. They self-destructed. They did things that good teams, let alone Super Bowl contenders, never should do. The defense missed tackles, took bad angles on plays and blew coverages. They turned Jay Cutler (312 yards, two touchdowns) into Sid Luckman. They introduced Roy Williams, who got drop-kicked out of Dallas, to relevancy.
They were beat physically. Chicago defense may be good but it’s hardly Monsters, redux. This isn’t 1941 or 1985.
Offensively, the Falcons looked and played timid. They lined up White on one side, Jones on the other, and Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas between the two, as advertised. Then they cowered. Chicago often dropped eight players into coverage and taking away the deep ball. But don’t great players and great coaches adjust? They make plays. Instead, we were subjected to four quarters of check-downs.
Coach Mike Smith acknowledged the poor performance but he tried to temper concerns with, “Let’s not say the sky is falling.”
Gonzalez also sought to calm the masses.
“People outside the organization are going to push the panic button,” he said. “They’re going to think, ‘Oh my God. Overhyped. Over this. Over that. You know what? They’re full of it. If you want to think that, go ahead. Maybe it sells papers. Maybe it gives people something to talk about. But it’s one game. We’ve got the players to do something special. We just have to go out next week and play better. And we will next week, I guarantee it.”
Nobody should doubt the Falcons can still be a great team. But opening performances like this tend to alter perspectives, especially with Michael Vick and Philadelphia coming to the Georgia Dome next week.
Overhyped? It’s probably too early for such proclamations. But it would at least be nice to see the Falcons attempt what they advertised.
By Jeff Schultz