Falcons can only hope second-half turnaround is good sign

Roddy White jumps into the arms of Julio Jones after Jones' 17-yard touchdown gave the Falcons a lead over Carolina. (AP photo)

Roddy White jumps into the arms of Julio Jones after Jones' 17-yard touchdown gave the Falcons a lead over Carolina. (AP photo)

CHARLOTTE – Confused? You’ve got company.

After three hours of witnessing a spinning compass Sunday, even Falcons players weren’t about to make any grand declarations about the next few weeks of the NFL season.

“It’s a win,” Todd McClure said later. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Welcome to Team Whiffleball.

Fortunately, style points don’t matter in the NFL, otherwise the Falcons would be off to the Music City Bowl. For one half against Carolina, they played as poorly as they have in four years under coach Mike Smith and trailed 23-7. They followed that up with one half of relative domination, scoring 24 unanswered points, winning 31-23.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez’ neat summary of the turnaround: “We jus said, ‘It’s amnesia time.’”

Which is probably what Sybil said during transitions.

A flop-flip is at least better than a flip-flop. If the Falcons had followed a great half with a crummy one and lost, nobody is talking about heart and resiliency. Nobody is talking about potential. We’re probably holding last rites over a team that devolved from Super Bowl threat to playoff contender to 7-6 and sinking like a stone — a fizzling outfit with moon-size craters on the depth chart. Fans are screaming about firing coordinators and giving up way too much in the draft for a wide receiver who keeps dropping passes.

“A loss could’ve been devastating,” Gonzalez said.

But the NFL is a league that doesn’t care about the eye test — just wins and losses.

The win puts the Falcons back in control of the wild card race. The defense pitched a second-half shutout. The offense, held to 117 yards and touchdown in the first half, rolled to 277 and three scores in the second. Julio Jones, after dropping a couple of more passes in the first 30 minutes, had two touchdowns in the second, the second going for 75 yards and leaving vapor trails in the process.

Gonzalez again: “I’m not saying I’m happy about the way we played. We did get the victory. But I think it’s kind of a lesson for us — at least to know we can come back when we have to.”

True. They just won’t have Carolina there to help every week. Cam Newton, looking rookie-ish, made awful decisions on two second-half interceptions. Olindo Mare missed a 36-yard field goal that could’ve given the Panthers a 26-24 lead with five minutes left. The Panthers put the ball on a T, and the Falcons swung and connected.

But good teams don’t become unraveled. They don’t look at the scoreboard, they just play. The Falcons could’ve deteriorated after that first half, when the Panthers, trailing 7-0, scored 23 points in roughly 12 minutes (including DeAngelo Williams’ 74-yard run and Greg Olson’s 44-yard touchdown on a screen pass). They didn’t.

The defense simplified things in the second half. It went vanilla, taking out blitzes. “We played them straight up,” John Abraham said. And it worked.

Carolina went three-and-out to open the half. The Falcons drove to a field goal. Newton unraveled. Mike Peterson intercepted an ill-advised, desperation shovel pass by the quarterback at the Panthers’ 35. Two plays later, Matt Ryan connected with Jacquizz Rodgers for a touchdown to close to 23-17. Newton threw another interception. The field tilted.

Early in the fourth quarter, Jones, maligned of late, went through his own positive mutation. He grabbed a pass from Ryan at the Panthers’ 1-yard line, turned and reached across the goal-line for the go-ahead score. Later in the quarter, he caught a pass over the middle, and then made the jump to light speed.

The Falcons don’t want to have to do this every week. But at least we again got a glimpse into their potential.

Earlier in the week, coach Mike Smith expressed concern about his team’s focus. He wasn’t completely comforted by what he saw against Carolina, but said, “We learned a lot about our football team. That’s going to pay off some big dividends down the stretch.”

But that assumes this second half represents reality, and the compass stops spinning.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC). Friend me on Facebook (Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC).

353 comments Add your comment

stendek

December 11th, 2011
6:53 pm

Do not care if this is first Jeff! This was to be the obituary of the 2011 Falcon season. I had absolutely no confidence that the birdies were going to rally from an abysmal double digit deficit against the Panthers in a hostile environment. I figured a drop to 7-6 would put all suffering fans into another wait until next decade frame of mind. Customary since 1966. I witnessed a first half of disastrous proportions. Blown assignments, dropped passes, defensive breakdowns plus an indefensible safety by one Matthew Ryan. Nothing in sports angers me more than having a braindead QB tackled for a safety. Premiere NFL QBs know when they are two inches inside the EZ or two inches outside of it. So much for the status of Falcon QB. The defense would refuse to lose this one. Key Falcon takeaways gave the offense short fields to work with in the second half. The Falcon D went from a first half sieve to super stingy over the last 30 minutes. The Panthers had a whiff on one short missed FG. The relentless stand by the Falcon D allowed the team to rally for a highly unlikely eight point triumph. Long Julio Jones catch and run finished comeback on one of passes he did not drop. Falcons can afford no more slipups in wild card quest. A loss to Saints might be unavoidable but a 10-6 mark is mandatory for playoffs in my opinion. I thought Jim Mora had lost his mind when he kept saying that game would come down to wire even after Falcons attempted to give it away in first two quarters. Guy was correct after all. Way to go Jimbo. :)

stendek

December 11th, 2011
6:55 pm

:) :) :) :) 8-5 beats 7-5 any day!

stendek

December 11th, 2011
6:55 pm

Or even 7-6! :)

5150 UOAD

December 11th, 2011
6:56 pm

Fun game. The Oppsite of a UGA game manager bu Murray. Falcons Won the 4th qtr and the game. Hehehehe

JSS

December 11th, 2011
6:56 pm

They were 4-and-8! If that makes you think that you’ve turned a corner, life is going to serve you something very tasty real soon!!!

UGABugKiller

December 11th, 2011
6:59 pm

Wow… Jeff completely ignores the Mularkey-sized elephant in the room. Didn’t see that coming. Not at all.

Never mentioned ONCE what actually changed for the offense in the second-half. Never mentioned once the one, singular reason for the Falcons’ comeback today.

Like Roddy White has far too often this year, Jeff completely dropped the ball on the nuke he SHOULD HAVE dropped on Mularkey’s head.

MTSeats

December 11th, 2011
7:00 pm

2011 Falcons, RIP. Again, Blank fell in love too quickly with TD, MSmith, and staff.

MAT

December 11th, 2011
7:00 pm

Really nice win today. I’m praying we see the 49ers in the Wild Card round. I’d like our chances against Alex Smith much more than against Brees or Romo.

Fletcher

December 11th, 2011
7:04 pm

Carolina’s record is deciving. they are a good team. we came back to win, and we have all the momentum in the world. we get to show off what we can do on THU night (especially against JAX).
The one thing Falcons fans need to keep in the back of their mind is that WE. LOST. TO. TAMPA. BAY. each week this looks like a worse and worse loss.
JAX is Thursday night. then our next game is against the Suckaneers on Monday night. we have a shot to show the nation what we can do
@FletchTopper

5150 UOAD

December 11th, 2011
7:05 pm

the Praying TEBOWs tied at 10 with the Bears.

Larry

December 11th, 2011
7:05 pm

“A flop-flip is at least better than a flip-flop.”

Line of the year!

5150 UOAD

December 11th, 2011
7:06 pm

Why the Hell are we watching Green Bay and not the Broncos v Bears?

Play Redman

December 11th, 2011
7:08 pm

Something’s wrong with this team.

kappellmeister

December 11th, 2011
7:10 pm

Jeff – I believe Julio was on te 17-yd-line and not the 1, if ya wanna change it.

Me Too

December 11th, 2011
7:10 pm

Because it is a Fox game.

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 11th, 2011
7:11 pm

I moved on this game like it had already been played.

Play Redman

December 11th, 2011
7:12 pm

I was thinking the same thing 5150 ! Denver-Chicago tight game and we get Packers blowing out the Raiders ?

5150 UOAD

December 11th, 2011
7:16 pm

Tebow moving the ball

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 11th, 2011
7:18 pm

Larry: Sorry, line of the year: Lowe wins the tool race. Jeff said so.

J.J.M.

December 11th, 2011
7:20 pm

denver wins!

Arx

December 11th, 2011
7:20 pm

The Falcons are stocked with name talent. The roster reads like a Super Bowl postcard. Between Tony G and JJ, there is one for sure and one likely to-be hall of fame name.

So, how do we lose even one game? I dunno. We’ve whipped that old franchise monkey on our backs now to the point of becoming so many of those things never realized during the Smith ownership years. But still, that furry little gremlin hangs on.

I guess it would be a little easier if we were the media darlings that the Saints became because of a storm named Katrina. But that still doesn’t excuse the foggy mental breakdowns that has cost us games so… no excuses. We just have to play a better game than the monkey or the darlings of the NFC South.

J.J.M.

December 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

who would think falcons and broncos would have the same record with tebow at qb though…

5150 UOAD

December 11th, 2011
7:21 pm

TEBOW wins TEBOW wins

Play Redman

December 11th, 2011
7:24 pm

The Falcons should run no huddle all game. Its only time they look good on offense.

Dawg4u

December 11th, 2011
7:26 pm

It was a good win for the Falcons today and let’s face it – the Panthers are not an awful team. Sure, their record is 4-9 but they have been mostly competitive in all but one game. They lost by 2 tds earlier on the road to both the Falcons and Lions – to be expected by a team with a rookie qb. Their only really bad game was a 30-3 stinker at home against the Titans. They were only beaten by a td by the Packers and by a field goal by the Saints. They are definitely on the right track and as Newton matures will be even better but still a good come from behind win by the Falcons which showed a lot of character.

drew

December 11th, 2011
7:27 pm

I swear i saw #72 Sam Baker at RG get beat on the safety. WTF. he is soooooo terrible! oh, and im really getting tired of seeing #21 Chris Owens chase recievers into the endzone and DeCoud continually get beat on everything, tackling and covering.

Play Redman

December 11th, 2011
7:36 pm

Falcons can come back on a sorry team like Panthers but against Cowboys,Lions,Giants they will get beat.

painter

December 11th, 2011
7:36 pm

We shouldn’t have won today but we did. That was a remarkable win today, so shove it JSS. Go Julio and Franks!!! Great job today in the 2nd half and on D.

extremus

December 11th, 2011
7:36 pm

I once heard a commentator back during the early 1980s ponder how a lineup with Steve Bartkowski, William Andrews, Jeff Van Note, and the like didn’t win about every time out. Despite what the 2011 Falcons have on paper, they’re at least equally as frustrating to watch.

The comeback was certainly nice (and frankly unexpected the way this team has performed on the road), and a win is a win. But I don’t think too many folks are ready to declare the Falcons Superbowl-caliber anytime soon, until we see A LOT MORE lopsided scores in their favor (i.e. killer instinct across 60 minutes of football) and a lot LESS frustrating inconsistency.

My gut feeling is that there will be some coaching changes this offseason; there will have to be (along with some personnel upgrades) for Atlanta to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.

brog9

December 11th, 2011
7:38 pm

Fletcher we play NO on Monday Night then the Suckaneers on the last game of the year. Play Redman- you are something is wrong, its called Mularkey and VanGoober, not Matt Ryan. He may not be able to hit the long ball yet but he can win us games.

brog9

December 11th, 2011
7:38 pm

you are right something is wrong, sorry typo

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
7:39 pm

Cheering for the Giants or Cowboys tonight?

Mr Charlie

December 11th, 2011
7:49 pm

what, nobody saying how great Cam is? My favorite is how they compare his superman nonsense to Rogers belt…..when Scam nothing wins a SB, he earns the right to have a signature. Until the, he is a nothing, a guy 0-2 against ICE ICE BABY

Mr Charlie

December 11th, 2011
7:49 pm

Cheering for the Boys.

JSS

December 11th, 2011
7:51 pm

Painter…
Buy some KY and do it your self

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
7:54 pm

Someone over at ESPN must be playing Russian roulette. What a horrible lineup of Monday night games lately (Rams and Seahawks this week…eww).

Sly Boarders

December 11th, 2011
7:54 pm

Weatherspoon is team MVP, hands down. Each week, when the team goes through it’s swoon, which it always does, I look for that player who refuses to just accept it. I always hope it’s Ryan, but it’s always ’spoon. His celebration dance is silly though.

Robert08

December 11th, 2011
7:56 pm

Who cares what you haters think? The Falcons, who have the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC South, came back from 16 points down to beat Superman at home. Haha … and thanks to Tebow, the Falcons have taken the lead in the NFC wildcard race. Why you ask? Because they win the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lions because the Falcons beat them in their dome.

Mr Charlie

December 11th, 2011
7:56 pm

I am sure Ryan would defer to Spoon as being the catalyst. That is what leaders do.

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
7:57 pm

Sly, I was thinking today that surrounded by so much mediocrity (at best) amongst his fellow defenders, Weatherspoon’s outstanding play truly does stand out. There’s one guy TD certainly did not whiff on. As other players are taking bad routes or missing tackles, Weatherspoon comes in like a missile and cleans it up. Then he eats it up.

tfletch

December 11th, 2011
7:57 pm

yo whey da runnin’ game gone?

Robert08

December 11th, 2011
7:58 pm

The fourth-best quarterback jab was directed at all the idiots who claim Freeman and Newton are better than Ryan, who threw for 320 yards, four touchdowns and no picks today.

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
7:58 pm

Robert08…I think you have that wrong. I’ve read several NFL ratings services…I mean blog posts on AJC…that insist Ryan is no better than the 5th or 6th best QB in the NFC South.

Jim

December 11th, 2011
7:59 pm

Anyone who says this team can go anywhere IF it makes the playoffs must make his/her living through an association with the Falcons…anyone who objectively evaluates this crew can only see a fairly good team, not a great team. Think this bunch of underachievers can handle Green Bay or New Orleans come playoff time? Duh….

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
8:03 pm

Jim, I don’t read much lately, even from fans, that suggests they see the Falcons “going anywhere” in the playoffs. What are you reading? All I see, me included, are fans who believe they could win on the road against an iffy division winner, like Dallas, and then probably get smacked back down by GB or New Orleans. If the Falcons could somehow luck out and get SF (if that is possible) maybe…but I doubt it. But I’d prefer one playoff win over none.

The Ice Man Cometh Back Again

December 11th, 2011
8:04 pm

The Matt Ryan haters will continue to hate him even after he wins his first Super Bowl. This offensive line is less than average. Ryan has had no time to throw all season. And when he does he has Roddy and Julio dropping winning touchdown passes right and left.

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
8:05 pm

@JeffSchultz, would it be possible to ask one of the Falcons coaches, either Smith or Mularkey or the O-line coaches, how Sam Baker graded out today? Thank you much. :-)

Michael

December 11th, 2011
8:07 pm

what, nobody saying how great Cam is? My favorite is how they compare his superman nonsense to Rogers belt…..when Scam nothing wins a SB, he earns the right to have a signature. Until the, he is a nothing, a guy 0-2 against ICE ICE BABY

——————————————-

Rodgers was doing that years before GB won the title so what are you talking about? What is your beef with Cam? He is a good young player. And since you have to win something to have signature, stop calling Matt Ryan “Ice”. He hasn’t even won a playoff game.

ijonathan

December 11th, 2011
8:07 pm

Here’s my grade: HE SUCKED. He seemed to be playing right guard with a left tackle philosophy. On the safety, he kind of chipped the rusher to his left a bit then almost seem to give up on the play, like he was saying, “hey, I pushed him away from the pocket.” OOPS…when you are at right guard and push the defender off to the left, he then has a direct run up the middle at the QB. Unless he was expecting some magical help from the center, that was a horrific play. Finally, someone got some sense and he seemed to be spending a lot of time on the sidelines.

This one's for you MT seats. . .

December 11th, 2011
8:08 pm

You aren’t a real Falcons fans hating on the team right now. That was a huge come from behind win today. We all know this team has weaknesses and I agree we can’t always say . . if we can only put together 4 qtrs of good football. . .but come’on maaan. . .give the team a break. When’s the last time our team was relevant four years in a row?—-I’ll tell you. . .NEVER. The complainers are the wu$$ies who don’t go to games and yell their throats off—-thats for you MT seats—-& I’ll take yours on Thursday night.