A big win only in the sense it wasn’t an even bigger loss

They won this one without Matt Ryan, but they'll need him soon. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

They won this one without Matt Ryan, but they'll need him soon. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

That wasn’t mere urgency at their backs on that final drive. It was utter desperation. The Falcons can read the schedule and the standings, and they know the difference between 6-5 and 5-6 is more than one game, especially when the opponent tipping the balance arrived at 1-9.

“Going under .500,” Roddy White would say later, after he’d caught the fourth-down touchdown pass that won it, “that’s desperation.”

The Falcons escaped Sunday’s game with a season’s worth of hopes still alive, but with every week those hopes are tempered by mounting reality. They started 4-1. Then they lost four of five. They were one play from making it five of six against an overmatched opponent coached by a man seemingly determined to keep both teams in the game. And even after they’d won, this was the verdict of Todd McClure, the center: “One of the ugliest wins I’ve ever been involved with.”

Said Mike Smith, the coach who works hard to say nothing: “We tried numerous ways not to win the game.”

Eventually the Falcons overcame it all — on this given Sunday. The next two might not be so kind. Philadelphia plays here next week, and then the Saints. And there’s no guarantee the Falcons will have their starting quarterback or starting tailback for either game.

Per infuriating team policy, Smith would say nothing about the injuries to Matt Ryan’s big toe or Michael Turner’s ankle. “We’ll know more Wednesday,” he said, perhaps referring to the Wednesday before Memorial Day. But the Falcons lost players at such a dizzying rate Sunday — two offensive linemen were also hurt — that erosion has to be factored into any calculation regarding playoff chances.

The locker room was full of happy talk afterward — beat the Bugtussle Bovines on fourth-and-goal and you’re excited — but there was  reality interspersed. The Falcons were outgained and largely outplayed by a Tampa Bay team working behind a rookie quarterback. Their only touchdown in the first 59 minutes and 37 seconds came on a gimmick play. Their quarterbacks were sacked six times. They missed (another!) field goal. They had a punt blocked. They lost a fumble. They were lucky as heck to win.

“That was a good football team we played today,” said Smith, lying.

Said Tony Gonzalez, who caught four Chris Redman passes on the frantic final drive: “We had so many things going against us … Winning this game is really a credit to the way we work.”

Well, yes. It was that. But it was also further evidence that these Falcons lack a separation gear. They led 10-0 but trailed 17-10. They needed six passes inside the 10 — one incompletion was overridden by defensive holding — to score the winning points. White finally made the decisive catch but only after not making the decisive catch three snaps earlier.

The Eagles and Michael Vick are up next — “The winner of this game is going to make the playoffs,” said White, thinking a bit too far ahead — and that will be taxing for all involved even though Vick’s role has been reduced to a cameo. Beyond this arduous fortnight lie three seemingly winnable games, but it took so much to win this one at home that you wonder if the Falcons, to use a Mark Richt expression, have enough juice.

Asked how the mood would have been had that fourth-down pass fallen incomplete, McClure said: “It wouldn’t have been pretty. But that’s the nature of the NFL. One play can change the mindset of a team.”

At issue isn’t so much the minds of the Falcons as their bodies. They haven’t been quite as good as advertised, and now they’re losing men. They still have a realistic chance to make the playoffs, but they might not have enough players.

412 comments Add your comment

eric

November 29th, 2009
6:08 pm

Hillbilly Deluxe

November 29th, 2009
6:08 pm

At this point 9-7 will satisfy me. Everyone is well aware of the struggles on defense but the offensive line needs help too.

Robert

November 29th, 2009
6:09 pm

They should of destroyed this team but it is a win and I will take it

Falcon Obit

November 29th, 2009
6:10 pm

What this game showed was that all that bloviating that the 2 Bucs games were “gimmes” was seriously flawed. That last game in Tampa is not looking like a given by any stretch of the imagination…in fact, the Falcons would be underdogs.

Bobby Boo

November 29th, 2009
6:11 pm

Bobby Boo

November 29th, 2009
6:11 pm

First!!!!!!!!!!!

TigerLOVE

November 29th, 2009
6:13 pm

One game at a time Mark. The Redskins were missing 7 starters today and almost beat the Eagles. Football is funny like that. You have a bad habit of turning good things into bad things. Your home life must be hell.

TMoney

November 29th, 2009
6:13 pm

Hillbilly Deluxe

November 29th, 2009
6:08 pm

At this point 9-7 will satisfy me. Everyone is well aware of the struggles on defense but the offensive line needs help too.

I agree, break the curse first and then get some help in here in the offseason.

eric

November 29th, 2009
6:17 pm

By the way, I agree with all of your points. I admit that I was suckered in a bit by this team. They had such a miracle season last year and then they start out 4-1, I figured we were a shoe-in for the playoffs this year. But over the last 5-6 weeks I have seen alot of things that concern me.

We all knew the defense was a liability by preseason, but I thought we had enough weapons on offense to make up for it. I was wrong so far. Matt Ryan definitely had the bar raised too far for him in his second year, especially when playing in the same division as Drew Brees. Lots of folks (myself included) expected him to be as good if not better than Brees this year and that was just unrealistic. I still think he is the best prospect we have ever had at the position but we need to gice him more time to mature.

The kicking game is just in shambles right now. Elam truly looks like he’s done. He’s almost timid when he kicks and you can the frustration when he misses. He was one of the all time best but his time has passed.

Lastly, defense is our most glaring weakness right now of course. We make every QB look like Joe Montana. DOesn’t matter if they are struggling (Jake Delhomme, Tony Romo), if they’ve barely played in the NFL (Freeman), or they actually are future Hall of Famers (Brady, Brees), this defense makes any passing game better. I really don’t know what they can do. They need a shutdown corner obviously, but the pass fush is also woefully inconsistent and the linebackers don’t shed blocks well at all. Too many first down runs are going for 6, 7, 8 yards and we face way too many 3rd and 1’s.

We just aren’t as good as we thought we were. We are on the right track, but honestly I would be happy with just a winning season this year….

Larry

November 29th, 2009
6:18 pm

This team continues to regress in “all three phases,” and that’s coaching. Could it be that the Falcon’s coaching staff is, collectively, below average? With essentially the same problems today as that which the season started an indictment of the hallowed General Manager?

One thing is clear, this team, since the end of the 2008 season and including the playoff performance against the Cardinals, is getting worse by the week.

Eric's Life Coach

November 29th, 2009
6:18 pm

Say it with confidence, Eric. Say

FIRST! FIRST! HA HA HA!

Fair and Balanced

November 29th, 2009
6:19 pm

“That was a good football team we played today,” said Smith, lying.

If Raheem Morris had said that, he’d be lying too.

Bob

November 29th, 2009
6:20 pm

Last!

At least until someone else posts.

god of the arts and entertainment

November 29th, 2009
6:21 pm

If Elam isn’t released this week it will be a joke. He has obviously lost it. Anyone is better then him at this point.

David

November 29th, 2009
6:22 pm

We need help. We need Ryan and Turner healthy, then we need the Jets to cut Darrelle Revis, the Vikings to cut Jared Allen, the Ravens to cut Ed Reed, and the Steelers to cut Polamalu. If we can pick all of them off waivers, I like our chances. Otherwise, this defense just isn’t playoff material.

Cuz

November 29th, 2009
6:22 pm

I saw a good football team today. I am watching the Minnesotta Favres.

Falcon Fan forever

November 29th, 2009
6:22 pm

Wah Wah Wah, there is a quarterback in Detroit playing with a seperated shoulder and Matty Ice’s BIG TOE hurts. Give me a break! First of all is Redman all that bad a deal in the next couple of games.

Liked the way the defense held it together and gave us a chance to win. Need the cry babies (not you Gonzo) on offense to start stepping up.

Was Jenkins injured today? Something was wrong, he actually caught a few passes.

Mr Charlie

November 29th, 2009
6:23 pm

Dan Reeves said it “You are never as good, or as bad as you look”. Just because we look bad today, does not mean we will look as bad the next game, remember how good we looked in the 4th Quarter against the Gints?

I will take an ugly win over a moral victory loss any day. This is a game the Falcons historically lose, hats off the Reddog and the Falcons.

BirdDawg

November 29th, 2009
6:25 pm

Wow, this game really hurt the team’s standing in next year’s NFL Draft. Not to worry though, a 6-10 record should still draw a pretty high draft pick.

Mr Charlie

November 29th, 2009
6:26 pm

The Bucs are a team that is getting better, no doubt. However, they blew it, when they that last posession, they should have at least tried to get one more 1st down before attempting the field goal. TB just does not yet know how to win.

Mr Charlie

November 29th, 2009
6:28 pm

Wah Wah, ever had a toe injury? Then Shaddup.

Ree Roe

November 29th, 2009
6:28 pm

30-24! Oh my bad wrong blog. I’ll take a win & trying to get better instead of taking the moral victories we’ve had to rationalize over the past month.

-REEcently Roe!!!

JOE THE BLOGGER

November 29th, 2009
6:30 pm

Turf toe can knock any athlete out for weeks. Worse than that would be a break or serious ligament damage. Quarterbacks need to be able to plant their feet. If Ryan cannot, let’s just hope Redman continues to look like he did today. Without Turner the rest of the way… a winning season is a long shot. There is no way Norwood can handle the pounding as an every down back.

mountain_jim

November 29th, 2009
6:32 pm

I don’t understand how the Oline has regressed so much since last year.

The Grinch

November 29th, 2009
6:35 pm

9-7 would be lovely, but it’s a long shot with this crew. Next year with a couple of good FA signings, a draft that includes MEN and not little boys, and the return of some injured players will make this team much better. Also, they can’t POSSIBLY ream us schedule wise as bad two years in a row.

BirdDawg

November 29th, 2009
6:37 pm

mountain_jim,

The O-line wasn’t that great last year either. As a matter of fact, the O-line hasn’t been good for years now, but for some reason, that’s the area management always refuses to fix. This team is maybe two good offensive linemen and one good cornerback away from being a real contender, but until that O-line gets fixed, it’s going to continue to be a pretender.

bp

November 29th, 2009
6:38 pm

I agree with you mountain jim we are getting whipped up front on both sides of the ball!

bugman

November 29th, 2009
6:38 pm

A win is a win no matter how ugly.

Can anyone say their heart wasn’t pounding that last :40?!

O-line needs to buy QB more time.

Gotta have a pass rush, McNabb will eat us alive.

STOP fixating on Gonzo. I saw White wide open across the middle several times when the ball went to Gonzalez.

Got nuthin on the kicking game. Glad they missed one as well. I spose we’ll just hafta go for it on certain 4th downs instead of trying a FG.

I will just be happy if we break the curse this year.

Eric

November 29th, 2009
6:38 pm

Just not the Falcons year!!! Too many injuries, too many holes in the defensive backfield(Chris Houston mostly), and a place kicker that seems to be giving games away(Jason Elam). We really miss Harry Douglass and Brian Williams.

Bob Horner stayed hurt

November 29th, 2009
6:38 pm

I’m with you Mr. Charlie….we won….end of story…every week is an adventure in the NFL…we played like crap and won…that’s a good thing

Dave

November 29th, 2009
6:38 pm

Ask Jack Lambert if a toe injury can impact your football career. Matter of fact, I dare you to step up into his face and say “Waah!” about it. I’d pay to watch that!

GULFWAVES DAWG

November 29th, 2009
6:39 pm

http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2009/11/29/a-big-win-only-in-the-sense-it-wasnt-an-even-bigger-loss/#comment-133112

Unrealistic expectations with a really great SECOND year quarterback and a pass defense exactly like you described. 9=7 would be really great.BREAK THE CURSE! GO FALCONS!

Matt "Choke" Ryan

November 29th, 2009
6:41 pm

In 2008 the Falcons drafted a Boston College 5 year senior, who was prematurely given the key to the city and the Hall of Fame.

A quarterback that was supposedly “The Best Rookie” ever to play the position. Now……….

With the team’s playoff future on the line, he gets a bummed toe and what does he do?

He leaves his team out to dry, regulating himself to being a CHEER LEADER” instead of toughening up and earning the respect of his teammates, by playing through a little discomfort, like the Rookie up in Detroit, whom sacrificed his personal pain of a SEPARATED SHOULDER, to show his teammates that he is a TEAM PLAYER and a TRUE LEADER.

The backup won this game and I guarantee you, he won some major points in the locker room. The starting quarterback, on the other hand, has been further exposed as being a QUITTER and a SOFT player.

Is this the guy that will take this team to a new level? Chris Redman is a BALLER, LEADER & TEAM PLAYER! That’s why the team won.

Now, on a more realistic note – the Falcons beat a 1-9 team, with a rookie qb, at home, on the last play of the game.

The Eagles and Saints are on a whole different level and if your franchise quarterback will bail on you, when the going gets tough, you have only one thing to do…………..

“DUMP THE CHUMP”!

DHunt

November 29th, 2009
6:42 pm

A win is a WIN. Don’t matter if we lost the starter at every position. The next guy in line is making good money to come in and play hard. At 6-5, 13-1 at home in the past two years, I like our chances for the rest of the season. This team tends to play down to bad competition, and play up to good teams (another failure of coaching). Let’s hope this WIN was also a wakeup call. The offensive line can play better, we know this because we have seen this. The defensive line and defensive backs can play better. We know this, again because we have seen them play better.

However:
1. What’s up with the play calls? Offensively and defensively this is the most vanilla I have seen from the Falcons all year. Coaching as a whole has been a bit off the last few games, and we still haven’t coached up those DB’s yet. Very slow to make adjustments, no imagination to get the ball in the hands of play makers or to get more pressure on the opposing QB.
2. Getting the ball to Norwood in space should be a priority (see today’s first touchdown), so why is he still trying to run dives up the two gap?
2(a). And why don’t we ever run a screen? (b) or a swing pass to the fast RB rather than the tall WR?
3. Maybe it’s not the play calling. Can any of our QB’s recognize the double (and triple) teams and throw to the single covered guy?
3(a-c) Has Gonzales hypnotized/bribed/blackmailed all the QB’s so he can pad those HOF stats?
4. I know Roddy can get behind the defense (pretty much any defense). I know this because I have seen this. Can any of our QB’s get the ball to him when he does it? This I don’t believe I’ve seen yet.
5. Does anyone else notice that the defensive line plays better against the run and the pass when Jamal Anderson is inside?
6. Is it just me or are offensive linemen getting away with manhandling Abraham this year? I thought hooking was holding? Doesn’t change the fact that he has been a non-factor so far this season. In the glass half full category, he is playing every game, and should be well rested for the final push.

BugKiller

November 29th, 2009
6:44 pm

Who’s the coach that said, “You are what your record says you are.”?

Because that’s the Falcons right now.

I admire Thomas Dimitroff very much.

But no “Process” is worth sticking with the worthless Brent Grimes when Brian Williams goes down.

I’m sorry, but he SHOULD have went out and signed Chris McCallister to a one year contract as a stop-gap measure.

Not doing so, with plenty of cap space, was very foolish by a otherwise great GM.

Also, in hindsight, it would have been a MUCH better idea to forgo picking the oft-injured Peria Jerry and instead, picking Michael Oher with our first round pick instead.

Then, Baker could have moved to the right side, where his physical limitations would be less, and we’d have a REAL stud at LT for the next 10 years.

I too echo other sentiment. Going 9-7 this year, and breaking that infamous curse, would be a good year, indeed.

Then, how Dimitroff does in completely overhauling this defense (for REAL this time!) will go A LONG way into next year’s hopes.

Eric

November 29th, 2009
6:45 pm

Despite all the issues, if the Falcons can beat Philly next week they’ll go 10-6. Don’t really think they’ll go far in the playoffs, because the road record is so horrible this year. Get Douglass, Williams, and Jerry back next year get rid of Houston and Elam and lets roll.

ohmy

November 29th, 2009
6:46 pm

the flashbacks of 42 years were temporarily halted by an insurance salesman. the swamp fox was mumbling in my ear…glanville…danny white back to pass…nvb…ooo…this talk of playoffs has to stop. 9-7 will do for me. C’MON Falcons.

BugKiller

November 29th, 2009
6:46 pm

Uh-oh!

The mentally challenged people are back on the blog! (explanation: only someone who is mentally challenged would STILL stick by their favorite sociopathic felon).

You guys are so great! Keep trying! You’re doing a good job putting words together!

You guys are so inspirational!

T-Bone

November 29th, 2009
6:49 pm

All I’ve been hearing about over the last month is how our Offensive Line is so mean and Nasty …yet, they continue to have their Q-Back running for his life play after play. PULEEEEESE !!

Matt "Choke" Ryan

November 29th, 2009
6:51 pm

WILD CARD RACE:

Cowboys 8-3 (Owns tie breaker)

Eagles 7-4 (Will own tie breaker)

Packers 7-4

Giants 6-5 (Owns tie breaker)

Falcons (Loses tie breaker to 3 teams ahead of them)

AndyC

November 29th, 2009
6:52 pm

Mark

I think you are being a little tough on this team after the win. I know the Bucs are 1-9 coming in to the game but I think most teams would struggle when they lose their starting QB and running back in the game. I think this is one of those games you just have to get through to survive. The season comes down to next weeks game. Lose that one and the season is probably over.

BugKiller

November 29th, 2009
6:52 pm

T-Bone,

Would you have rather have seen Michael Oher here as well?

I just feel that was a HUGE missed opportunity.

Yes, we needed defensive lineman. But Jerry wasn’t rated as high as Oher, and Jerry had been hurt in college.

And as good as the Falcons think Baker is/was, he was frequently hurt the last three years he played football, and Oher is a frakking stud.

A much better tackle than Baker.

Baker is still good, and would be great on the right side. But, pardon the pun, Oher would have looked great protecting Matty Ice’s “Blind Side.”

joe cox will be fine

November 29th, 2009
6:53 pm

30-24-now on to the food blog

BirdDawg

November 29th, 2009
6:56 pm

I have to disagree with some of you guys. Chris Houston has actually shown some progress the last few games…finally. He has finally learned to use his speed to get himself in good position, he’s become more physical and most importantly, he has learned to get his head turned around when the ball is in the air to avoid all of those pass interference calls. The secondary was making some headway before Williams went down, now the other cornerbacks are getting victimized each and every week. Tye Hill is useless, Brent Grimes has heart and athleticism, but the height of a 3rd grader, Chris Owens shows promise but desperately lacking in experience; understandable since he’s a rookie. Coleman is steady as usual, and Thomas Decoud is going to be really good if he continues to develop.

Bill

November 29th, 2009
6:58 pm

7-9 this year

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

November 29th, 2009
6:59 pm

Very typical of Atlanta fans, jumping on their team for winning the game. This is the NFL not the NCAA, anybody can win on any given sunday. The Eagles lost to the Raiders a couple of weeks ago, at least the Falcons won their game!!! All I’m saying is lets not get carried away the Falcons will play better next week.

BugKiller

November 29th, 2009
7:00 pm

On another note:

REAL FALCONS FANS!!!

DON’T LET THE MENTALLY CHALLENGED HAVE THEIR WAY NEXT WEEKEND!

BOO THAT SOCIOPATHIC DOG-KILLING FELON WITH EVERY OUNCE OF YOUR BEING!!!

LET THAT EGOMANIAC KNOW THAT THIS IS NOT “HIS CITY” AS HE SO ERRONEOUSLY CLAIMED TO THE PHILLY PAPERS TODAY!!!

BOO THAT SOB WHO DESTROYED THIS TEAM WITH HIS SELFISHNESS AND LAWLESSNESS WITH EVERYTHING YOU HAVE!!!

DON’T LET HIS MENTALLY CHALLENGED FANS HAVE A VOICE!!!

DROWN OUT THOSE POOR, MISLEAD MENTALLY CHALLENGED PEOPLE WITH YOUR BOOS!

SamBakerSucks

November 29th, 2009
7:01 pm

What a joke he is. Also, I think Redman is better than Matt Ryan and I’m not worried if he’s the starter from here out. I am worried about Turner going down though.

Larry The Idi0t

November 29th, 2009
7:04 pm

Larry

November 29th, 2009
6:18 pm

This team continues to regress in “all three phases,” and that’s coaching. Could it be that the Falcon’s coaching staff is, collectively, below average? With essentially the same problems today as that which the season started an indictment of the hallowed General Manager?

One thing is clear, this team, since the end of the 2008 season and including the playoff performance against the Cardinals, is getting worse by the week.

Larry just confirmed he is a dumb a$$.

6-10

November 29th, 2009
7:07 pm

Not at all worried about having Redman in there. He’s better than Mr. Ice anyway. I AM concerned about not having the burner though. We’re in deep trouble if he can’t go.