For the Falcons, the ‘D’ in ‘defense’ also stands for ‘dud’

One photo of John Abraham tells us all we need know. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

One photo of John Abraham tells us all we need know. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Since Oct. 24, the day the Bengals had scored 32 points in the Dome, the Falcons’ defense had been more consistent than their star-spangled offense. (Five offensive Falcons to the Pro Bowl, only one defender.) It had held Baltimore to 21 points, Green Bay and New Orleans to 17. It was becoming the fleet and fierce unit general manager Thomas Dimitroff had envisioned as he was building.

Suffice it to say that TD the GM never envisioned what happened Saturday. Nobody did. Nobody could have.

A defense that didn’t yield more than 32 points in any game this regular season was overrun for 42 points — in the first three quarters. The D had made a big early play, Stephen Nicholas forcing a Greg Jennings fumble that Brent Grimes gathered. That enabled the Falcons to take a 7-0 lead. That would also be the last time over the next five Green Bay drives that the Packers didn’t score a touchdown.

Five possessions, five scores. The first four came on drives of 81, 92, 80 and 80 yards. (The final series spanned a mere 50.) The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers didn’t complete every pass, but he came close. Through three quarters he had passed 31 times, completing 27. He’d thrown for 330 yards in 45 minutes.

Rodgers had treated the Falcons’ secondary as if the signing of Dunta Robinson had never been consummated, as if Brent Grimes hadn’t developed into a big-play cornerback, as if nothing that occurred this regular season had been anything more than a sweet dream.

Alas, this was reality, stark and sobering. In a playoff game against a top-class quarterback, the Falcons’ newly tailored defense was made to seem shabby. The pass rush couldn’t get there, and nobody downfield could cover or tackle or do much of anything.

It was so bad that the Falcons, who’d led 14-7, ventured into the final period down by 28 points. This from a team that had, with Matt Ryan as its quarterback, lost only one Dome game before falling to New Orleans on Dec. 27. That night was disappointing, but not because of the defense. This night, by way of contrast, was so crushing as to make us wonder if the defense is indeed, as Dimitroff suggested this week, rounding into a championship unit.

Could Brian Williams have meant that much? He’s the Falcons’ fifth defensive back, the nickel man. He played in every regular-season game but hurt his knee against Carolina on Jan. 2. He couldn’t go Saturday, and into the nickel stepped Christopher Owens. Falcons defensive backs have had worse nights over the years — remember Charles Dimry against Jerry Rice? — but there haven’t been many. And Robinson and Grimes weren’t any better.

Credit Rodgers and the Packers for seizing on Williams’ absence. That said: Should losing your nickel man reduce a defense — a defense that ranked No. 5 in the 32-team NFL in points yielded — to rubble? If five possessions garner 35 opposing points, can you really be said to have a defense at all?

No, the offense wasn’t very good, either, and Matt Ryan was terrible. (His end-of-the-first-half interception will live in infamy.) But few offenses could have kept pace with the ravenous Packers this night, and certainly Mike Mularkey’s grind-it-out game plan is poorly suited for a point-a-minute game. This loss can be shared by all, but the defense was first — or, put more precisely, last — among equals.

But what now? Is this game a signal that the defense cannot hold up under duress, or was it simply one wretched night under the glare of the postseason? Thomas Dimitroff has some decisions to make, and they won’t be easy calls.

By Mark Bradley

813 comments Add your comment

Dre

January 15th, 2011
11:19 pm

First.

Well there’s always next year

joe

January 15th, 2011
11:19 pm

a conservative game plan on both sides of the ball won’t get it done in the playoffs. Coach Smith needs to learn you have to be aggresive to beat other great teams

FACTS

January 15th, 2011
11:19 pm

Totally outcoached

Nelson B

January 15th, 2011
11:20 pm

So much for Matty Ice! This was anything but nice! Just an old fashioned whipping!! Talk about choke city!!

Joel Smith

January 15th, 2011
11:20 pm

I think the pressure of being the #1 seed got to the Falcons. I don’t know how else to explain how they played their worse game of the year tonight.

jSS

January 15th, 2011
11:21 pm

I
TOLD
TOU
SO
!

See ya!

john

January 15th, 2011
11:21 pm

GO PACK GO

rise up and exit stage left please while the teams who play real football outdoors go to work

tardawg

January 15th, 2011
11:21 pm

we have a ring

January 15th, 2011
11:21 pm

The failcan can never win a super bowl. New Orleans has a ring…

Hillbilly Deluxe

January 15th, 2011
11:22 pm

The defense was over-rated all year. It still needs work.

JSS

January 15th, 2011
11:22 pm

Dang IPad!
I
TOLD
YOU
SO
Again
!!!

Najeh Davenpoop

January 15th, 2011
11:23 pm

“the Falcons’ defense had been more consistent than their star-spangled offense. (Five offensive Falcons to the Pro Bowl, only one defender.) ”

Y’all need to stop talking about Matt Ryan like he’s a star. Good players can win games when supported by good coaching staffs who play to their strengths. Stars put their team on their back and make plays when the rest of the team can’t get it done. Matt Ryan is a good player. He is not a “star”.

Mike Vick

January 15th, 2011
11:23 pm

Matt Ice is not the answer…..yes he will get you some regular season wins but playoffs……you kidding me playoffs???

Booman

January 15th, 2011
11:23 pm

Plenty of folks saw this happening. We saw it with the Eagles game. We saw it with the Saints game. Only the AJC writers, who need access, continued to pump up a fatally flawed team. No team with Michael Jenkins as a starter can be taken serious. Please spend the money on Grade A talent, Arthur. Please!

D-MAN

January 15th, 2011
11:23 pm

THE FALCONS JUST POSITIVELY STUNK TONIGHT. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TEAM THAT EVERYONE SAID WAS WELL DISCIPLINED. WELL COACHED AND LED BY “MATTY ICE”? WHAT A JOKE!!

Mark T

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

Pass Rushers and Cornerbacks need!!!!!! Apply now with Arthur Blank!!

GeorgiaBorn

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

‎51 years living in Atlanta. This is what you come to expect from all the sports teams that have ever played here. Atlanta Flames-13 years in Atlanta. 11 years made the playoffs. 11 years lost in the first round. Braves, whatever. Hawks are probably the biggest embarrassment. Thrashers following the same pattern. All reasons why I don’t really follow any pro teams here. You just get tired of it. Now my Dawgs suck. $hit.

Egbert

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

Ryan and the entire team embarrassed themselves and the city. They were not mentally ready to play and it showed. This is how it feels to be a Falcons fan for 44 years.

Sonny Clusters

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

We was just as surprised as you.

Archeron

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

Outcoached, outplayed, outclassed, Falcons were on the outside looking in with regards to any category that is important. They looked like a junior high flag football team out there.

tardawg

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

I worried about the D before the game no need to worry now we need few more no pass rush no coverage and what was up with the penalties.

jc_atl

January 15th, 2011
11:24 pm

Fire the defensive coordinator. SEC defenses are better coached than the Falcons. For all the good Mike Smith has done you have to wonder if the Falcons have gone as far as they’re ever going to go.

CaliDirtyBird

January 15th, 2011
11:25 pm

I love the Falcons but Arthur Blank, Tom Dimitriof, Mike Smith, BRIAN VANGORDER, Mike Mularkey and the entire Falcon team ought to not be just embarrassed but need to look themselves in mirror and hold themselves accountable. Whether or not they were good enough to win or not they were certainly better than this…..

Mike

January 15th, 2011
11:25 pm

At least SOMEBODY

D-day

January 15th, 2011
11:25 pm

Aaron Rodgers is the pro that Matt Ryan aspires to be. Maybe one day. . . but not tonight.

Gator Man

January 15th, 2011
11:25 pm

I hope this put the end to people comparing Matt Ryan to Manning, Tom, this guy chokes in the playoffs.
Is it me or does this team remind you of the Braves, good doing the season, but chokes in post season.

D-MAN

January 15th, 2011
11:25 pm

ON THE FOX POST GAME SHOW TERRY BRADSHAW JUST GOT LAUGHED AT FOR PICKING THE FALCONS TO WIN TONIGHT. JUST FYI, HE WAS THE ONLY ONE TO PICK THEM. SORRY TERRY.

lanier

January 15th, 2011
11:25 pm

they need a left corner who can cover. grimes is a good story but not the guy they need there

Mike

January 15th, 2011
11:26 pm

At least SOMEBODY in Atlanta got schooled this week. That was ugly.

Herschel Talker

January 15th, 2011
11:26 pm

MB:

Dud doesn’t even begin to describe this disgraceful performance. Heads need to roll for this nonsense.

HT

O'Brien

January 15th, 2011
11:26 pm

Where is the Mike Mularkey who was in Pittsburgh? That Mularkey seemd to have a lot of surprises or trick plays. This Mularkey is boring.

The Falcons offense are second to last in the league (in the regular season) for passing plays over 20 yards. And we were last overall in plays over 20 yards.

Is it the OC? is it the QB? Whatever it is, change is needed.

Our defense was horrible tonight. If we get those sacks on Rodgers, maybe the game is closer.

More moves are needed. We need a speed back (Norwood needs to go), we need another receiver (Jenkins is too inconsistent), I think Sam Baker has disappointed, and Matt Ryan still has room to grow.

What will TD do this summer?

Arff

January 15th, 2011
11:26 pm

Bradley the game was lost when Ryan threw that interception at the end of the 1st half. What genius called that play? The Falcons tried to be cute and got it between the cheeks. Truth be told the Falcons record was very misleading. They were never as good as the fans thought.

kaminari

January 15th, 2011
11:26 pm

Congrats Packers fans. You guys got a special team and made a believer out of me.

I am in shock. I still can’t believe that these Falcons are like so many predicted us, overrated. Where do we go from here?

Dawgfan13

January 15th, 2011
11:26 pm

Pitiful, just pitiful!

O'Brien

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

I blame Mark Bradley for this loss. He picked the Falcons to win :smile:

vuduchld

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

What you saw tonight are the REAL ATLANTA FALCONS. LOSING IS IN THEIR DNA

cyklops

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

same as the falcons of old can’t win the big one

Kenny

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

Adds to the long nightmare of flops in big games. I’ve been a fan since year one. This just feels like more of the same. Like 1980 to Dallas. Like the flop against the Broncos. Like Arizona. We’ll always be Atlanta. Flop after flop after flop–when it counts. Never turning the corner. They’ll take years to get over this. They won’t be this close again for a long time. But it’s history. It’s what Atlanta sports are all about. Late season disappointment.

FalconFanForever

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

Just a bad night all the way around. The Falcons didn’t seem like the team that we’ve seen all season, and the defense especially didn’t. I’m afriad this year will be hard to top, unless they win the NFC next season. I think we’ve seen pretty much what they’re capable of, which is good enough for me, at least they made it this far.

back atcha

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

The Falcons need help on defense. Just don’t have enough players. And Owens, well that’s just sad.

Just Sayin

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

It’s the curse of the Black helmets…when will we learn? Until this team is completely EXORCISED of Jerry Glanville’s influence, we will never achieve greatness.

Sports Junkie

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

Can Matty Ice come to my house tomorrow? I still have ice on my driveway that needs to be melted.

uga1989

January 15th, 2011
11:27 pm

Well, that sucked.

Michael

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

The great Kirby Smart would not have allowed this.

Frank

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

What an embarrassment. On the national stage and to put a showing like that. An important game in their development though. Hopefully we’ll see a different team in next year’s playoffs.

Mark T

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

Najeh he wasn’t even on the field for over half the game. Not saying he is great, but no chance to even try to prove he is.. Defense still a big dud!! yes we can stuff the run, but who needs to run when you can complete 34 of 39 for 366 yds with multiple TD’s!!!

O'Brien

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

Where is the Mike Mularkey who was in Pittsburgh? That Mularkey seemd to have a lot of surprises or trick plays. This Mularkey is boring.

The Falcons offense are second to last in the league (in the regular season) for passing plays over 20 yards. And we were last overall in plays over 20 yards.

Is it the OC? is it the QB? Whatever it is, change is needed.

Our defense was horrible tonight too. If we get those sacks on Rodgers, maybe the game is closer.

More moves are needed on offense. We need a speed back (Norwood needs to go), we need another receiver (Jenkins is too inconsistent), I think Sam Baker has disappointed, and Matt Ryan still has room to grow.

He is a good QB, but he is not a great QB.

What will TD do this summer?

Wayne

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

Time to let Abraham go-way overrated.

ubah

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

I remember 1980 and this feels just like that. Maybe TD and Coach Smith can find us some defense, and a bit of offense too. See ya next year.

Nick

January 15th, 2011
11:28 pm

Wow! The Falcons looked like a bunch of punks. How are you going to let somone come to your home and treat you like that? What a bunch of losers. Oh well the real teams and players move on. The pretenders will be home watching. Mr. Blank, please go out and buy a defense and a consistent QB.