So: Were the Falcons as good as 13-3 or as bad as 48-21?

Not exactly precision football at its finest. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This wouldn't seem an example of precision football. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

When a 13-3 season unravels in a 27-point home loss, we’re forced to ask: Which was real — four months of stout work or one outrageously inept playoff showing? Late Saturday night, coach Mike Smith said of his suddenly forlorn Falcons: “There’s a whole body of work we put out there. We can’t forget that.”

We can’t. Neither can we ignore what happened — and what didn’t happen — against Green Bay. And to answer the question just posed: Both the regular season and the 48-21 drubbing were real, but the latter was so comprehensive as to suggest this 13-3 team mightn’t have been 13-3 good.

The defense collapsed so comprehensively Saturday as to make it seem the Falcons played the entire game with two men in the penalty box. Their opponents averaged 309 yards in the regular season; the Packers amassed 333 yards on four consecutive touchdown drives that were epic in scope and precision.

Said Smith: “There were numerous opportunities to get the get the guy [quarterback Aaron Rodgers] on the ground,” but the Falcons proved incapable of sacking Rodgers or shadowing his many splendid receivers or doing anything that would have gotten them off the field before seven more points had been affixed to the scoreboard. It was a horrid showing and, for one of the few times over three seasons, Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder were clearly outfoxed.

But the Falcons’ offense was equally culpable, and here’s where the deeper concern lies. This is a unit of five Pro Bowlers and lots of high salaries, and it did, over the course of the regular season, score points. (The Falcons were fifth in the NFL in scoring.) It did not, however, function at a rarefied level. This offense was 15th in total yardage, 12th in rushing, 16th in passing. How can you have the NFC’s leading rusher in Michael Turner, its leading receiver in Roddy White, a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan and, in orchestrator Mike Mularkey, an assistant just named coordinator of the year by Sporting News … and be mediocre?

The Falcons ran 1,097 plays over 16 games. Only one snap — a Turner run — gained more than 50 yards. The Falcons ranked third in time of possession, which means they were good at grinding, but they were incapable of the quick strike. Mularkey’s measured pace worked against the lesser teams, but against Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and New Orleans (the second time) and now Green Bay the ground game was stuffed and Ryan was incapable of finding anyone deep. Because nobody could get deep.

In the harsh light of hindsight, it’s apparent the Falcons were both good and lucky in the climb to 13-3. They could have lost to the Saints in the Superdome and should have lost to San Francisco here; they needed inspired defensive plays at the end to hold off Cleveland and Tampa Bay (the first time), and they needed late-game lightning to overcome Baltimore and Green Bay and Tampa Bay (the second time). Granted, NFL success is a function of winning close games, but some of those games shouldn’t have been close.

Which were the real Falcons?

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Game No. 17 wasn’t close at all. The Falcons were trampled by the Packers in a way a No. 1 seed is never trampled, and afterward they were more confused than crestfallen. “I don’t know who that team was out there,” said Dunta Robinson, the high-priced cornerback. Then: “I think we have a pretty good defense. We just struggled in all areas.”

Back to our question: When you’re beaten in “all areas” in a game of such weight, how good are you? Said Thomas Dimitroff, the general manager: “This was unfortunately out of character, but I’m very encouraged about the competitiveness and growth of our young football players. We will continue to improve.”

That’s what you’d expect a savvy GM to say on the worst night of his stewardship. But when asked if this 27-point loss would cause him to rethink his grand scheme, Dimitroff was more pointed. “There will be,” he said, “no blowing up anything.”

And that’s the proper course. This team has come too far — from 4-12 to 13-3 in four seasons — to stop now. That said, some adjustments are warranted — and here, as threatened, are my five recommendations.


By Mark Bradley

958 comments Add your comment

Mr. Negative

January 16th, 2011
12:16 pm

GOT MY STEAK ON THE GRILL!!!

Mr. Negative

January 16th, 2011
12:17 pm

Can’t wait for baseball season, although I’m gonna miss Booby! I’m puttin on some weight these days.

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:18 pm

LOL@Matty Meltdown

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:18 pm

Matty Meltdown 0 playoff wins LOOOOOOOOOOOOL

Mr. Negative

January 16th, 2011
12:19 pm

You see Mark, the Legacy is very powerful.

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:19 pm

Matty Meltdown was supposed to be the next peyton or Brady LMAOOOOOOOOO

Stunned

January 16th, 2011
12:19 pm

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:19 pm

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:20 pm

Bob in SF

January 16th, 2011
12:20 pm

The warning signs were there for the D all season; Seneca Wallace lighting them up in Cleveland before getting hurt, Rodgers lighting them up for almost 4 bills in the previous game, etc. Really the most inspired game by the D was probably the loss vs. NO. BVG needs to junk his 3 man rush pass D scheme; it has worked rarely if ever and the lack of pressure repeatedly exposed the coverage all season long. We’ve seen it for three years now. I don’t think they need to blitz every down but letting a guy like Aaron Rodgers stand in the pocket all day isn’t going to get it done.

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:21 pm

I have as many playoff wins as Matty Meltdown rofl

Vick>>>>>Matty Meltdown

January 16th, 2011
12:22 pm

Matty Meltdown has thrown another INT LOL

Falcons

January 16th, 2011
12:23 pm

Season wasn’t an epic fail. It was however pointless.

Mark Bradley

January 16th, 2011
12:24 pm

Mr. Negative with the “first,” if steak on the grill constitutes a claim.

Pete

January 16th, 2011
12:25 pm

I think they were a good team, but got exposed in this game. Turner will never gain 1000 yards in a season again. I do not think Ryan is the type of QB that can carry a team when he has too. The defense played above their heads all season. The Falcons do not have a quick strike weapon on offense and it is hard to have to always have 10+ play 5+ minutes drives to score. We need a big play guy and do not have it.

The Real GM

January 16th, 2011
12:25 pm

“Arthur Blank”

FalconsLife on the Falcons Official site banned me from posting due to Mike Vick comments you should have never allowed the most electrifying player that played in the history of the game to get away it’s karma’

1-Please hire some talent this most talented guy on this team is “Roddy White”

2-Since we are stuck with “Matty your man Ice” he needs to be refined as in arm strength his ball does not have the speed of an Mike Vick or Aaron Rodgers he was the sexy pick. “you sucked up” you needed to wait on Mike Vick but you was scared of the Public Relations.

3. We all wanted Michael Turner but he needs a change of pace back. His tires is blew now he will only regress.

4. We have never had an intimidating defense we have no team speed no freaks of nature. We need some 6′3- 4.3-4.4 speed at DB –
The Safeties are okay.
We need some Hogs in the middle.
We need some DE’s.
John Abraham is the only true pass-rusher on this team it’s not fair to him.

5. Were the fux was Tony Gonzalez before he faked that injury to retire.We need a true WR corps- with speed all this slow grind game is not scaring no one- It’s Boring-

6.We throw “no screens” why ? I know why “no speed” wr’s no rb’s with speed .. offensive line only built for run…they don’t even no-pass protection because we hide Mat Ryan behind the run..lmao..
We see how Vick gave the Packers a game with a young defense how he got speed wr’s..”SPEED KILLS”

7.We need a aggressive coach on both sides of the ball. You guys is a joke and embarrassing to the city of Atlanta.

Dan

January 16th, 2011
12:27 pm

We won’t know until next year. Last time they had a season this promising it was followed up by 8-8 and then 7-9. If they continue to build on this and make the playoffs again next year, this could all be part of the building process. If not then yes, it was all for naught.

And enough with the Vick vs. Ryan crap already! They both did a lot of good things here but are totally different players. And so far NEITHER has achieved the ultimate goal. Until one or both does, they are both good players with nothing huge to brag about!

Ted M

January 16th, 2011
12:27 pm

The Falcons were flat out lucky in 3 of their wins. I mean really lucky which a lot different then winning close games.

[...] So: Were the Falcons as good as 13-3 or as bad as 48-21? | Mark … [...]

Mr. Negative

January 16th, 2011
12:29 pm

I looked up the stats from the 56-3 loss to the Packers in 1966. Last night’s were much worse.

UGABugKiller

January 16th, 2011
12:30 pm

Mark, with Josh McDaniels, the man who turned MATT CASSELL and KYLE ORTON into explosive, play-making QBs, still out there, how can the Falcons justify bringing back Mike Mularkey?

The offense was middle of the road, and the running game wasn’t really good, it was just pushed so much that it SEEMED like it was good.

The NFL has changed defensive rules so much that any team that insists on having a run-first offense is actually really kinda stupid.

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that Mike Smith is not a Play-To-Win coach… he’s a Play-Not-To-Lose coach.

And unless Mike Smith changes… the Falcons have absolutely no chance to win anything of substance.

Just like all of those Marty Schottenheimer teams.

mike

January 16th, 2011
12:30 pm

As an Arkansas Razorback fan I must say it was a pleasure to see Arthur Blank and the Falcons lose. Who did they lose to? I don’t care. Go Hogs! Go Petrino! You Dirty Birds do not deserve respect!

Ted M

January 16th, 2011
12:32 pm

The offense is the problem. I think the Falcons will be pretty good the next few years and we may even win a playoff game but we won’t win the Super Bowl.

Jude Law

January 16th, 2011
12:33 pm

this team is too old and too slow. ONE play of over 50 yds the ENTIRE season?? Thats downright embarrasing. We desperately need a big play guy. Turner is way too slow and Roddy is great but is FAR from a deep threat. Im so sick of this 3 yds and a cloud of dust offense. Peterson and Nicholas need to go, D. Robinson is stealing money, offense line is ancient, pass rush is pathetic. Blow this thing up, TD.

done

January 16th, 2011
12:33 pm

The Falcons are similar to all those Braves teams of the 90’s. Built for the grind of the regular season but come playoff time everything gets magnified and they can’t keep up. The Packers can strike quick and they can grind it out. The Falcons just dont’ have the quick strike offense that’s needed

Atlantan

January 16th, 2011
12:35 pm

Hey ‘Vick>>>>>>Matty’ nice throw last week at the end of the game…

Dan

January 16th, 2011
12:38 pm

I think all those blaming the offense are off-base. Could they use another play-maker or two? Sure! But the defense was the real issue last night. Miss-tackles and non-aggressive play were huge. Ball-control offense, while not sexy, is still a proven way to win in the NFL. Look at the Parcells Giants of the 80s and 90s. Our offense reminds me a lot of those teams. The difference is those teams had dominating defense, which you need to balance-out the ball control offense. Maybe add one more receiver and/ or third-down back on offense, but REALLY focus on who you can bring in on the defensive side both players AND coaches. Sure up the defense and this team can be a contender year in and year out!

Will

January 16th, 2011
12:40 pm

Falcons and Hawks are always involved in loser sports history.

Falcons loss, the most lopsided loss for a no.1 seed in nfl playoff football history.

Hawks 7 gms playoff series vs Magic last season, was the worse playoff margin of pts loss in nba history.

Falcon4Life

January 16th, 2011
12:41 pm

Where are the REAL FALCONS FANS? We blew the playoffs, So do we just forget about the season. If you are fan who was really pulling for this team you get over your disgust and hope that management will correct what was wrong last night. This is why Atlanta is not considered a real football franchise in the eyes of Football Nation. Fareweather Fans need to go back from where they come from. GO FALCONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AJC , Mark Bradley. Mark Bradley said: Today's questions: Were the Atlanta #Falcons 13-3 good or 48-21 bad? Does one awful loss override a banner season? http://bit.ly/foniP6 [...]

Great Falconi

January 16th, 2011
12:42 pm

Only an extremely intelligent, intuitive, and insightful fan would wish to blow up a 13-3 football team. Too bad we don’t have a guy like that running this team.

Any fan who used his head instead of his heart this season knew that the Falcons weren’t as good as that record. However, there’s always a chance that a team will grow into it in the playoffs. The Falcons played like nearly everyone thought the 7-9 Seahawks would last week against the Saints. In other words, they didn’t grow into it. Dimitroff has to upgrade the overall talent and athleticism on this squad. If he does that, the Falcons will continue to find themselves in the playoffs. If he does nothing, we’ll be back in the tank soon.

Mark Bradley

January 16th, 2011
12:43 pm

I told D-Led as we drove home — he drove, I rode — that a 27-point spread had to be the worst loss by a No. 1 seed.

what?

January 16th, 2011
12:48 pm

@mike…i like to hear your justification for that claim

Steve

January 16th, 2011
12:48 pm

Last night was certainly a terrible loss, but everyone in the building could have predicted it after the pick-6 to end the half. The Falcons are a good team, but they are simply not built to come back from 14+ deficits, especially when the opponent’s QB is on fire.

13-3 is still a terrific season, and I suspect more than 20 teams would trade places with the Falcons right now. The loss last night was inevitable after the two 2nd quarter turnovers, and I think the main learning lesson as a fan is that the defense is still not there yet (particularly in the secondary).

All in all, though, this is a season to build on. Hopefully, there will be football in 2011-2012.

The Realist

January 16th, 2011
12:49 pm

The falcons of course are a 13-3 team because that is what their record was, however that does not mean they were a great team as the record would seem to indicate. They were a fragile collection of good and average players molded into a team that performed better as a whole. GB and the substitution of Owens as DB revealed the achilles heel of the team. GB exploited this and the whole thing came crashing down like a house of cards. Team needs a DB and DE real bad. We also could use more help on the offensive line. We need a speed back to mix things up and another receiver who is a deep big play threat. Roddy is best at the short and mid range stuff. There are other personnel improvements that are needed as well but these are the main ones. As far as coaching is concerned the defense needs to be more aggressive as does the offense. This will be easier with the right players and more dept of talent in general. So you see we have had a lot of weeknesses to begin with but I give them all credit for going 13-3 and winning some tight games we could not win in past years. Bottom line is we are still 2 years away from a Super Bowl Team mainly because of all the holes we need to fill and Ryan could use the experience.

Matt Ryan Falcons

January 16th, 2011
12:49 pm

[...] So: Were the Falcons as good as 13-3 or as bad as 48-21? – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) (The Falcons were fifth in the NFL in scoring … its leading receiver in Roddy White, a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan and, in orchestrator Mike Mularkey, an assistant just named coordinator of the year by Sporting News … and be mediocre? Jan 13, 2011 11:17pm [...]

Packer Fan

January 16th, 2011
12:50 pm

Vick>>>>>>Matty Meltdown: You are ridiculous. Your pathetic hero, Michael Vick, has exactly the same number of playoff wins the last 6 years as Matt Ryan. And as neither a fan of the Falcons nor of Vick, I’d sure as heck rather have Matt Ryan going forward. So get over it. You’re going to see a lot more of Ryan vs. Rodgers in the playoffs over the next 10 years. Vick will be watching on TV as his teams continually underperform.

bigstack 19

January 16th, 2011
12:50 pm

My biggest concern is that this drubbing will carry over to next season and the team will be 7-9. They need to get a deep threat which is clear. I think Gonzalez might give up and retire after this so a Tight End will also be necessary. Let Clabo leave, move Baker to right tackle and go get a left tackle. Re-sign Dahl. Then on defense get some better defensive backs capable of actually covering and tackling. I like Grimes and Robinson so maybe the scheme is wrong. Defense also needs a better rush other than Abe. They also need to upgrade the line backers. Lofton is great but Peterson/Nicholas were average at best and Weatherspoon was only on the field on passing downs. Great regular season but it doesn’t matter if you get killed in the playoffs on your own home field by a 10-6 team who just barely made the playoffs. This is why nobody was giving the Falcons any respect. You have to win when it matters most and the two playoff games under Mike Smith were both titanic failures.

Atlantan

January 16th, 2011
12:51 pm

Is Calvin Johnson a free agent soon?

Frank Lane

January 16th, 2011
12:52 pm

If you look over history with the playoffs and the Super Bowl, the team with players who step forward and make big plays are the teams that win no matter which side of the ball. Green Bay receivers made several improbable catches yesterday.

And the penalties again Owen inside the ten and in the end zone is what started the slide. The opposite of making plays.

Willy

January 16th, 2011
12:56 pm

3 months until the Braves play…..

Pete

January 16th, 2011
12:56 pm

Should they have blown up the Titans 3 years ago when they went 13-3?

ALL SAINTS DAY

January 16th, 2011
12:59 pm

Falcons don’t know how to finish games or seasons…take a lesson from the 2009 Saints and / or read Drew Brees’s book…until then, you will always be talking smack while the Saints win another SB Championship…it will happen…don’t be delusional or in denial…being a good regular season team does not translate into a RING!

Over the last 30 years, only 4 NFC top seeds lost in the first game and the Falcons have now done it twice… Wikipedia defines that as EPIC FAILURE!

So much for the Number 1 seed and the Super Bowl going through Atlanta. It still may for those with connectiong flights……

WHO DAT’s in ATL are enjoying today, your loss last night and our RING! We have the best fans in the world and we don’t leave a stadium in the 3rd quarter even if our team is losing…sad state of affairs…and proves that your franchise has bandwagon fans and a tradition of failing in the playoffs…

I know it hurts that we have a RING and you don’t…time heals all wounds….

native

January 16th, 2011
1:00 pm

They did a good job with what they had this year, nobody ever claimed their D was full of studs with the exception of Abraham. They got exposed in the playoffs, that’s what happens. They’re still on the right track, ya gotta lick your wounds and move on.

Funny though, all these people talking up Vick, he’s won a playoff game alright but nothing else.

builder dawg

January 16th, 2011
1:00 pm

two words……FALCON FEVER BABY….well maybe 3 words. that’s all you have to say

ALL SAINTS DAY

January 16th, 2011
1:02 pm

We have a ring, you don’t…you are a 48-21 team…

LT

January 16th, 2011
1:04 pm

Nnamdi Asomugha is a free agent. If we have Super Bowl aspirations, we’ll have to stop Aaron Rodgers. Asomugha would be a big step in the right direction.

BravesFan79

January 16th, 2011
1:04 pm

Mark: Why dont you call out what the REAL problem was last night, and thats that crappy soft zone defense we played ALL NIGHT LONG! Especially on 3rd downs we should of switched to a tighter defense. Their receivers were wide open… all night long. Ill always be a Falcons fan, but last night was awful. Our defensive strategy SUCKED! On offense, everything that could go wrong, did.

Jackets2010

January 16th, 2011
1:04 pm

“There will be no blowing up anything”.
No that’s already been done.
The D is far from Superbowl ready.
Without all the lucky breaks, probably back to 8-8.

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