Story of the season: Falcons mess around but win anyway

The fourth-and-goal stop that finally restored sanity. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The fourth-and-goal stop that finally restored sanity. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

These are the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: Ahead 17-0 at the half, they turn a punt into an off-the-hip turnover and a fourth-and-13 into a galling Minnesota touchdown and, quicker than you can say “Percy Harvin is really fast,” a game that should have been locked away is in danger of becoming the worst loss of Mike Smith’s four seasons.

These are also the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: Needing to catch the really fast Percy Harvin to stave off a 107-yard touchdown on a kickoff return, Christopher Owens somehow does. The Minnesota touchdown goes forever unscored, and the Falcons win by 10 and slide into the sixth spot in the NFC playoff grid, which means this team would qualify if the postseason began today.

In sum, these are the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: Shaky enough to make you think they’ll never go anywhere but stout enough to make you reconsider.

Is this team as good as I thought it would be? Through 11 games, no. But parts of those 11 games have been promising enough to make me think — and I’ll concede I might be in the minority — that these Falcons could get hot enough to win a few games in January. Which means I’m going more on faith than on evidence, which is a risky proposition. That said, the Falcons don’t blanch at the concept of risk.

“We played through some ebbs and flows,” said coach Mike Smith, understating hugely. “We showed our composure.”

Well, no and yes. The Falcons turned a mismatch — going with a rookie quarterback and without Adrian Peterson, Minnesota entered 2-8 and managed 93 yards and zero points in the first 33 minutes — into a hairbreadth thing. They do this often. (See the halting victories over Seattle, Carolina and Tennessee for further proof.) And what, linebacker Curtis Lofton was asked, does that say about this team?

“We win,” Lofton said. “We don’t blow teams out, but we win.”

The NFL isn’t the BCS. There are no voters or computers to sway. You play a season and you tote up wins and losses, and if you’ve got enough of the former you keep playing. As long as you keep playing, you’ve got a shot. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals were 9-7 but came within one Pittsburgh drive of being Super Bowl champs. The 2010 Green Bay Packers were 10-6 and the NFC’s sixth seed, and they won it all. (For the record, the Smith-coached Falcons were eliminated by both.)

Said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, whose fourth-and-goal stop of Toby Gerhart subdued the Vikings at last: “We’ve got to work on [putting opponents away]. But it’s tough on Sundays.”

Said Lofton: “We’re not playing consecutive football — the whole team playing a complete game. We haven’t hit our peak yet.”

In those frantic moments when Harvin appeared bound for the touchdown that would bring the Vikings within three points again, it was possible to wonder if, far from scaling a peak, the Falcons were about to plunge into an abyss. But the moment passed. Owens kept chugging — “I just didn’t give up on the play,” he said — and hauled down the guy who might be the NFL’s fastest.

Said Smith: “You can overcome some of your mistakes by hustling.”

Yes, it’s a maddening team to watch, but which would you rather be: A maddening 7-4 or a dead-in-the-water 4-7? (Like Tampa Bay, say.) And lost in that 7-4 is that these Falcons were 2-3 after being outclassed at home by Green Bay; they’ve since won five of six. They’ve cinched up the chinstraps and given themselves a chance.

Said center Todd McClure: “We have gotten better the last five or six weeks. But we still haven’t played a complete game.”

And maybe they never will. Maybe that will be the epitaph of the 2011 Atlanta Falcons: “They were good enough but not consistent enough.” But you know what the 2010 Packers were through 11 games? After a loss on the final Sunday of November in the Georgia Dome, they were 7-4.

If we fault the Falcons for even letting Minnesota have a sniff at victory — and we can and should — we must also ask this: Can we dismiss the result in a result-oriented business? They mightn’t be the prettiest winners, but they do win.

By Mark Bradley

147 comments Add your comment

JSS

November 27th, 2011
5:58 pm

The song remains the same…

Cohutta Dawgman

November 27th, 2011
6:02 pm

Need to win 4 of the last 5 to qualify for the playoff’s I think. Next week will be key.

romebuzz

November 27th, 2011
6:02 pm

just win baby

J.J.M.

November 27th, 2011
6:03 pm

Great article! it pretty much sums up what I been thinking

Mark Bradley

November 27th, 2011
6:03 pm

Four of the last five would make the Falcons 11-5. That would do it easy.

Mark Bradley

November 27th, 2011
6:04 pm

Thanks, J.J.M. Guess great minds do think alike.

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:04 pm

It just must be disheartening to watch if you’re a fan of that team (the Falcons); but it keeps the rest of us in stitches!

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:06 pm

Mr. Bradley, check your filter please…

Matt Leinart

November 27th, 2011
6:07 pm

A win is a win is a win.

Atlanta Native

November 27th, 2011
6:09 pm

Congrats to the Falcons for a win which is always better than an loss.

As usual, the defensive miscues were typical bad play calls. The fastest way to improve the defense is get rid of Van Gorder. Even the announcers were questioning why a linebacker was attempting to cover a receiver 40 yards down field.

I don’t like either the OC or DC, but will be happier if one if them is relegated back to Pop Warner. For now, I’ll focus on defense. Would a coach like Mike Singletary be an improvement to Van Gorder at the DC?

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:11 pm

Singletary has never been a coordinator… His ship has sailed…

Rex D

November 27th, 2011
6:11 pm

The great thing, Mark, is that through 11 games we have seen what all of the great parts can do. TE Tony Gonzalez really hasn’t lost anything. He is as good as ever. The rookie WR is as good as advertised – he won’t have a great statistical first year – but he gives you a major threat on the other side of Roddy White, who is now playing back up to another All-Pro Year. Harry Douglas gives you something at the slot that we have not had – a big play threat who could start on most other teams. Turner playing like Turner. Our LBs are faster and make more plays than ever before. We have the steadiest kicker-kick returner combo (Bryant & Weems) in the NFL. Our QB is no Tom Brady, but he wins. Wins don’t lie. So I conclude by saying this is a STRONG 7-4.

warjacket

November 27th, 2011
6:13 pm

I remember Marion Campbell, Norm Becker and Dan Henning. I’ll drink to 7-4 any day!!!

J.J.M.

November 27th, 2011
6:14 pm

anybody used the playoff generator 10-6 might get us in.

http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/playoffscenario

Matt from MN

November 27th, 2011
6:16 pm

“We obviously made some mistakes that we have to address”. I am heartily SICK of hearing that after almost every game. Shut up and FIX the mistakes, already. This team drives me nuts.

Peachtree John

November 27th, 2011
6:17 pm

It’s an understatement to say the Falcons are a frustrating team. On the other hand, Owens never would have caught that runner in the past. I would almost rather wait and see the score after the game is played and not suffer so much during the games. ALMOST.

Atlanta Native

November 27th, 2011
6:17 pm

Some head coaches are better suited for coordinator positions – Dom Capers comes to mind.

Al Davis

November 27th, 2011
6:18 pm

Just win baby… and we did…. but not in the style we would like.

A couple of points (which is about all we scored):
1) Where was Ray Edwards against his old team
2) Thanks to Chris Owens (NEVER thought I’d say that)
3) Bosher is getting better… maybe he will be o’k????
4) More touches for Quiz needed

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:19 pm

Matt from MN
November 27th, 2011
6:16 pm
“Shut up and FIX the mistakes, already.”

You can’t fix what you don’t accept to be problems…

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:24 pm

Yeah, but Capers was already a coordinator twice before, and in really good organizations too… Singletary was Linebacker coach, his team and players tuned him out… Atlanta’s been down road before (Jones and Knapp on offense and Donatell on defense), that is a road better not traveled…

Ted M

November 27th, 2011
6:27 pm

That type of play will bite them in the butt come playoff time.

Ted M

November 27th, 2011
6:30 pm

Well if things end the way they are now it looks like the Falcons would play at Dallas in the first round.

They’d win that game then lose the next to whoever.

Atlanta Native

November 27th, 2011
6:32 pm

Nativebird

November 27th, 2011
6:33 pm

aaaaaand we went 13-3 last year, won the NFC 1st seed, a 1st round bye, and home field advantage throughout….and got absolutely thrashed in a 1st round playoff game. THIS team is worse than last year. the offense is a joke. MULARKEY is a joke. here’s a triva question: of our 24 points today, how many came from drives running the no-huddle when Ryan selects 99.9% of the plays? answer: ALL OF THEM.
MATT RYAN should be up in the box callng plays.

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:34 pm

Dallas-vs-Atlanta? That’s like Craig Morton-vs-Pat Haden, where’s the Advil?

UGABugKiller

November 27th, 2011
6:36 pm

The Falcons come out, this week, like last week, running the no huddle, with Ryan deciding what play is run, and score 17 points before the half in a display of impressive, explosive, balanced, and unpredictable offense.

After half time, Mike Smith stupidly give play-calling control back to the terrible Mike Mularkey, and once again, the Falcons are predictable, unoriginal, and thoroughly unimpressive on offense, as they have been any time in the last four years since Mularkey has had play-calling control.

The fix, at least as far as the offense goes, is so stupidly right in front of Mike Smith’s face, that if he continues to ignore it, there should be justifiable calls for his head.

Matt Ryan needs to be given full control of play calling in this offense, like Peyton Manning does in his.

And the fact that most at the AJC keep on ignoring this is all the more maddening.

kudzu

November 27th, 2011
6:38 pm

Steve Deberg coaches my son in “Pop Warner” and the team just won the Super Bowl…so yeah, some coaches should be coaching in Pop Warner…

drew

November 27th, 2011
6:43 pm

With our schedule, if we beat the teams we should beat, we’ll be fine come January. The ability to run the ball, and the ability to stop the run, are crucial, and we’re pretty good at both. Great game by Ryan.

And I’ve cussed Chris Owens as much as anybody here, but you’ve got to love the hustle.

IlliniDawg

November 27th, 2011
6:44 pm

Unless and until we get a serious pass rusher and at least one more quality DB, we will always be vulnerable. Teams know that they can exploit our weak pass defense – it’s amazing more teams haven’t thrown it all afternoon like NO and GB.Sure I know that most teams don’t have a Brees or Rogers, but hell, Christain Freakin Ponder and Matt Geezer Hasselback have torched our secondary.

P B Orr

November 27th, 2011
6:45 pm

On this, you are completely wrong. It’s not often that you screw up to this extent, but you have now.

The Vikings were 6-4 in first halves. They are short on skilled players and they lose in the second half. Today they were good in the second half. But we won. If you would consider football history, you would understand that this is exactly the sort of victory that leads to championships. It wasn’t dazzling, but it worked. I thought this was a gritty, tough win that was well earned. The goal line stand was the highlight of the season, and Owens, the much maligned DB, had what might have been the game-saving play.

Football isn’t about artistry – it’s about grit and determination and the Falcons had both today in spades.

GregKennesaw

November 27th, 2011
6:51 pm

dream team is losing again! Falcons win, buc’s lose… turning into a good weekend for football

Sam

November 27th, 2011
6:53 pm

Bosher wins the most improved player of second half. This team does dive you insane with their playibg

JSS

November 27th, 2011
6:54 pm

What’s the Falcons record in covering the spread against the Buccaneers again? Be careful who gloat over…

phil

November 27th, 2011
6:55 pm

More wishful thinking about our playoff chances…

We were crushed last yr by GB….if we even make it this yr, it will be another road loss as in 08….

John abraham is taking the year off and edwards and biermann are busts…we’re doomed.

phil

November 27th, 2011
6:55 pm

Fire mike reid!

painter

November 27th, 2011
6:57 pm

Chris Owens saved our season. Wow.

IlliniDawg

November 27th, 2011
6:59 pm

@Phil: exctly, we have a very weak pass rush. Yes, we got four sacks today, but a lot of that was a rookie QB. I get so sick of seeing the opposing QB sitting back there with enough time to floss his teeth before finally torching our secondary.

Wrecker

November 27th, 2011
7:38 pm

Some positives:

Daunta made a great pass break-up, timing his hit exactly on a fourth quarter, third-down pass.
Chris Owens hustled on special teams.
Turner and Rodgers looked good carrying the ball.
Witherspoon got a sack and looked good in coverage.
Even with Daunta banged up and Grimes out, we were able to win the game.
Palmer caught a touchdown (Go TEs!)
Bosher looked good and the punt coverage team did its job.

Wrecker

November 27th, 2011
7:43 pm

Some negatives:

Busted coverage with a 3 deep zone on the Harvin TD catch.
Losing lane integrity on the Harvin 104 yard kickoff return.
Several bad tackles on Gerhart, leading to extra yards.
The fumble on the punt, caused by a lack of awareness of where the ball was.
Several dropped interceptions.
Only 89 rushing yards.

gabugman

November 27th, 2011
7:48 pm

If they can just get past being the “cardiac kids” and find a way to put their foot down when they have an opponent on the ropes, this team will rock…find the killer instinct!

DHunt

November 27th, 2011
7:56 pm

“If we fault the Falcons for even letting Minnesota have a sniff at victory — and we can and should — ”

It’s simple minded nonsense like this that really sums up the Falcon hating “so-called” fans. I guess unless the Falcons score a touchdown on every single possession, their season will be considered a failure, no matter how many regular season or playoff games we win. The Vikings scored 2 times. One score came on a good drive, with at least four spectacular plays by Vikes QB and receivers. The other score came on the only busted coverage of the day, after a lot of great defense, and even then Lofton was very close to making a play. If not for a fluke bounce on a punt, the Vikes wouldn’t have even been in a position to take a 4th and 13 prayer shot to the endzone.

So where is all this fault to be laid? Could the offense have performed better. Sure. Especially if you expect to score on every offensive possession. Should the defense hold every team to under 7 points? We’d love it, but according to all the fans on this blog, the defensive coaches, not to mention the completely inept players, shouldn’t be capable of such a feat.

Instead of giving credit for a good win, all these so-called fans can see is that we didn’t score 40 points against another NFL team, with a decent defense. And the so-called home town media leads the charge.

Great win today. Great game by Matt Ryan, Tony G, Roddy, Turner, HD, Quizz, the O-Line, Spoon, the D-Line, Franks for stepping in and stepping up, and Chris Owens for a never give up attitude. You idjits keep waiting for us to win every game 42-0. I’ll keep celebrating the wins.

No Shock

November 27th, 2011
8:05 pm

Team charges way too much for tickets to watch this kind of football. This team is worse than lat year’s yet ticket prices are higher. I’m out until seeing a committment to major improvement. In the interim, we’ll get the same mediocrity that’s become an Atlanta tradition.

extremus

November 27th, 2011
8:07 pm

While I’m happy to see the Falcons get the win, it’s just very hard to generate any true excitement about this team, much in the same way that it’s hard to do so for the Braves. Both are good enough to compete for their respective playoffs, but inconsistent enough to repetitively disappoint and show that they’re still nowhere near elite. That is perhaps the most maddening and frustrating “no man’s land” of all for me as a fan (aside from the problems almost always being so glaring and obvious and yet left unaddressed “till next year”, if then); to know that record-wise your team is so close but killer-instinct and consistency-wise, so very far from a championship. And let’s face it, if you get to the playoffs a championship is really all that defines success or failure after months of following and rooting for a team. Hence the renowned cynicism of the Atlanta fanbase, myself included.

I’ll get excited when either team is parading their respective world championship trophy down Peachtree; until then, while I’ll always root for the Braves and Falcons, I have to confess my enthusiasm will always be tempered by the lessons of so many past disappointments. The 2011 Falcons, at least so far, have not deviated from that same script that spells inevitable disaster at the end.

tonyb

November 27th, 2011
8:10 pm

First, let me say that Chris Owens play to catch Harvin was nothing short of breathtaking. Outstanding play Chris, you may have saved the day.

The beauty about wins like today is that they count just the same, regardless of how they look. There are no style points given in this league. Get enough ugly wins, and they give you a big trophy at the end of the year, We just need to get to the tournament, and who knows what this team may do, Go Falcons.

Seattle Falcons Fan

November 27th, 2011
8:11 pm

Why didn’t Julio get a catch today? Was that on purpose? We need a line backer, a db, and a guard…

LDawg

November 27th, 2011
8:13 pm

They took their foot off the gas, plain and simple. Should have kept using what was working in the first half. Completely different team came out in the 3rd quarter. No huddle all the way.

tonyb

November 27th, 2011
8:14 pm

No Shock, why dont you just stay out. If you cant appreciate that you have a playoff team in the Falcons and one of the top rush defenses in all of the league, you will never be happy. The team is 7-4, won 5 of the last 6 and will most likely return to playoffs for the second year in a row, Seriously. You wont be missed

Al Davis

November 27th, 2011
8:16 pm

Just win baby!!!! Another in the Win Column!

Mora less Petrino

November 27th, 2011
8:16 pm

The toughest game left is next Sunday at Houston. Against a #3 QB, that game is winnable. There is no one to blame but themselves if they miss the playoffs.

Sam

November 27th, 2011
8:21 pm

Amazing video of a high school senior from Columbia TN who kicks the ball dead straight 75-80 yards in the air. He was successful on 54 of 54 attempts this season….100%. Now he needs a college team.

Watch for yourself…it is unreal!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_JKwgwFY3g