The story of the Falcons’ season: One Giant step backward

Julio Jones was supposed to make a difference. He didn't Sunday. (AP photo)

Julio Jones was supposed to make a difference. He made none Sunday. (AP photo)

East Rutherford, N.J. – In April they traded five draft picks to grab one wide receiver because they felt they needed to be more “explosive” to reach the Super Bowl. On Sunday the Atlanta Falcons saw that grand design blow up in their corporate face.

Their sleek offense ran into the NFL’s 27th-ranked defense and managed nary a point. Think about that. In a league where nobody can stop anybody, the Falcons’ offense was outscored by its own defense.

A year ago it was possible to write off the Green Bay loss as a case of the No. 1 seed being undone by a hot quarterback. These Falcons lost to a 9-7 opponent that didn’t do much itself until it was clear the visiting team could do nothing.

Said Mike Smith, 0-3 as a playoff coach: “I don’t know that there’s anything you can take from this game and say, ‘Gosh, they did this well.’ ”

How does that happen? How does a team with Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and the almost-as-good-as-advertised rookie Julio Jones play a postseason game to so little effect? In his first two playoff losses, it was possible to cite Ryan’s turnovers as the determinant. He made no turnovers this day … and his team lost by 22 points.

It was hard to tell what sort of game Ryan had. The Falcons’ offense wobbled so violently that the quarterback, who the in NFL is supposed to be a difference-maker, made no difference. The Falcons’ longest gain from scrimmage was 21 yards. They managed 247 yards. They failed twice on fourth-and-inches — should have gone for it the first time, shouldn’t have the second — and breached the New York 20 only in the game’s final two minutes.

We ask again: In a league that hinges on quarterback play, how was Ryan marginalized? Smith tried to say that his line couldn’t protect long enough for Ryan to throw any deeper, but he was sacked only twice — once on the Falcons’ final snap. In a game that demanded bold measures, the meek Falcons undid themselves.

Perhaps you see it otherwise. Perhaps you believe this game is proof that Smith is an affable dunce and Ryan an untalented plod who will never win a big game. I don’t believe either is true, but it’s hard to mount a passionate rebuttal after this one. The Falcons were so unassuming — they couldn’t even bring themselves to call timeout near the end of the first half — they made you wonder why they bothered to come.

“We did not play consistent football,” said Smith, speaking of the season, but he had it backward. The 2011 Falcons were very consistent: They beat teams of lesser talent but wilted against those of comparable resources. They were, in a sum, a bully. And when the playoffs commence there are no 90-pound weaklings.

Said Arthur Blank, the owner who hasn’t celebrated a playoff victory since January 2005: “I don’t think we took a step back [this season]. Obviously 0-3 in the playoffs [under this regime] is not where anybody wants to be.”

Then this: “It was disappointing not scoring any points … They made a couple of explosive plays.”

Those were the plays the Julio-boosted Falcons were supposed to make this time. None were forthcoming. Nobody made any plays. Nobody, at least on offense, did anything. When that happens yet again on the big stage, we must ask if the failure goes beyond the guys wearing the helmets.

Asked if he was confident in his franchise’s leadership, Blank said: “I think we have the right people in position because they’ll challenge themselves and ask the right questions. We’ve got to do a thorough diagnostic on why we didn’t perform to our capability. The beauty of Thomas [Dimitroff, the general manager] and Smitty is that they’ll ask the right questions. Where that takes us, I can’t tell you.”

Said Dimitroff: “Anytime you’re unable to get first downs when it’s less than a yard, you’re disappointed.”

Contrary to popular belief, not every team loses because of its offensive coordinator. (Or defensive coordinator, depending on the setting.) It is clear, however, that Mike Mularkey isn’t the man to maximize this personnel in the video arcade of neo-football. There’s a chance he’ll be hired away as someone else’s head coach. If he isn’t, it’s time for the Falcons to try somebody new.

For three years under Smith/Dimitroff the Falcons made clear and consistent progress: From the stunning playoff appearance of 2008 to the strong finish of 2009 to the 13-3 of 2010. There was no ground gained this season. There was only a glaring case of diminishing returns.

Even the man who works hard never to say anything spicy conceded the point. Asked if the Falcons had taken a step backward, Matt Ryan said: “We certainly didn’t take a step forward.”

By Mark Bradley

1,923 comments Add your comment

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

January 8th, 2012
6:23 pm

Naturally, Ryan and Dimitroff get off with a pass.

Dimi Hair Gel neglected the O line here because he did in New England– great move

Okay, Capt Dink n Dunk didn’t throw the picks he did last year.

But Tony Gonzalez was OPEN late deep, naturally Matty Slush didn’t pull the trigger.

TJ Yates & Tebow can win playoff games– not Capt Dink N Dunk

Black Dog

January 8th, 2012
6:24 pm

Tebow has 185 yards in the first half!

katherine

January 8th, 2012
6:24 pm

good column mark

ramblingbuzz

January 8th, 2012
6:24 pm

Falcan’ts. Can’t score. Can’t make 2 feet. Can’t run a QB steak.

Brad Clontz

January 8th, 2012
6:24 pm

DURRRRRRRR FALCONS

Matthew

January 8th, 2012
6:25 pm

This team will always be 4th and inches – always close, but never converting: not with the draft, not with free agency, and not in the playoffs.

This loss was far worse than last year’s Green Bay debacle.

ramblingbuzz

January 8th, 2012
6:25 pm

Make that sneak.

C dog

January 8th, 2012
6:26 pm

Fire Mularkey! Go Hawks!

Howdy Doody in a helmet

January 8th, 2012
6:26 pm

We need to jettison the check-down artist and bring in a QB who can realistically come here.

1. 3 team deal to bring in Peyton.
2. straight up for Philip Rivers whose welcome in SD is just about over.

Black Dog

January 8th, 2012
6:26 pm

Big decisions in off season…..2 big losses in playoffs in last 12 months….not like 1 or 2 players away at all……

Natty ice cold

January 8th, 2012
6:26 pm

jcw

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

First!!!

Pray that Jacksonville hire Mularkey!!! New OC!!!!

Larry

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

“If he isn’t, it’s time for the Falcons to try somebody new.”

Amen!

steve

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

team lost by 22 points; lets get it right

Howdy Doody in a helmet

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

Bradley – you let Ryan off again. You see what I see. More pain and angry blogs in Atlanta. Good for business, I guess?

worrywart

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

After the way the Saints bitch-slapped the Birds silly, we probly should’ve expected the Giants to do something similar. On offense, the Falcons are so damn predictable, it’s no wonder they haven’t a prayer against the better-coached teams in the league.

Robert08

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

I just Arthur Blank doesn’t pull a Frank Wren and do nothing in the offseason.

Black Dog

January 8th, 2012
6:27 pm

Good article Mark!

Natty ice cold

January 8th, 2012
6:28 pm

bring back MV7 NOW!!!

JSS

January 8th, 2012
6:28 pm

2012 version
Told you so…

Kevin

January 8th, 2012
6:28 pm

But I thought you said from top to bottom the Falcons were the better team?

Mike

January 8th, 2012
6:28 pm

No defensive playmakers. Robinson is a bust. O line got schooled. Long way from being a good team. Cannot say Julio was worth is with all the holes to be filled.

ijonathan

January 8th, 2012
6:29 pm

“The beauty of Thomas [Dimitroff, the general manager] and Smitty is that they’ll ask the right questions.”

Yes, Arthur, but who will be asking the right questions ABOUT Dimitroff and Smitty.

Najeh Davenpoop

January 8th, 2012
6:29 pm

Bradley, how long is it going to be before you and Schultz give the Hawks props for being the best team in Atlanta?

SeenThis B4

January 8th, 2012
6:29 pm

How much does today’s results hurt? LOL?!

Natty ice cold

January 8th, 2012
6:29 pm

We miss u MIKE!!

Thomas Dimitroff is a moron

January 8th, 2012
6:29 pm

Blown out last year at home vs the Packers
Blown out by Saints on MNF
Blown out by Giants team that isn’t that good

Where is the anger on this team?
Where is the passion?
Where is the fire?

I trust Coach Smith. Unlike most, I trust Mularkey.

Ryan just isn’t accurate deep. Look at the bombs we completed– vs Tampa & Indy, in both cases Julio had to make great grabs on poorly thrown ball.

Don’t want to cut Ryan but why draft WR if he can’t throw it deep?!?!

Smarter to win a la Ravens — invest in D and OL/running game to take advantage of smart dinking QB

Is this worst playoff loss?
Or is it still Green Bay last year?

GT Letterman

January 8th, 2012
6:29 pm

Following negative Falcons talk on Twitter prompted me to try to think of something positive…except that I couldn’t. How bad is that? And I’m paid on Sundays to share the Good News.

RocknRunnr

January 8th, 2012
6:30 pm

Awful and embarrassing performance…….the entire offensive staff should be fired. I can’t buy the statement that making the playoffs is at least better than 20 other teams out there anymore. I’m not ashamed to be a Falcons fan but I am again disappointed.

Michael Marr

January 8th, 2012
6:30 pm

I blame the lockout for his mediocre, NFL season.

BC

January 8th, 2012
6:30 pm

If we get rid of Mularkey the popular consensus seems to be that we promote Bratkowski from within. If that is the case then who cares? Tired of this team. Why not get rid of Smith now. There are alot of solid coaches out there – forgive me if I have less then no confidence in the Smith-Ryan combo at this point.

Dominic Hughes

January 8th, 2012
6:30 pm

I’ve seen some bad playoff losses in my time, but that one was up there. “The Process” has officially stalled at best, and hit reverse gear at worst. Mularkey has to go. Brian VanGorder needs to improve or should soon follow. The Falcons have too much talent to keep folding up in the playoffs like a cheap suit. Look at what coaching changes brought in San Francisco. I don’t want to hear about lessons being learnt. I heard that last season after the debacle against the Packers. Clearly, they either haven’t been learnt or are incapable of being learnt.

Mack1124

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

With all that we gave up for Julio Jones (he’s worth every pick) Arthur Blank can not be happy.

Falcaints

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

Does this team have any players with heart? The same problem plagued the Braves, no heart, no desire, boring.

Sam

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

It’s not enough that the falcons are 0-3 in playoffs but the coaches are totally clueless. Mike smith might be a good coach but he’s not going to take this team to super bowl

GT Trumpet

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

Stopped to read. Should’ve been #4. Thank you Mark for not overreacting like a lot of people on here will surely do. A new OC may be great medicine.

Eric Melson

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

Matty Ice!!!! are you kidding me. Matty Freeze Up is his new name.

Billy

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

Both coordinators have to go! If Mularkey gets a HC job, I hope and pray he takes Van Gorder with him. And, the secondary needs a major overhaul!

jokurone

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

pro football in Atlanta? Pathetic to say the least explosive or implosive?

Once Recent Reader

January 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

Where’s Choke?? I promised I’d be here to either hear him move on to a new argument . . . .or continue the “no playoff wins” critique. Well, I guess I have a year of “0-3″. Very disappointing, and I think this was Choke performance by the Offense . . .and Ryan is the leader on the field, so although I’m still a big #2 supporter . . .. I will say we really needed him to step up today as the game was there for the taking – first 3 quarters. He didn’t do it. Quite a few other folks on the Offensive side I could also add to the bad game equation.

Larry

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

Think about this, Mark.

In their last 18 meaningful games the Falcons are 10-8. Now add to that what some here said (not me) was on irrelevant 0 – 4 preseason. That’s a 10-12 record in their last 22 football games.

The facts in the case are indisputable…. we are in reality an average football team.

Flying Low

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

I hope Mr. Blank will demand change. We heard the same excuses from Mike Smith after being destroyed by the Saints. But it happened again a mere 2 games later. Obviously the loss goes to the Falcons offense. They scored zero points.

Falcon in DC (rupe)

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

Why waste the finger strokes……..I’m just gonna be in Flowery Branch this spring and try out as a free agent player or position coach. I’m sure I could do just as good a job of stealing a paycheck.

Horrible!!!!! Period. End of discussion.

Natty ice cold

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

MV7 was our hometown hero, let’s face it nobody feels that way about matty ice

Kapoonka

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

Smitty has to straight own this loss. Matt Ryan on a 4th and inches quarterback sneak with Michael Turner on the sideline?????? That’s kindergarten football….Turner gets the dang ball. C’mon Mannnnnnnn!!!!!!!!!!!!! The Packers would have killed them anyway, so it’s just as well. at least I think the Giants will give GB a good game.

Dave

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

The most frustrating part of this loss, is trying to honestly determined how to fix what is broken. There were so many glaring weaknesses it’s hard to know where to begin. Especially, since we traded away all of our high draft choices. Roddy couldn’t catch anything today, how about we trade him for a left guard. We either need a new running back or a serious makeover of the entire offensive line. I also think it’s time for a new offensive coordinator.

phil

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

Mark.

This article is way to easy on these bums.

3-12 Against Ranked Teams

January 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

Mike Smith and Mark Richt…….separated at birth???

MR2 Fan

January 8th, 2012
6:33 pm

Natty Ice…..FAIL. MV7 was watching the game at home since his team didn’t even make it mostly because of MV7 fragile as a china doll.

Falcaints

January 8th, 2012
6:33 pm

Blank can forget his new stadium, pretty soon he will have to resort to those “cheap” tickets just to get people to show up.