So why haven’t these Falcons gotten closer to a Super Bowl?

"Extra, extra! Read all about it! Team that beat Falcons wins NFC!" (AP photo)

"Extra, extra! Read all about it! The team that beat the Falcons wins NFC!" (AP photo)

Three times in four seasons, the Falcons of Mike Smith and Matt Ryan have been eliminated by the eventual NFC champ. This isn’t, however, to suggest they keep being undone by an unlucky draw. In each case, the Falcons entered with the better regular-season record. When it happens once or even twice, we can shrug and say, “Them’s the breaks.” When it happens three times since 2008, we pluck at common threads. And we find …

In each case, the Falcons held a lead. They’d rallied from a 14-3 deficit to lead 17-14 at the half in Phoenix on Jan. 3, 2009, but the Arizona Cardinals — who’d lost four of their final six regular-season games to finish 9-7 — scored the next 16 points. The game turned on the second play of the second half, when Darnell Dockett thwarted Ryan’s handoff to Michael Turner. Antrell Rolle grabbed the ball and returned it for a touchdown.

Against Green Bay in the Georgia Dome on Jan. 15, 2010, the Falcons led 7-0 after the Packers’ Greg Jennings fumbled on the opening possession and 14-7 after Eric Weems returned a kickoff 102 yards. But Tramon Williams intercepted Ryan twice in the second quarter, and the second, on the half’s final play, was returned for the touchdown that gave Green Bay a 28-14 lead.

Against the Giants in the Meadowlands two weeks back, the Falcons’ lead was more modest. But they missed a chance to make it 9-0 when, after the first-quarter safety, they drove to the Giants’ 42 but chose to punt on fourth-and-1. (As we know, the Falcons couldn’t get a fourth-and-1 right this whole season.)

In each case, the Falcons were feeble after halftime. They were outscored 16-7 by Arizona, 20-7 by Green Bay, 17-0 by the Giants. (That’s an aggregate of 53-14.) On the only fourth-quarter play of the three games that truly mattered, linebacker Keith Brooking, since jettisoned, bit on Kurt Warner’s play-fake on third-and-16; the conversion enabled Arizona to run out the clock.

In each case, Ryan was the second-best quarterback on the field. Ryan had six turnovers and was tackled for a safety in his first two playoff starts, and he hasn’t yet thrown for even 200 yards in a postseason game. His playoff passer rating is 71.8, which is awful. But saying Ryan has been the second-best quarterback on the field cuts both ways.

In each case, the Falcons’ defense had no answer for the opposing quarterback. Granted, the three quarterbacks in question — Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning — are/were outstanding. But the Falcons’ defense has managed a total of three sacks and one interception (by Chevis Jackson on a tipped ball against Arizona) in those three playoff losses, and the aggregate passer rating against Atlanta has been 123.5, which is obscene.

In each case, Michael Turner was no factor. His rushing numbers in the playoff losses are notably similar — 42 yards against Arizona, 39 against Green Bay, 41 against the Giants. His longest rush in those three games has been 13 yards. He has scored one touchdown.

OK, enough fun with numbers. What conclusions can be drawn?

That Ryan isn’t yet good enough to win playoff games by himself. That Turner is just another guy when the playoffs arrive. That playoff-caliber defenses can push the Falcons’ offensive line backward. That the Falcons’ defense, overhauled after the Arizona loss, still isn’t of winning playoff-caliber. (You must get sacks. You must force turnovers. You must make great quarterbacks play less than great.) That an offense capable of winning 43 regular-season wins over four seasons has been made to look outmoded in January.

And now you’re asking: With all these failings, should the Falcons throw up their hands in surrender? Why, no. Hiring two new coordinators in the same offseason is the closest thing to a fresh start a winning franchise can have. Mike Mularkey’s pitch-and-putt offense didn’t work in the postseason, and Brian VanGorder’s defense made almost nothing happen in those three playoff losses. Now Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan get to try. It’s possible that they’ll do better. Regarding recent postseason results, it’s not possible to do worse.

But there is, believe it or not, a greater concern than tactics. Only once in the three playoff losses did the Falcons even stir in the second half, and that was against Arizona. In the two subsequent defeats we saw something close to surrender. You cannot surrender. You have to believe the next play will turn a losing game your way, to believe your defensive back can strip a receiver in the end zone or that your punt coverage can induce a fumble.

The teams headed for Indianapolis aren’t going because everything went right. They’ll grace the Super Bowl because they kept playing hard enough to make something go right. For all the good work done by this administration, I still don’t see the same unyielding demeanor in the Falcons I see in champions. I see instead a team that hasn’t yet decided how good it cares to be.

By Mark Bradley

267 comments Add your comment

headley lamar

January 23rd, 2012
1:44 pm

Mark Bradley

January 23rd, 2012
1:45 pm

Kudos, headley lamar, for doing the voodoo that you do so well.

tgueboy

January 23rd, 2012
1:51 pm

y3ll0wjacket

January 23rd, 2012
1:51 pm

1) Fix offensive line. 2) Get big bruiser running back to add to the stable. 3) See what happens.

tgueboy

January 23rd, 2012
1:52 pm

we havent won simply because we havent been good enough… we got our coached, out played, and out owned

MatthewH

January 23rd, 2012
1:54 pm

It’s your last paragraph that is important. Even if they had gotten lucky and beaten those teams, they probably would have lost the next game because they would have been too stunned that they had won. This looks like a team that isn’t sure of itself when the playoffs start. They’re just “happy to be here”.

Because...

January 23rd, 2012
1:59 pm

…they suck,they have no heart, they have no toughness, they suck, they have no smarts, they suck, they have no leadership on the field or off it, they suck, and, did I say, they suck…

felix the cat

January 23rd, 2012
2:02 pm

The Mighty Quinn

January 23rd, 2012
2:03 pm

Methinks the numbers you quote are very telling when looked at as a whole. If the defense and offense equally suck in the post-season, its either the personnel or the scheme/coaching. I guess we are going to find out which it is this next season. I’m voting that its mostly scheme, with the caveat that it also strikes me that we don’t have a single player on offense OR defense that you can look to to be a game changer, to make The Play when the team desperately needs one. A bunch of good solid players, but not game breakers, nonetheless.

Sonny Clusters

January 23rd, 2012
2:03 pm

The Falcons should hire Bobby Cox to come in and get them ready for the playoffs. He has soooo much playoff experience that he might be a valuable resource.

Well . . .

January 23rd, 2012
2:03 pm

We have a short, squat running back who only has big games against horrible teams; Ryan is closer to Mark Sanchez than he is to Tom Brady; our defense is allergic to quarterback pressure; we need a dynamic tight end; our play calling kind of stinks

Bright Idea

January 23rd, 2012
2:04 pm

I see a decent QB, 2 good WRs, an aging TE and RB, 2 pretty good LBers and one decent undersized CB on this team. Nothing special on either LOS. Just not enough talent regardless of the coaching.

Bama Mike

January 23rd, 2012
2:06 pm

Replacing the coordinators will just prolong the inevitable. I lost faith in Smith when he got into the physical altercation with DeAngelo Hall on the sideline during the Raiders game. Let the farewell tour begin.

Me Too

January 23rd, 2012
2:07 pm

If you look at most of all losses, you will find similar numbers for Michael Turner and Matt Ryan. So what can it be? Since it occurs in regular season games and mainly against the better teams, it is either the abilities of the players or the coaches. I believe it is the conservative coaching style and the team was never put in a position to wind. COACHING FAILURE in most cases.

Must be A Slowwwww Day

January 23rd, 2012
2:08 pm

How many times is the AJC going to rewrite and re-title this article.

Our line can’t block, our receivers drop too many balls, our top running back runs like molasses in 40 below and literally falls down if he’s touched, our secondary can’t defend or intercept the ball and We have ONE decent NFL caliber pass rusher that’s getting old real fast. Our previous OC run the most predictable boring game plane and the former DC was probably second guessed into quitting.

Now can We please get some NEW Falcons information?

kappellmeister

January 23rd, 2012
2:08 pm

BECAUSE – obviously you were not around in the earlier Falcons days. Now those teams SUCKED. I am talking Walter Stanback, Buddy Curry, Alfred Jenkins, Wallace Francis. Long-time fans have been through enough to at least not mind this team so much.

George Stein

January 23rd, 2012
2:09 pm

They’ve lost to the best team in the conference each time. I don’t see the shame in that.

Mainly because...

January 23rd, 2012
2:11 pm

…they have no desire to be champions – and, they are led by a QB who is only a second tier QB – compare the QBs who start vs Ryan – Brees, Rodgers, E. Manning, & Brady are clearly better –

Is Ryan any better than Flacco (probably not), Rothlisberger (no), Sanchez (equal), Romo (equal), Rivers (probably not), Alex Smith (push), Schaub(no), Newton (probably not), Stafford (no)? –

The rest he is equal to, or maybe a little better (TN, AZ, MN, Seattle, Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, KC, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Da Bears, Colts (not including a hurt Manning), Buffalo, Redskins, St. Louis, Oakland…and that speaks volumes as to why this team cannot turn the corner – he is serviceable, but not championship caliber, just as none of the others are either…

Me Too

January 23rd, 2012
2:12 pm

It might be the same story again, but the production of Michael Turner i.e. low rushing yards in losses is just beginning to be a subject of discussion. Look at the losses in 2008, 2009,2010 and you will see the same low numbers. The media was unwilling to print anything negative back then.

Bill

January 23rd, 2012
2:13 pm

Falcons go nowhere until the become more skilled and tougher minded on both lines.

DCBravosFan

January 23rd, 2012
2:14 pm

Completely agree that the team did not appear to care in the losses. It does not seem like there was a ton of heart or pride among the players on this team. They rolled over and took it when the Saints were running up the score to get Brees the passing record (no hits to the QB to send a messagethat throwing at that point was cheap, no willingness to jump offsides just to foil the Brees’ victory march). The did the same thing in the second half of the Giants game. No aggressiveness on defense and no willingness to try to make plays. Just soft zones and the inevitiabilty of a playoff loss.

Impressed with Mark

January 23rd, 2012
2:14 pm

This is your best article, Mark. Well done, Sir.

lanier

January 23rd, 2012
2:15 pm

put it down to the fact its just the Falcons. usually close but no cigar–ever and it will never change

Gumbo

January 23rd, 2012
2:15 pm

Bright, you make a good point – despite early success, TD has whiffed mightily on a lot of high draft pickes (Baker, Jerry, DeCoud come to mind), and on his big free agent aquisitions (Edwards and Robinson). I think we all have overestimated the talent level that exists on this team.

DCBravosFan

January 23rd, 2012
2:15 pm

Schultz wrote about this last week, but don’t the Falcons have to replace Turner? He has no burst anymore and only produces against bottom-feeding teams. There has to be a Demarco Murray somewhere in this draft, right?

Hey, kappellmeister...

January 23rd, 2012
2:15 pm

…yes, I was around when the team formed here back in ‘66 – and I am all too familiar with the ineptness that surrounded those teams, up until Leeman came along, and then the Smiths ran him off only to hire Marion Campbell TWICE – so, yes, I can compare the teams, and the current one has no heart whatsoever, and they suck, not because they do not have some talent, but because they have no courage to play tough, REAL, Ditkalike, football…

mountain_jim

January 23rd, 2012
2:18 pm

I am thrilled they replaced the OC and DC. Both had schemes that were easily diagnosed and countered, and they both showed little ability to adjust at or after halftime.

If it’s a question of motivation, and Smith’s corporate cool approach fails even with these new schemes, then he will be next.

I believe Blank is now on the alert and will not put up with empty talk and platitudes from MS and TD anymore. the final season press-oonference showed that.

And Blank has his wallet out for oline upgrades this offseason. That could help.

GTBob

January 23rd, 2012
2:18 pm

Falcons players and coaches are gutless losers, no sense of leadership or direction on that team. Melty Ice is a failure and now the best coach they had has gone to Auburn.

Dumbtay Robinson is a joke!

trueFalconFan

January 23rd, 2012
2:19 pm

Go get Maurice Jones-Drew!!! The Falcons need a man at Safety that opposing WRs fear. Find that man either in the draft or by FA. The OL needs a major overhaul as well. The Falcons have the best WR combo in the game,but they dont know how to use them. Maybe the new OC will get together.

TN Jeff

January 23rd, 2012
2:19 pm

Great article & then you topped it off with a Blazing Saddles reference. Wow – bringing the A game on a Monday.

PT Barnum

January 23rd, 2012
2:19 pm

We wont win anything until that charade of a GM and our Coach(sic) are gone. Look who we just hired vs who NO just brought in. We are getting owned by that drained swamp in Louisiana. Now Carolina is coming on strong, we are a SOLID 3rd best team in NFC South this fall.

You Know You

January 23rd, 2012
2:20 pm

That final sentence was an open handed slap that could be dealt to all of the local teams, no?

Hillbilly D

January 23rd, 2012
2:25 pm

If my memory is correct, the Falcons lost the battle in the trenches, especially their OL, in all of those games.

Mark Bradley

January 23rd, 2012
2:27 pm

That’s correct, Hillbilly D. Mike Smith conceded as much after the first and third losses.

JB

January 23rd, 2012
2:28 pm

Well stated Mr. Bradley. Expounding on your thoughts: The front office would be wise to turn down interview requests and put a kibash on incessant buzz words like “explosive” or “sustainable”. While it’s important to truthfully assess your team, telegraphing your intentions is rarely the best means of achieving (see Mularkey’s offense).

Rowsdower

January 23rd, 2012
2:29 pm

Turner is the big, bruising back. He is not Turner the burner anymore. He is Jerome Bettis. Jaquizz Rodgers needs to be a Darren Sproles type player. He needs the ball in space to be a factor. That should be the focus of the offense next year. The weapons are there. Spreading the field and letting Rodgers do his thing, New Orleans style, could put this team over the top. That will also open up coverage for Tony, Roddy and Julio if the linebackers/safeties have to account for Rodgers on every play he’s on the field.

TOo Tough44

January 23rd, 2012
2:38 pm

I as a LONG time Falcon fan is sick of LOOSING! I want to see my Falcons in and win a Super Bowl! Anything less is a failure! Arthur, If you want me to buy season tickets again, please put better talent on the field, and why in the world would you stand to pick up an OC with those stats? Not promising outlook for me as a Falcon fan. Tired of the same crap! Just win! PLEASEEEEEEEE!

DocDawg

January 23rd, 2012
2:40 pm

Its the Falcon’s lack of playmakers on the defense, and the marginal offensive line. TD has tried to follow the New England model to a certain extent, but has failed miserably with most of his draft selections. Only Lofton and Witherspoon have panned out. They have been unable to fill out the O-line with mid to late round selections. When you miss on so many players, it screws up your salary structure.

NC Dawg

January 23rd, 2012
2:41 pm

“pitch – and – putt offense”. Love it!

duronimo

January 23rd, 2012
2:43 pm

In the Giant/SF game. Both defenses played well. Both got to the quarterback ether to sack or hurry him. Our defense is a notch below that level. Secondly, because of better overall defense, the quarterback needs to have a quick release and a strong arm. There will be more pressure and receivers are not going to be as open as normal. So, Mark, you anlysis is a good one. Overall the team is not quite good enough to handle the top four teams in the league.

True Falcon Fan

January 23rd, 2012
2:43 pm

trueFalconFan
January 23rd, 2012
2:19 pm

Go get Maurice Jones-Drew!!! The Falcons need a man at Safety that opposing WRs fear. Find that man either in the draft or by FA. The OL needs a major overhaul as well. The Falcons have the best WR combo in the game,but they dont know how to use them. Maybe the new OC will get together.

This guy is full BS —- I am the real “True Falcon Fan” —- MB comONMan can’t you do something — Let’s get it right

There is only ONE TFF- True Falcon Fan – “ME”!!!

Go Falcons

Matt Ryan's Dad

January 23rd, 2012
2:44 pm

We should have the entire NFC fan base begging for a match up against the Falcon’s in the playoffs. They should just give us an automatic bid each year.

dawg tired

January 23rd, 2012
2:45 pm

Watching the wins by the 9-7 Giants were depressing as a Falcons fan. Eli Manning can hit players in stride, Nicks and Cruz can catch a pass without dropping it, the Giants O-line can get a push to get short yardage for a first down and the Giants D can put pressure on the opposing quarterback to get a 3 and out. Even Jacobs can out run defenders once he breaks free.

I feel like I have been sold a bill of goods on Ryan and the Falcons.

MG3

January 23rd, 2012
2:51 pm

DocDawg makes a good point, we have missed on too many defensive players and the O-line has stunk in all my 30+ years of being a fan. Why couldn’t any of our first round D line picks (see J. Anderson and P. Jerry) have turned out like Aldon Smith. What a beast that guy is for San Fran. Love Julio but hard to believe Smith was sitting there when we had the 6th pick last year. Guess we thought Edwards would make up for it. Maybe TD is the issue.

Stinger2

January 23rd, 2012
2:55 pm

The Falcons have not gotten closer to the Super Bowl
because they play like the Braves. God for the most part of the regular season but fold in the playoffs. There is plenty of blame to go around for their post seasn failures. The coaches do not know how to motivate the players to the next level of urgency or intensity that is necessary to win playoff games. The players do not seem to
perform like the are capable of doing. They don`t have that extra effort they need to give to beat the other teams who are peaking at playoff time. In other words Falon players do not leave it all on the field in the playoffs.

cory dillinger

January 23rd, 2012
2:58 pm

Stop questioning players heart you don’t know what is on the inside and their desire

Corner help

January 23rd, 2012
2:59 pm

Dawg tired. I saw Eli Manning get killed in that game and not make a third down conversion on something like 15 consecutive tries. The Giants got really lucky to win that game. Period. Matt Ryan was not the problem in our last playoff lost.

Our problem is this. Mike Smith coached on a super bowl team (Baltimore) that won with Defense and a strong running game. He learned the wrong lesson. This is the exception in the NFL not the norm. Grant it Baltimore and San Francisco almost pulled it off yesterday – but they didn’t. The bottom line is that high octane offenses that passes to set up the run has been the winning formula for the last 8 years.

Still we could make a run if our entire secondary is healthy for just one playoff game. It will be hard, but it can be done. Just not very often. In order do to that, however, our secondary has to be on fire, or our front four has to be on fire.

Brave Hokie

January 23rd, 2012
3:01 pm

The Falcons are like the Braves and the Hawks and all Atl professional teams, absolutely heartless at “crunch time”…

& it will never change, for the past 40 years or the next.

Nique

January 23rd, 2012
3:02 pm

This article doesn’t not that Abe has come to play in each game & it doesn’t point out the failings of Roddy White as our # 1 Wr. He too should be held accountable, not just 2 of the offensive big 3, but all 3 have underperformed!!! That saId the lack of heart from this team & the lack of talent on both sides of the line are the reasons why we fail to progress. Turn can’t run with no wholes to run through!!! & Our announcement of our game plan before each post-season game, we’ve gotta ride Turn to be successful allows teams the scheme fo him & take him completely away bc our O-line is to soft & then the game falls on Matt who’s just not as good as those other QB’s yet & doesn’t have a # 1 wr in Roddy who steps up him play in the big game like Fitz, Nelson & Gennings, or Nicks did aganist our Defense either. The fact that Julio outplayed Roddy in this years game is telling!!!

Daniel

January 23rd, 2012
3:08 pm

Great article Mark! Well written.