By David Schiele
It’s time to accept it, the 2016 Atlanta Falcons no longer exist. They had their chance to cement their legacy as champions by winning Super LI, but they failed to protect a 25-point lead. All summer, Falcons fans expected their team to dominate in 2017, and possibly walk into Super Bowl LII. These same fans need to realize that the Falcons aren’t even good enough to make the playoffs right now.
In a grudge match of last year’s Super Bowl, The Falcons fell completely flat against the New England Patriots. The game was barely competitive. Final score, 23-7.
Maybe it was the numerous signs around Gillette Stadium that read “NE-3, ATL-28” or the thick fog that blinded the views of fans and media members, but the Falcons were spooked.
Kicker Matt Bryant had one field goal attempt blocked and boinked the other off the upright. Quarterback Matt Ryan only managed 233 passing yards and one touchdown against a Patriots defense that came into the game allowing 325 passing yards per game. The Atlanta defense gave up over 400 total yards.
Atlanta now finds itself on a three-game losing streak. Most of the blame will fall on Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and it is deserving. He has shown obvious signs of misunderstanding the Falcons’ offensive system. He has just now realized the monster he has in Julio Jones. The all-star wideout racked up 9 catches on 13 targets for 99 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots. However, coming into week seven, Jones had only one game with 10+ targets, received just one red zone target, and scored zero touchdowns.
Sarkisian also fails to see the full usefulness of his backfield. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can be used as receivers. In 2016, they combined for 883 receiving yards on 85 catches. Against New England, they only received four targets. Moreover, they were not used when Atlanta was at the goal line. Down by 20 points and facing a 3rd and goal at the Patriots’ one-yard line, Sarkisian called a pass play. He followed that call with a jet-sweep to Taylor Gabriel on 4th and goal. Both plays failed, and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs.
The 2016 Atlanta Falcons were the seventh-highest scoring offense the NFL had seen since 1990, averaging nearly 34 points per game. Personnel-wise, the Falcons, only lost their starting right guard and fullback during the offseason. Yet, they only average 21 points per game this season. Moreover, until their late fourth-quarter touchdown against New England, the Falcons went over 91 football minutes without a single point.
So, call it a Super Bowl hangover, or whatever term you prefer, but the Falcons are officially aboard the struggle bus.