– The Time is Now
We are what we thought we were.
In the Cage’s “Season Predictions” post, our own Coop had the Falcons at 7-5 after 12 games. With four games remaining, the Falcons have a favorable schedule. None of the teams left on the schedule have a winning record. Coop predicted that our Falcons would finish the 2016 season with a 9-7 record and miss the playoffs on tie-breakers. Much to Cager Mr. B’s displeasure, it looks like the prospect of a Falcons playoff appearance (or at least their seeding) will come down to the last two games against our biggest divisional rivals – the last game of the season will mean something.
The Falcons once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the Chiefs, much to the chagrin of their fans. The Chiefs lived up to their pre-game billing: mediocre offensively and defensively (except in the red zone, where their defense has been stout), but opportunistic with turnovers and special teams play. The Falcons also lived up to their pre-game billing: great offense, with a lousy but improving defense. It was a very entertaining game to watch.
The Falcons took the opening kickoff and marched down the field for a touchdown. Good sign. Matty Automatic (Matt Bryant) added the PAT. The Falcons defense looked like swiss cheese when the Chiefs got the ball. The Chiefs scored quickly and easily. Fortunately, former second round pick Ra’Shede Hageman blocked the Chiefs extra point attempt to keep the lead at 7-6. Hageman is in his third season, has one year left on his contract, and needs to step up now if he wants to continue to be a Falcon. Hageman has a history of blocking kicks since his college days.
It seems the Falcons defense always looks terrible early in games. Sometimes they make adjustments and look better as the game goes on. The Chiefs game was no exception, with the Falcons defense allowing only one TD the rest of the way. (The Chiefs other two TD’s came via a pick six and a fake punt.) The defense still has no answer for opposing Tight Ends – even after all these years. On one occasion, I saw LB Campbell in coverage on TE Kelce. Campbell was in good position when Kelce got the ball, but took a poor angle and got beat for a big gain. I’ll chalk that up to a rookie mistake. More disturbing were the many plays where S Ricardo Allen had coverage on Kelce. Talk about a mismatch – NFL QB’s and OC’s will continue to exploit that match-up until the Falcons fix it (which probably won’t happen this year).
The Falcons offense proceeded to march down the field again, aided by local star and cancer survivor Eric Berry’s 40 yard pass interference penalty for mugging Julio, only to stall inside the 5 yard line and add a field goal. On the Chiefs’ next possession Beasley forced a turnover with a strip sack, recovered by Jarrett. The offense moved quickly down the field, but stalled again inside the 5 yard line and had to settle for another FG. I questioned Quinn’s decision to let time expire in the first quarter, rather than attack a defense that was reeling and had just given the Falcons 5 yards on a penalty with over 20 seconds left in the quarter. The KC defense was able to regroup during the break to change sides of the field, and kept the Falcons out of the end-zone.
Through this point of the game, it felt like the Falcons were dominating. Everything was going right. But the Falcons were only up by a TD, in spite of all the breaks going their way. Of course, KC immediately answered, driving 92 yards with frequent big gainers to the TE, to tie the game at 13.
After the two teams swapped punts, Eric Berry appeared again by jumping a pass thrown slightly behind Gabriel and taking it to the house. Another pick 6 for Ryan. KC 20 – ATL 13. Matty Automatic answered for the Falcons with a 59 yard field goal to close out the first half down 20-16.
After halftime, the Falcons defense came out inspired. They appeared to hold KC to a three and out around midfield. Alas, Andy Reid knew he couldn’t try to sit on a lead with these Falcons, so he called a fake punt on 4th and 1 resulting in a 55 yard TD. The Falcons, now down two scores, roared down the field but stalled at the 10 yard line. Quinn elected to respond to Reid’s aggressive call in kind and opted to go for the first down on 4th and 1 (a call I agreed with). Unfortunately, the attempt failed and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs.
On the ensuing KC possession, the Falcons allowed the Chiefs to move out to midfield. The defense then dodged a huge bullet when LB Campbell appeared to blow the coverage on RB Ware out of the backfield, but Alex Smith missed a wide open target that would have been a sure big gainer. The Falcons recovered to force a KC punt.
Still down two scores, with three minutes left in the third quarter, the Falcons needed to find the end zone in the worst way. Six minutes and 80 yards later, the Falcons had tightened the score to 27-22 with a touchdown. Quinn elected to go for two (a call I supported at the time), but the Falcons failed to convert.
The Falcons defense then got off the field in two and a half minutes after allowing 18 yards in 5 plays, setting up the opportunity for the Falcons to take back the lead with about nine minutes left in the game. Five minutes and 80 yards later a five yard Ryan TD pass to Aldrick Robinson put the Falcons up 28-27. Ironically, I heard the announcer say that Eric Berry blew the coverage to leave Robinson wide open in the end-zone. Berry atoned for his error on the two point conversion attempt (which I again supported) by taking a “pick 2” to the house for the final 29-28 margin.
The Falcons defense had two third down opportunities to get the ball back for Matty Ice and Matty Automatic, but couldn’t get the job done.
We are what we thought we were.
The Falcons have a dynamic offense, though not one that is going to score every time they touch the ball. The offense moves the ball most of the time, but settles for more field goals than we would like. Fortunately, the Falcons arguably have the best FG kicker, as well as the best QB, in franchise history. Yes, Ryan had two big interceptions returned for scores that “cost us” the game. Let us not forget that he also drove the team down the field to score the go ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter. Matty Ice is not this team’s problem. I love having a team that always has a chance in a shootout.
The Falcons have a young, and improving defense. They start poorly. They need a few more players (and did even before the injuries). But they do get some stops. Beasley is looking like an impact player with his penchant for strip sacks. The rookies look mostly good, but occasionally look like rookies.
The Falcons have an aggressive, young coach who is building a team personality that makes the Falcons an exciting team to root for. He believes his guys can step up when they have to, and shows that confidence with his game decisions. Confidence can be contagious. Our young coach makes some mistakes, but he is still learning, too.
The 2016 Falcons are a team nobody wants to see in the playoffs, but they haven’t made them yet. At 7-5, the Falcons need to win in December. The Falcons will need to win against opponents with losing records (currently), who are also bitter rivals (with the exception of the Gurley Rams and the Kaper 49ers). Many fans, myself included, believe that this edition of the Falcons is legit. Some fans, like the Cage’s own Grits Blitz (and probably Seminole Warrior), remain comfortably seated on the Missouri Express. These final four games (at the Rams, home vs. 49ers, at Carolina, home vs. Aints) will tell the tale of the 2016 Falcons – a team that is still missing some pieces, but that appears to be a dangerous opponent; a team that appears to be on a trajectory that will allow them to become consistent championship contenders in the coming years. This year ain’t over yet. Go Falcons!!!!!!!