Midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl 51, the Atlanta Falcons had a commanding 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots and they appeared to be well on their way to winning their first Super Bowl Title. But since then the Falcons have failed to get out of their own way. Things would come apart for the Falcons rather quickly as they became the first team in the history of the Super Bowl to squander a 25-point lead as New England would rattle off 31 consecutive points to win in overtime 34-28. During the off-season the Falcons attempted to do and say all of the right things by claiming to have gotten over the loss in the Super Bowl. However actions speak louder than words which is evident by what the Falcons have been able to do on the football field during the 2017 National Football League season.
Atlanta won their first three games of the season, but since then they have dropped their last three. The Falcons have blown leads versus the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, while they were barely able to hold on against the Chicago Bears as well as the Detroit Lions. And in a rematch of Super Bowl 51 with the Patriots this past Sunday night, Atlanta didn’t have an answer as they lost 23-7. The Falcons are in third place in the NFC South, and although that they are still in the mix for a postseason berth, it will be difficult for them to get back there as this team is still seeking to find its identity.
Since 2008, Matt Ryan has been the Falcons starting quarterback and during that time he has ascended to being the best player at that position in the history of the franchise. Ryan’s record as the starting quarterback is 88-60, while last season saw him become the first player in the history of the franchise to be named as the MVP of the National Football League. But in spite of all of that Ryan entered last January with a career record of 1-4 in the postseason. Ryan appeared that he was well on his way to putting all of his prior postseason struggles behind him until several miscues which included a fumble that led to a Patriots touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51 got the best of him. And as the Falcons are struggling here in 2017, it begins with the play of Ryan.
Whereas Ryan only threw 7 interceptions for all of 2016, he has already been picked off 6 times this season, while only throwing 7 touchdowns as he just seems to be out of sync which dates back to the Super Bowl loss. No Falcons wide receiver has more than one receiving touchdown this season which includes wide receiver Julio Jones who is a four-time Pro Bowler as he has 14 touchdown grabs to his credit over the last two seasons. And as the Falcons have yet to find a rhythm in their passing game, it is time for them to focus on running the football more.
In losing the Super Bowl to the Patriots, Atlanta failed to close out the game as they went away from their running game. In the loss, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman averaged 6.8 yards per carry, but he only received 11 carries. And had the Falcons consistently given Freeman the football in the second half of the contest, we would be referencing to this team as the defending Super Bowl Champs.
That abandonment of the running game was under former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan who is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. But it has not gotten better for the Falcons running game under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
This year the Falcons are 14th in the National Football League in rushing, while Freeman only has 91 carries through six games. The Falcons are once again relying too heavily on the right arm of Ryan to get things done and they have been unable to sustain drives as they are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns for 29th in the NFL in regards to third-down conversions.
Defensively the Falcons are ninth in the National Football League in total defense, but they have lacked to the ability to make the big play. So far this season Atlanta has only been able to force three turnovers. Atlanta has also been unable to create a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks as they only have 14 sacks. Included in that futility for the Falcons is outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. who after leading the NFL in sacks last season with 15.5, has only managed to register 3 sacks this year.
After the Falcons collapse in the Super Bowl, the team decided not to retain defensive coordinator Richard Smith as well as defensive line coach Bryan Cox. Marquand Manuel who was the Falcons secondary coach last season has been promoted to being the team’s defensive coordinator this season. But under Manuel the Falcons defense has been unable to make those game-changing plays that championship teams find a way to get.
The schedule won’t be getting any easier anytime soon for the Falcons who will be on the road to face an overachieving New York Jets team this Sunday. The Falcons also have a road meeting with the Seattle Seahawks as well as their entire array of games with their divisional foes within the NFC South.
Coming into this season I expected the Falcons to be an up and down team as you simply cannot wash away the stench off of what happened in the Super Bowl in a few months. And in spite of that, Atlanta still has to accept the fact that their opponents are going to be gunning for them as they are still the defending NFC Champs.
For Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, he has done a good job in saying all of the right things in order to remain positive. But after his Falcons went out of their way to give the Patriots the Vince Lombardi Trophy, while he failed to get Atlanta to the playoffs in 2015 in spite of beginning the season with a record of 5-0, he has rapidly developed a reputation of being unable to finish what he has started. And Quinn has a very tough sell job ahead of him to get the Falcons back to playoffs, while also convincing people such as myself that what we saw in February is still not haunting this team.