If Thomas Dimitroff and/or Mike Smith don’t make it past this season, we might look back on Sunday as when the nail was originally placed in the coffin. It may not be the last nail, but instead simply the first.
The Falcons were in London. They were up 21-0. They lost 22-21.
That just can’t happen.
Team owner Arthur Blank’s words to the AJC were telling: “You’re up 21-0. There’s no way you lose that game – just no way. There’s nothing else I can say.”
Uh-oh. That is not good. And it shouldn’t be. No one associated with that team or any fan feels good after what they witnessed Sunday. The Falcons had a chance to keep their season alive, to keep their fleeting playoff hopes from disappearing.
Instead, it’s over. And so may be the regime that gave Atlanta its best era of Falcons football.
Yes, it’s that bad. For the debate that has started the last few weeks about whether Dimitroff and/or Smith need to go will now turn into overdrive. Those who might have been on the fence, like me, may not care anymore. A loss like Sunday’s will make you want to wipe the slate clean and have them start over.
I don’t want Dimitroff or Smith gone. They have done more for this franchise than anyone else that has tried in decades. But this is the NFL, and the patience level is never very high. Sure, offensive line injuries have crippled this team for the last two seasons. No team should be expected to survive. But this is the type of loss that gets people fired.
And now, I am not sure I care anymore if Dimitroff and Smith survive. Maybe it is time for a change.
I’ve been more critical of Dimitroff than Smith. The GM’s loyalty to his bad draft picks and his lack of concentration on the offensive line has caught up with him. But now the coach is being questioned, and Sunday’s game will bring more questions than answers.
For instance, late in the first half the Falcons got the ball back after Robert Alford had intercepted Matthew Stafford. There was 1:14 left before halftime, but the Falcons took a knee and went into the half up 21. Sure, now that they lost by one point that matters, but couldn’t the Falcons have at least tried to get into field goal position to try and get three more points? Smith said after the game he just didn’t want to turn the ball over. Again, if they had won this would not be an issue. But they lost, so it is an issue.
The Falcons cannot run the football. They won’t run the football. Steven Jackson, who did become the 19th player in NFL history to surpass the 11,000 yard mark, had only 60 yards on 18 carries. Jackson now has 285 yards this season, putting him on pace to finish with an embarrassing 570 for the entire season. He had only 543 last year in 12 games.
Jackson is done. He’s 31. He has no burst of speed anymore. The longest run he’s had this season is 17 yards. The 18 carries he had Sunday was the most he’s had in one game all year. Even if the Falcons gave him the ball more, it’s doubtful Jackson could do much with the opportunities. He is just finished.
Jackson’s unproductive season just continues to prove the belief that running backs are done after the age of 30. Michael Turner was, and so is Steven Jackson.
But beyond that, the Falcons have no faith in the other running backs. We are going to stop talking about Antone Smith. He was given only three touches – all rushes – on Sunday and had five yards total. So the Falcons continue to prove that while Smith can have the occasional and somewhat frequent long touchdown runs, they just don’t believe he can be productive as a feature back.
Devonta Freeman, the 4th round pick out of FSU, got only three carries for five yards Sunday. Freeman now has only 23 carries and 98 yards this season. While his average is 4.3 yards per carry, Freeman did have a 24-yard rush and an 18-yard rush earlier this season to pump up that number. But will the Falcons give him a chance to see what he can do in the second half of the season now that Jackson is showing he is finished?
The Falcons now have 178 carries through the first half of the season, so that’s 22.25 per game. The Lions were only the second team this season to not outrush the Falcons. They had only 60 yards Sunday. Atlanta has 765 rushing yards on the season, so they are on pace for 1530 for the season – an average of 95.6 rushing yards per game. That is an improvement from last year, when the Falcons were last in the NFL with 1,270 rushing yards (77.9 yards per game) for the season. But it’s still pretty awful.
The two critical errors in the third quarter Sunday killed Atlanta’s chances to hold onto the lead. Kemal Ishmael continues to get beat on long passes, as Golden Tate did it Sunday when he caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford. And then on the next possession, Matt Ryan threw a horrible pass that was intercepted by Cassius Vaughn. The mental errors are catching up to this team.
But the clock management near the end of the game was horrendous. The Falcons were trying to run the clock, but on third down and 9 the Falcons called a pass play – a screen pass to Julio Jones, which he dropped. Why wouldn’t Dirk Koetter call a running play to simply keep the clock running? Detroit was already out of time outs.
The Falcons also had a bad holding penalty which stopped the clock on that last offensive drive. But the pass play that stopped the clock is unforgettable. That was a horrendous play call.
And that’s why more and more fans are going to question Mike Smith. This isn’t all Smith’s fault. Dimitroff has made critical mistakes in roster construction. But when a team loses like the Falcons did Sunday, people, fans want blood.
No team that has started the season 2-6 has ever made the playoffs since this current format was adopted in 1990. And the Falcons won’t make history here. Sure, the division the Falcons are in is not very good. Carolina and Tampa Bay have already lost Sunday. There’s not a winning team in the NFC South.
But don’t hold your breath on the Falcons doing anything special in the second half of the season. They had their chance Sunday to get back on track. They could have won that game, taken next week off and then had a chance to beat the Bucs and Panthers on the road when they returned to action. After this type of loss, can you expect them to even do that?
Instead, start looking more closely at the free agent lists (Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh) and mock drafts (where is Todd Gurley going?). And unfortunately, if the Falcons don’t get any better and we’re looking at a second straight 4-12 season (as they are on pace for), you might want to start compiling your list of who you might want Arthur Blank to call if he decides to make changes in January.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at email@example.com.
Are the Falcons done?
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