This season began with us -- well, me -- weighing separate beliefs regarding the Atlanta Falcons. First, that they have a really good team. Second, that they were coming off the worst loss any NFL team has ever suffered. Two games in, we're starting to see another factor raise its head, and it's the one we semi-learned observers almost never credit.
That factor is luck.
Early in Sunday's dismissal of Green Bay, the Falcons lost Ryan Schraeder, at worst their second-best offensive lineman, to a concussion. Just after halftime, they lost Vic Beasley Jr. to a hamstring injury. The Falcons have offered no timetable on the latter's return beyond saying he'll miss Sunday's game against Detroit.
At such a time, we're reminded of how much had to go right for last year's team to be in position to blow the Super Bowl. The hidden strength of the 2016 Falcons was the continuity of their offensive line. From Game 1 through Game 19, the same five men -- Alex Mack, Chris Chester, Andy Levitre, Jake Matthews and Schraeder -- started every game.
Mack actually worked the Super Bowl with a broken leg he suffered in the NFC title tilt, and at the end it showed. He was shoved backward by Trey Flowers on the sack that cost the Falcons what should have been the clinching field goal.
Think about that. A line stays ridiculously hale all season, and one wobble by a guy who wouldn't have been on the field had it not been the Super Bowl is beaten for a game-changing sack. But the point today isn't to re-re-revisit a game that none among us will ever forget; the point is that the 2016 were incredibly fortunate to keep a five-man unit intact from September into February. (Lest we forget, Schraeder also missed 10 snaps that night in Houston with an ankle injury.)
Yes, Desmond Trufant -- the team's best defender -- was lost in November. Yes, Julio Jones missed two December starts. Still, those Falcons were very nearly the picture of health. Feel free to credit training and conditioning and nutrition, but when we're talking sports injuries we're basically talking luck.
This isn't to say the 2017 season is about to go off the rails. As mentioned the other night, no team looks better than the Falcons. Schraeder shouldn't be out long. Even if Beasley misses a month, that's only three games; the Falcons have a bye the second Sunday of October. But if enough guys miss enough games, it can change a season.
And the offensive line, not to put too fine a point on it, was already in flux. Chester's retirement opened one spot, and Wes Schweitzer's performance in Chicago assuaged no fears. When Schraeder was hurt, that left the Falcons with a substandard right side, and it showed. Not enough to lose the game, but enough to make us aware that all the offseason planning in the world is no defense against injury.
This is football. Guys get hurt. New England lost Julian Edelman in preseason. Carolina has lost Greg Olsen, its second- or third-most important offensive player, for two months. Green Bay was missing its starting offensive tackles Sunday night and lost Jordy Nelson, Mike Daniels and Randall Cobb during the game. (Green Bay tends to have a lot of injuries, for whatever reason and maybe no reason at all.)
The Falcons should be able to withstand short-term injuries to two key men. But we've again been reminded that any NFL prediction should carry the tacit asterisk -- * health permitting.