Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

There’s no sugar-coating this: The Falcons blew another one


The team infamous for blowing the Super Bowl just blew another playoff game. Yes, it was on the road. Yes, it was against the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Yes, it was windy. But this No. 1 seed lost its No. 1 quarterback last month. There can be no excuses. The Falcons had a clear path to the conference championship game and fell flat. 

If any doubt remained as to the extent of the misallocation of offensive resources in their first post-Shanahan season, the final verdict was delivered here. The Falcons lost 15-10. Their 10 points came off Philadelphia turnovers. They were outgained 334 yards to 281 by a team working behind its backup quarterback. 

The Falcons had a chance at the end. (This is the NFL. You always have a chance at the end.) Within two yards of pulling ahead, they conjured up yet another in a season chock-a-block with lousy red-zone plays. Matt Ryan took the snap and rolled right, thereby cutting off half the field. Finding nobody open, Ryan threw in the general direction of Julio Jones, which is never a bad idea. This time it was. 

Jones mistimed his leap. The pass sailed through the end zone. Game over. Season over. Let the recriminations begin. 

This team was far too talented to have been a No. 6 seed, but it became a No. 6 seed because the star-spangled offense fell to pieces. Ryan had a lesser season, maybe his least as a professional. Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator, flunked the audition. 

The Falcons crept into the playoffs because the defense got pretty good and Matt Bryant kicked enough field goals to salvage enough fizzled drives. They were booted out because their offense couldn’t outscore Nick Foles. That cannot happen. But it did. 

As much the Falcons might like to say the season was a success because they wound up in the postseason, it wasn’t. They should have been better than this. They weren’t. 

Said Falcons coach Dan Quinn: “The missed chances and the ‘almosts’ – that doesn’t work.” 

Then: “Man, do I love what our team stands for as a group.” 

In three seasons, Quinn has made the Falcons relevant on a global stage. That’s beyond dispute. But the Falcons were so bad at Game Management – they left enough time for the pitch-and-putt Eagles to drive to a field goal at the end of the first half, and they couldn’t score on first-and-goal at the shank of the second – that it undercut everything. Then again, if the offense scores another touchdown a game, we’re not having this conversation. (But we are.) 

Quinn again: “The team did a good job on third down and explosives (20-plus-yard gains). We certainly didn’t do enough to score. … Certainly today, for us to finish 4-of-13 (on third-down plays) – that’s not going to get it done.” 

When the Falcons watch this tape, they’ll kick themselves from here until training camp. The Eagles fumbled on their second snap, which led to the visitors’ field goal, and botched a punt – hey, didn’t the Rams do that last week? – that all but handed the Falcons a touchdown. We say “all but” because two Philly penalties and Ryan’s improvisational flip to Devonta Freeman on third-and-goal were required to do the official deed. 

For most of the half, the Falcons appeared the better team. But when the Eagles weren’t messing up – they fumbled four times, losing two; they also saw kicker Jake Elliott clank a PAT off the upright – they were doing just enough to give themselves a chance. 

There wasn’t much to separate the teams – the Eagles had one fewer point but seven more yards – but a half that saw Philadelphia turn it over twice was a galumphing missed opportunity. See, there’s a reason teams want to play at home in January. Playing on the road is hard going. 

After three quarters, the Falcons were in arrears. They had the wind at their back coming out of halftime – literally, not figuratively – and did nothing with it. (They had 32 yards in the quarter.) The period’s final play was especially dire: Freeman missed a blitzer off the left side and Ryan was sacked. Yep, just like the Super Bowl. 

The Eagles forced a punt and then held the ball for 7:57. The precisely measured series fell short only at the end. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Falcons’ 3, coach Doug Pederson considering going for it. He then reconsidered. Elliott’s field goal made the score 15-10 with 6:02 remaining. The Falcons still had a shot.

After Freeman was halted for a 5-yard loss, Ryan converted on third-and-6 with a pass to Mohamed Sanu. But wait. Sanu’s catch was overturned by replay. Now it was fourth-and-6. Ryan dropped and found Julio Jones over the middle. The high-rise catch – one only Julio makes – gave the Falcons life. But then the NFL’s best receiver rose for another ball on another fourth down, and this time he grabbed only air. 

Which is, if you think about it, an apt metaphor for this season. This was the most gifted Falcons team since … heck, maybe ever. It ended up as No. 6 seed. It ended up losing to as rickety a No. 1 as you’ll ever see. It wound up clutching no trophies. It wound up grasping air.


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.