Falcons Playoff Hopes Crushed By Ravens

Remember the Madden jinx? Usually the player featured on the cover of the famed EA game is jinxed to a bad season or horrific injury immediately following the new cover. The same is apparently true for hosting the Super Bowl. 2018 looked prime for the Atlanta Falcons to host their own Super Bowl. Many at the beginning of the season gave them really good odds at doing so. They were two years removed from playing in the big game, they have added talent to that roster on both sides of the ball and a young defense was supposedly coming of age – not to mention your two offensive weapons – Julio Jones and Matt Ryan are now in their prime. Let’s not forget a god run in the playoffs last year shaking off what was supposed to be a post-Super Bowl hangover. Oh well.

The Falcons not only fell flat they looked flat and unmotivated losing to the Baltimore Ravens 26-16. This was the worst performance I’ve seen at home since the season finale against the Panthers in 2014 where they not only lost 34-3, it also cost Mike Smith his head coaching job. I’ll just leave that there.

The Falcons only managed a total of 131 total yards. How the hell did that happen? I’ll tell you… no offensive line of note. On almost every play it looked like a jailbreak as Raven defenders ran up to Ryan untouched on a majority of plays.

Let’s face it – 2018 is over. Sunday the team was playing that way. Granted until the final seconds of the first half they held a 10-7 lead but were outscored 16-6 in the second half. It’s a waste of time to break down this game because quite frankly there’s nothing to do but bitch. Where do we go from here? I’m not talking about Green Bay, next week’s destination. What or who do we blame the season falling apart?

There is no longer any reason to complain about injuries. Sure if none of them had happened all at once in the first two weeks of the season things might be a little different right now, but it is past due for teammates to step up and fill the hole left by injury departures. The defense has especially been a liability, especially during this losing streak. Lamar Jackson, who is subbing for an injured Joe Flacco may get praise for the Raven win, but it is anything but. Jackson is an undisciplined entity at QB. Despite Matt Ryan having his career worst day for the Falcons he not only still threw for more yards than Jackson, he completed a higher percentage of his passes and somehow had a slightly higher passing rating. Both QBs were strip sacked with both being returned for touchdowns. Needless to say, Sunday the quarterback position was a liability for both sides – something that hasn’t been said in Atlanta since 2007.

Jackson ran for 75 yards, which was 44 yards more than the Falcons ran for as a whole. Unless Jackson is leashed in – depending if he is truly Flacco’s heir apparent, defenses will catch up quickly. Don’t believe me? Ask Michael Vick, Colin Kaepernick (it’s not the kneeling, folks), Vince Young or even Jackson’s backup RG3, who had to come in so he could undergo concussion protocol. Ironically Griffin looked more comfortable and natural under center than Jackson. But playing a Falcons’ defense that can’t even do the basics like simple tackles, Jackson looked moderately good. Moderate is the key word.

Why the Falcons have regressed in offense is anybody’s guess. After a feeble season opener the offense was on fire – similar to 2016 and we know how that ended. The only problem is the offense had no help on defense, as they could not outscore everyone. Two high scoring losses against the Saints and Bengals, the first in overtime and a bad loss to the Steelers gave way to a three game winning streak that saw the Falcons perched to make a strong run against perceived weaker opponents in the Browns and Cowboys saw the offense come out flat-footed in both games, losing bad to Cleveland and to the Cowboys on the last play of the game. The losing streak has seen the offense not hit the 20-point mark in scoring in any of these games. Only the loss to Dallas was a one-possession loss. That being said, you still had that weird feeling late in the game that somehow the Falcons were going to pull it off or lose in the waning seconds. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by Matt Ryan all of these years. There is a reason he holds all the franchise’s passing records.

But there is something fatally wrong with the offense this season. The line is broken. Half the line is on IR, but no one has stepped up. Ryan, the past couple of weeks has taken more hits than a running quarterback – something he’s not, even though he’s made an attempt at it in the name of self-preservation. The running game is gone – completely. With Devonta Freeman on IR (again) this was the perfect audition for Tevin Campbell going into a contract year. Oh well. Even though the line is not opening the holes as in years past, he has shown no resolve in breaking tackles. Rookie Ito Smith has shown more promise. To add insult to injury (not pun intended) Campbell missed on a sure touchdown pass in the first half as well. Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and just about anyone else lined up in the wide receiver slot dropped way too many balls. Early on Jones dropped what amounted to a Hail Mary from Ryan (because of pressure – not desperation) that literally went in and out of his hands. Jones id the king of highlight reels with some amazing catches in traffic but drops the no-brainer in the breadbasket throws. It’s easy to throw the OC under the bus – and that may be part of it, but these guys are paid way too much money not to understand the fundamentals of the game.

All in all the Falcons had a chance at the end of this one but a failed two-point conversion ended all hope as the Falcons fall to 4-8 as they playoffs for all intents and purposes are a distant memory and a non-losing season definitely in jeopardy as one of the roughest stretch of the schedule begins (minus the Cardinals game – but then again…). The Falcons take to the road next Sunday to take on an equally underwhelming Green Bay Packers team at Lambeau Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm and will be aired on Fox.

– Dave Weinthal