by Matt Karoly
Football is a game of match-ups. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, the Eagles presented match-up problems for the Falcons…backup quarterback and all.
Coming into this Divisional round game, the two strengths of Philadelphia’s team were its offensive and defensive lines. What were the two sore spots on Atlanta’s team, you might ask? You guessed it, its offensive and defensive lines.
Football is also a game won and lost in the trenches. Having said all that, it was a bad omen for the Falcons to not hold the advantage in either of those areas. That bad omen became a harsh reality on Saturday when Atlanta’s season ended in disappointing fashion with a 15-10 loss.
And the thing is, there really weren’t a lot of surprises in the game. As expected, it was a knock ’em out, drag ’em out kind of game, and when the dust settled, the Eagles just made a few more plays than the Falcons on this given day. Credit them and their coaching staff for that.
However, the hope in this ballgame was that the Falcons defense would show off its physical side and limit an Eagles rushing attack that finished third in the NFL. They did not do that. Philadelphia won the time-of-possession battle (32:06 to 27:54) thanks to an offensive line that opened up monster holes for Jay Ajayi in the first half and limited any sort of pressure on Nick Foles in the second half.
On the flip side, the other hope was that the Falcons offense would cash in on the limited opportunities they would have. They did not do that either. And no sequence magnified that more than Atlanta’s goal-to-go situation at the end of the game.
After taking some time to digest it all, the order in which the plays were run bothered me more than the actual plays themselves. Had the Julio seven yard slant on 3rd & goal been dialed up on 1st & goal, the Falcons would’ve had three chances to get two yards instead of just one. Then plays like the fade route, shuffle pass, and sprint right option would’ve made a little more sense.
After all, they did target their best player (Julio Jones) on three of the four plays. Can we really complain too much about that?
But in a season of woulda coulda shouldas, just file this game away as the final chapter in a very strange season. For a team that struggled all season long inside of two minutes, it was a fitting way for the season to end. The Keanu Neal botched interception, turned 20 yard reception at the end of the first half proved just as critical as the Falcons’ failed red zone conversion at the end of the game.
We just have to accept the fact that the world was not destined for a 1998 NFC Championship Rematch or a World War 3 affair against the Saints. C’est la vie; such is life…especially as a Falcons fan.
The good news is a team that now has three playoff wins under their belts will return mostly intact in 2018. In addition, another offseason with master talent evaluator Dan Quinn at the helm will only make the Brotherhood stronger. Beneath all the pain and suffering, there’s still a lot to be excited about with this team moving forward.
If there’s one major takeaway though from the Falcons’ playoff loss, it’s that they’re still not built to win a line of scrimmage battle. All of the teams’ losses this year support that conclusion.
So while Atlanta has often been described as a fast and physical football team, they still have not earned the physical badge of honor just yet. That is the last step of the process for Dan Quinn to get the team to where he envisioned back in February 2015.
Hopefully, that process starts with the Falcons taking two or three trench guys in the upcoming draft.