by Matt Karoly
From the moment the Atlanta Falcons stepped foot on Louisiana soil, they were not meant to beat the Saints in week 16. And it wasn’t necessarily because they were not the better team.
What started out as a ploy to slant the game by the officials turned into another installment of the Falcons beating themselves in comical fashion. From the buttception to the butt fumble, the season of unluckiness marched on in N’awlins.
But rather than harp on the officiating anymore than we already have, it’s best if we just accept the cold, hard facts. The Falcons threw away another game due to boneheaded penalties, dropped passes, or simply just not maximizing the offensive play calls.
Despite the penalty yardage being skewed in New Orleans’s favor (91 to 30), Atlanta still had ample opportunities to defeat their opponent in this contest. How many times have you heard that one this season?
A Season of Woulda, Coulda, Shouldas
The hardest part of it all has been placing a finger on what’s causing these issues for the Falcons. The easy answer is to blame the elephant in the room in new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
However, the analytics have shown the Falcons are still one of the more potent offenses in the NFL under Sark. They are the best in converting third downs, tied for third in yards per play, and top five in a slew of other drive statistics entering week 16 including points per drive, per Football Outsiders.
The three week stretch against the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Buccaneers demonstrated what this offense can look like when they put it altogether. But that has been the team’s problem–putting it together on a consistent basis.
How ironic, too? Last season, the major storyline, much to the chagrin of some, was the defense coming together at the end of the season. This year it’s been the offense’s refusal to do the same.
If you ask me, that wears on a unit. When you continue to make things more difficult than they have to be, it only leads to more struggles.
Couple that with the wounds still being fresh from the Super Bowl and therein lies the Falcons’ biggest bugaboo. Unfortunately, the best treatment for this kind of ailment may just be time.
I know that’s a tough pill to swallow, but the proof is in the pudding. Look no further than Atlanta’s week 17 opponent, the Carolina Panthers, as the perfect example.
They, too, had a fairy tale season the year before the Falcons’ only to see it crumble to pieces in the Super Bowl. But notice how rejuvenated they look now after hitting the reset button. They are 11-4, still in contention for the NFC South crown, and since they traded away Kelvin Benjamin have been the league’s best scoring offense.
Now the witty fan might respond to that by saying, “well, the Falcons would return to the league’s top scoring unit if they dumped Sark.” And maybe that’s true, or maybe they just need more time together.
Regardless, this team still has a lot to play for with a win-and-in scenario to finish the season. All it takes is one marquee performance to “set it off,” as Dan Quinn might say.
But unless this season ends in a Super Bowl run, Dirty Bird Nation will always be left thinking what “woulda, coulda, shoulda” in 2017.
AP Photo/Butch Dill