by Matt Karoly
What a roller coaster of a season it’s been for the Atlanta Falcons. To sum it up, the season can be broken up into four quarters.
The first quarter had the Falcons on top of the NFL world. In week two, Atlanta knocked off Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in an NFC Championship game re-match and then followed it up by beating the upstart Detroit Lions in a match-up of 2-0 teams. As one of the few remaining undefeated teams at the time, things were looking pretty good for the defending NFC Champions.
But as the story goes with roller coasters, what goes up, must always come down. And so, too, did the Falcons as quarter two of the season brought with it a variety of speed bumps.
From a rookie play caller learning on the fly to a team that just couldn’t get out of its own way, Atlanta stumbled through its next five games and came out with a 4-4 record at the halfway mark. It was then that the Super Bowl hangover talk intensified and fans wondered if the 2017 Falcons would ever regain their mojo from a year ago.
And just like that, Lady Luck tossed the Dirty Birds a lifeline. Thanks to some key injuries affecting their next three opponents, the Birds were able to put the claws down on the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Buccaneers in succession as if it were 2016 all over again.
In the three-game win streak, the offense averaged 31.6 points per game and the defense erupted for 12 sacks as the team regained control of its own destiny. Confidence was at the highest it’s been since the team walked into NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017.
Unfortunately, this high was not long for the world as the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings brought the Falcons back down to Earth. Panic began to set in as some sections of the fanbase worried that the team had cut their margin for error too thin due to the early season struggles.
To that end, the Brotherhood responded with two gritty wins in its last two games, which brings us to the latest chapter in the 2017 ride.
The Roller Coaster Season Continues
The Falcons latest victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers–a 24-21 nail-biter on Monday night–was just another installment of the team winning ugly. Or was it?
Sure, Matt Ryan missed some throws in the second half and failed to eclipse 225 yards passing for the third straight game, but let’s not discredit the other areas where Atlanta’s offense was downright dominant. The team controlled the clock for the second straight game (33:15 to 26:45 advantage versus Tampa Bay) thanks to a run game that racked up 201 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
They also converted over 50% of their third down conversions for the second straight week (9 of 15 on Monday) as they continue to pace the league in that category. Once again, the run game deserves a good bit of the credit for keeping the offense ahead of the chains.
If Atlanta can continue to run the ball this effectively, it won’t matter where they play come January. A good rushing attack travels well in the postseason.
As for the defense, well, you have to give a lot of credit to Jameis Winston. The former first overall selection showed exactly why he was a top pick as he added another impressive performance against the Falcons to his young resume.
Winston, however, was aided by a few Atlanta penalties that helped make his stat sheet what it was. For example, the unnecessary roughness call on Ricardo Allen’s clean hit of Bucs’ tight end Cameron Brate led to Tampa Bay’s first touchdown drive.
In addition, the Falcons defense had an interception taken off the board due to a Robert Alford holding penalty. By Dan Quinn’s count, that makes five or six such plays wiped away by penalty this year.
Just add that to the list of unfortunate events that have tormented the 2017 Atlanta Falcons.
The players themselves have admitted we haven’t seen the very best version of the Dirty Birds, especially of late. But if the roller coaster analogy is any indication, the Falcons are due for their next ascension.
It may be coming at just the right time, too.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images