Although the Atlanta Falcons were notorious for being a high-powered regular season team that chocked in the playoffs, last year, Matt Ryan won his first playoff game since he joined the franchise. While the Falcons eventually lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, the fact that they were able to overcome a once insurmountable feat seemed to foreshadow their inevitable success for the upcoming season. Between the acquisition of running back Steven Jackson from the St. Louis Rams and Tony Gonzalez’s commitment to stay with the Falcons for one last ride, it seemed the Falcons were destined to at least make a run in the regular season to eventually reach the SuperBowl. Unfortunately, rather than the Falcons flexing their offensive muscles, their team quickly became crippled due to a season ending injury to wide receiver Julio Jones. From there, the Flacons became nearly unrecognizable with agonizing losses to opponents who they could have easily taken on only a year ago. As a result, the Falcons inconsistencies not only cost them a much-desired spot in the playoffs, it prevented them from even being remotely successful in the long run.
Typically, a franchises untimely demise is due to the unforeseen failure of one of their previously proficient components. While it would be easy to look at a quarterback to assume that he is the initial culprit, Matt Ryan has performed fairly well this season, especially given the devastating injuries to his treasured receivers. Overall, Ryan has remained accurate as he has completed over 66% of his passes this season. While Ryan has thrown significantly less touchdown passes than he did last year (he threw 32 TD’s last year and has only thrown 19 TD’s this year), this is due to a weak offensive line which has forced Ryan to make ill advised plays. This year, Ryan has been sacked a career high 30 times which is already two more times from last year. On top of that, Ryan has already thrown 12 twelve interceptions which is only two below the number of interceptions he threw all of last season.
Before the regular season started, the Falcons were highly praised for acquiring a physical and powerful running back in Steven Jackson. In years past, the Falcons were hardly known for their intimidating rushing attack and were typically forced to rely on the exceptional passing capabilities of Matt Ryan. However, with Jackson on the starting roster, the Falcons had seemingly found a way to transform themselves into a more balanced offensive force that could dominate opposing defenses in more ways than one. Unfortunately, Jackson’s much-anticipated debut was short lived as he was injured when the Falcons were playing his former team during week two of the regular season. While the Falcons attempted to fill the void with running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith, none of them had the innate abilities or immense size that made Jackson a highly coveted and gifted athlete.
Although the Falcons have never been known for having a strong secondary, they tenaciously attempted to alleviate this issue by utilizing several picks in the 2013 NFL draft to bolster their anemic defense. Within the first two rounds the Falcons selected two cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. While both of these highly touted draft picks showed promise throughout their collegiate careers, they proved to be underwhelming prospects when it came to playing in the pros. Even though Trufant and Alford had their moments in the defensive spot light as they garnered three interceptions and one forced fumble between the two of them, it was hard to expect two rookies to pick up the slack for veterans like Asante Samuels who hasn’t exactly had the best season himself (he has caught only one INT this season).
In the end, the Atlanta Falcons have found themselves in the unexpected position of being one of the worst teams in the NFC. While some of the Falcons missteps can be fairly attributed to unanticipated injuries to their once dominant offense, the fact that their offensive line has been abysmal hasn’t made things easier for this ailing team. While the bright side to this situation is that the Falcons will have opportunities to draft better athletes for next year, it’s a shame that this team couldn’t live up to their lofty expectations of being one of the better teams in the NFC.