Know Thine Enemy - Has Super Bowl meltdown scarred Falcons?
THE ATLANTA FALCONS
Last week: 20-17 home loss vs. Dolphins
Last three weeks: 0-2 (Dolphins, bye week, Bills)
2016 record: 11-5
Coach: Dan Quinn
Offensive Coordinator: Steve Sarkisian
Defensive coordinator: Marquand Manuel
What kind of dent would Super Bowl 51 leave on the psyche of a talented but young and impressionable Falcons team? That was the question coming into the regular season after the Falcons spent a chunk of the offseason wrestling with the fallout. They insisted they’d moved on. Then, last week, they resuscitated the conversation, blowing a 17-0 lead to the underperforming Dolphins and falling, 20-17. At home. "It's tough," said defensive end Vic Beasley said. "We experienced that feeling before in the Super Bowl." The loss to Miami comes after their bye week. Going into the bye, Atlanta lost to the Bills. The Falcons scored just 17 in that one as well. Turnovers and special teams play have been an issue and the offense – with new OC Steve Sarkisian in for Kyle Shanahan – isn’t getting results similar to the 2016 bomb squad.
Going inside the numbers a little, the Falcons are starting fast (kind of their M.O.), allowing just 37 first-half points through five games. They’ve put up 81. Tevin Coleman (38 carries, 213 yards; 14 catches, 168 yards for an average of 7.3 yards per touch) is the somewhat overlooked dynamo in the offense. Julio Jones, who injured a hip flexor against the Bills, had six catches for 72 yards against Miami. Matt Ryan’s got six picks in his past three games and hasn’t been over 300 yards passing since the opener but he’s still a weapon. Meanwhile, running back Devonta Freeman, tight end Austin Hooper and waterbug Taylor Gabriel present their own array of problems. The Atlanta defense flies. And kicker Matt Bryant is one of the steadiest in the league.
I mentioned up top how hot the Falcons start? The flip side is that they've been outscored 72-40 in the second half this season. Tack that on to the Super Bowl and you have an ungodly trend of late-game meltdowns. But really, it’s the turnovers and stupidity that cost Atlanta its past two games (ironically, Atlanta won the game against Detroit where Ryan threw three picks). Example? After the Dolphins narrowed the score to 17-14 on Sunday, Atlanta had first down on the Miami 33. Hold on Jake Matthews. Sack of Ryan. Punter Matt Bosher enters. The snap is mishandled. He gets dropped near midfield. Miami ties the game with a field goal. Then Ryan gets picked on a tipped pass on the final Falcons drive. I don’t know how you fix those things but this is Atlanta’s most important game of the season
The Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit in the final 23 minutes of Super Bowl 51 back in February and won in overtime. You may recall. Also, the Patriots and Falcons had a terrific regular-season game in the Georgia Dome back in 2013 that the Patriots won at the buzzer.