NFC South: 2012 WC Rapid Reaction
January, 8, 2012
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
What it means: This was much more than just a loss. This was devastating for the entire Falcons organization. Yeah, give the Giants credit for winning the game. But give the Falcons plenty of blame for losing. This team had sent out a strong signal that the Super Bowl was the goal when it traded up to draft Julio Jones and signed free-agent defensive end Ray Edwards. The Falcons didn’t even come close to the Super Bowl. For the second straight year -- and the third time in four years -- the Falcons lost their opening playoff game.
When you have those expectations and those results, you can’t expect owner Arthur Blank to remain patient forever. Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan never have won a postseason game. Their jobs aren’t in jeopardy -- yet. But everyone around them (assistant coaches, offensive linemen and receivers who can’t hang onto passes) is suddenly on the hot seat. This loss will prompt some changes in Atlanta.
Fourth-and-nowhere: Smith elected to go for it on fourth-and-inches twice when he could have kicked field goals. That didn’t work either time. Smith also failed when he went for it in overtime against the Saints during the regular season. Anyone notice a theme here? I think you’ll be reading a lot more about this in my follow-up column.
What happened to the offense? This was a legitimate question during the regular season, but it really showed in the playoff game. The Falcons have no offensive identity, no idea whether they’re a running or passing team. Against the Giants, they weren’t either; they simply were a terrible offense. That’s a far cry from those lofty expectations I mentioned above.
Big players make big drops: Atlanta receiver Roddy White led the NFL in drops during the regular season. He escalated that in the postseason. White dropped at least two passes, possibly three and maybe even four. I’m not sure how or why, but White went from being one of the league’s most sure-handed receivers in 2010 to a drop machine this season. I’m not saying White’s done in Atlanta by any means. But he’s getting up in age, he comes with a high price tag and it wouldn’t totally shock me if he’s dangled for trade in the offseason.
Total mismatch: Atlanta’s offensive line was totally destroyed by the Giants’ pass rush. Not surprising, really. The Falcons built this line for run -- not pass -- blocking. Ryan was bad, largely because he had no chance. The Falcons already had given up on Sam Baker at left tackle. Journeyman replacement Will Svitek got exploited and showed he’s not a long-term answer. The Falcons need to get a left tackle. Problem is, they won’t have a first-round draft pick (that went in the deal for Jones), and the list of left tackles coming available in free agency isn’t too promising. Remember what I mentioned about perhaps shopping White. Oh, and Joe Hawley doesn’t look like the answer at right guard.
What’s next: An offseason of change at the Falcons’ Flowery Branch facility. This team has a ton of talent, and it won’t be blown up. But there will be significant tweaks in different areas.