The Atlanta Falcons are loaded for one last run. Last season the Falcons sat at home with a black eye and a 7-9 record as the NFL playoffs rolled along without. Many analysts had the Falcons favored to represent the NFC on Super Bowl Sunday.
It wasn’t to be. The $150 million-man Matt Ryan spent the first year of his large contract running for his life. He still put up worthwhile statistics. Ryan sling and slang his way to 4,924 yards passing, 35 Touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
It was a good year statistically. It was a good year to use all of the excuses in the book for a quarterback that is quickly earning if not enhancing his label of being small in the big moments.
There’s no doubt that Ryan is a top tier quarterback in the NFL. The only thing holding Ryan back from first ballot Hall of Fame status is the emptiness in his trophy case, which isn’t entirely his fault. Ryan, the league’s Most Valuable Player, led the Falcons to a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl just two years ago. Ryan doesn’t play defense.
He didn’t give the lead away; it was the defense, the play calling, a few missed opportunities and the greatness of Tom Brady.
It wasn’t Ryan’s fault. It never is.
At some point, Ryan will be held accountable for his teams coming up small whether it’s his fault or not. It just hasn’t happened yet. There are those in the social media world already jumping off the Ryan ship and there are those still romanticizing the Mike Vick days. As ridiculous as some of social media claims are, one can’t argue that every season seems to come with a built-in excuse. Last season, the Falcons hung their hats on the defensive injuries, which were dire and made it nearly impossible to keep pace with teams for four quarters in constant shootouts.
The 2017 season was a nation staring the Falcons in the mirror and creating a self-conscious, pliable, sloppy team that underachieved. It was called a Super Bowl hangover.
As the summer months approach and mini camps kickoff with organized team activities firing up the excuses are lost on the ears of most.
What will be Ryan’s excuse this year?
Will we blame Dirk Koetter? The reason Koetter was brought in was because he was familiar, right? Shoot that one down.
The Falcons get their running back Devonta Freeman back and year two of Ito Smith could be his coming out party. If either should stumble the Falcons sunk two picks in last week’s draft into shoring up the back end of the running back rotation with Qadree Ollison who could play a bigger role than expected. Marcus Green is a versatile ex-receiver with the jets to threaten any defense at any level.
Wide receivers take your pick.
Austin Hooper is a pro bowl tight end.
The offensive line, the normal fall back for the built-in excuses. Well, the Falcons did something different than what we expected in the draft. Leading into the draft many felt, wished, and hoped the Falcons would add to a defensive line that features a guy looking for a contract, a third-round pick, a journeyman and a castoff facing a suspension.
They didn’t, they instead took away their expensive quarterback’s excuse. The Falcons selected a plug and play guard in Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom with the 14th selection. Then, General Manager swung a deal to trade up to the 31st selection to select Washington’s Kaleb McGary.
Some called it crazy, dumb and other things. I call it a statement.
It’s the Falcons’ way of looking at their most valuable player in owner Arthur Blanks’ checkbook and saying, ‘be the man.’ The Falcons’ draft had win now written all over the cards they turned in throughout the three-day event.
The Closing Window
The Falcons’ faces are on offense and they’re aging. Julio Jones is 30, Ryan is 33-years-old, Mohammed Sanu is 29-years-old and Alex Mack is 34-years-old.
The offensive line has been addressed and now the faces of the franchise will be allowed to run and used their potentially electric offense in their element. The Falcons will play 12 of their 16 games inside next season.
Should they struggle or rather, should Ryan not live up to the contract or the Falcons come up short again, changes should be afoot in Atlanta. The Falcons will have a decision to make on many of their young, talented defenders contractually. If the all in on offensive approached doesn’t produce a championship the option of focusing defense first is there and moving toward a cheaper, younger option under center may be the beginning of that journey.
For now, the Brotherhood trusts Ryan, but they have made their statement that the clock is ticking.