And just like the ball as it hit off Julio Jones’ outstretched fingers the Atlanta Falcons season ended with a thud. The Philadelphia Eagles somehow held on for a 15-10 victory to head to the NFC championship game while the Falcons head home.
The sixth-seeded Falcons made history coming into the game, as they were the first team of their seeding to be favored against a number one seed. Well, with lowered heads the Falcons proved the pundits wrong and now they’ll have an entire off-season to discuss what went wrong and second-guesses as well as probable finger pointing.
The Falcons were held to their third lowest scoring output of the season in scoring only ten points. Despite the defense’s best efforts that allowed only one touchdown and even a goal line stand that forced the Eagles to kick a field goal instead of a touchdown to keep it a one-possession game the offense never got on track. The Eagles defense flexed their muscle as they held Atlanta’s running game to under 100 yards, something that’s been a rarity the past two seasons. In fact Devonta Freeman averaged less than a yard per carry to put that in perspective.
It’s easy to point fingers at a dropped pass, a missed block or a missed tackle for that matter. But all in all Atlanta beat the odds as they were able to dispel a Super Bowl hangover and there is a lot to be proud of in the fact they were the only NFC team from last season to make it in the playoffs this year. To add to that they didn’t go one and done as many have in the past. After a strong showing in soundly defeating the Los Angeles Rams last week the Falcons fell just short.
On paper the Falcons should have theoretically won easily seeing the Eagles lost starting QB and frontrunner for MVP Carson Wentz in mid December with backup Nick Foles looking rusty as his replacement.
Foles to his credit looked in charge against the Falcons completing over 70 percent of his passes as the Eagle offensive line kept the pressure off most of the day as he was sacked only once. The Eagles running game was showing signs early of running over Atlanta as Jay Ajayi gained most of the 54 yards in the first half. The second half turned into that stereotypical defensive struggle.
Only six points were scored in the second half in the game both coming off of field goals by Jake Elliott. Atlanta had their chances but just like became the theme of the season for them they were able to move the ball but unable to score.
What the offense didn’t do the special teams and defense picked up the slack as they scored their ten points off a muffed handling of a punt and a fumble recovery on an Ajayi miscue handling the ball.
To explain this game one can reference Atlanta’s loss to the 49ers in the NFC championship game five years ago. This was their game to win. And when they finally got themselves into position to do so victory literally slipped through their hands. Unlike the drive against the 49ers that stalled at the ten, this one stalled at the two. As Ryan’s pass grazed off Jones’ fingertips Atlanta’s fate was sealed and Philly is on to the NFC championship game. Of course there will be debate on that fateful incompletion to as if Jones fell or was pushed in the end zone as a scrambling Ryan looked fought off defenders to deliver the ball as Jones picked himself off the turf.
It will be easy to blame OC Steve Sarkisian but it is execution or lack thereof – not play calling that cost not only the Falcons this game but a few others. The Falcons lost six games during the season with four of them by one possession. The lack of execution in a number of those cases you could infer cost the Falcons the division. It’s even harder to swallow in retrospect when you take into consideration two of those losses came after leading at half and being shut out the second.
But Atlanta can go home now with their head high – not as high as they’d like but time to take a rest and regroup and address needs, which thankfully are very few if any. If anything there will be some minor tweaking and adjustments that will be made between free agency and the draft with adding depth and possibly experience to both lines and maybe more of a playmaker at the tight end position.
But that’s a lot of conjecture. The only thing we know now is Atlanta is headed home and the Eagles continue to march on.
– Dave Weinthal
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