Too many Atlanta Falcons fans today are having a field day spinning one bad game into a season wasted, erroneously claiming it’s a 53-man roster loaded with underachieving talent. We’ll call it overreaction Monday. Sports fans have a tendency to do so.
Fine. I’ll remember that when Atlanta runs off five-straight wins during the regular season and is right back in the thick of a tightly contested NFC wildcard race (it happens every year) in December.
Look, by any measure losing to Minnesota 28-12 to open the season was a bad look. I’ll give you that.
Anyone who watched the whole game could tell you it wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. Fresh off signing a three-year extension for $66 million once his current contract expires after 2020, Julio Jones’ late touchdown grab came with no celebration and brought scant solace to peeved Falcons fans.
There wasn’t one player to blame for the Week 1 letdown. And there won’t be just one player to turn it around. Remember there’s still 15 games left on the schedule. Atlanta lost Sunday and will lose again between now and Christmas.
Blaming Matt Ryan for one loss is shortsighted. Along with two interceptions thrown, one at the end of a productive late-first-half drive, he was sacked four times.
Lots of players had a hand in those negative plays.
Ryan’s first 11 seasons have been a steady reinforcement that No. 2 is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. He threw for nearly 5,000 yards in 2018 and was the 2016 MVP during the Super Bowl season for Atlanta.
The offensive line is a work in progress for the Falcons. Once all five positions are set in stone, and everyone is healthy, it could turn into a pretty good group. Upgrading the protection for the franchise quarterback, who rarely gets enough credit from Falcons fans, was one of the offseason priorities.
We’re gonna see rookie first-round picks Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom (now on IR with a broken foot) settle in on the offensive line, along with the two guards signed during the spring to keep Ryan on his feet. With the setback for Lindstrom it will probably be 2020 before Atlanta reaps any major benefits of fortifying the offensive line.
Back to Sunday.
The first play of the game had Falcons fans stomping and ready to change the channel when Ryan took a hard hit in the backfield. Atlanta’s offense looked inept.
Later, dependable left tackle Jake Matthews also fell victim to a nice spin move by a Minnesota defender, leaving Ryan to get pummeled.
Unfortunately, these things happen when the five best linemen aren’t up to speed and don’t have nearly enough snaps together. McGary is back but missed the first four games of the preseason following a heart procedure.
It will get better.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff got the guys he wanted during the offseason. Now, it’s just a matter of time before they start to consistently build a wall of protection for Ryan in the pocket to throw.
And the Falcons’ skill players are some of the best in the NFL. Twelve points will be the outlier once the season is complete.
The potential distraction of a contract dispute with Jones is gone. Running back Devonta Freeman has three more years left on the deal he signed in 2017.
During the offseason, Falcons owner Arthur Blank kept his promise and wrapped up a new deal with tackle Grady Jarrett (four years, $68M) and extended middle linebacker Deion Jones’ contract for four years, $57 million.
And now Keanu Neal, one of the hardest-hitting linebackers in the NFL, and Ricardo Allen in the secondary are both healthy after injuries kept them out for most of 2018.
The opener to 2019 was bad for Atlanta.
But saying it is a lost season is a hot take like no other.
Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Murphy_313 on Twitter.