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Ashway: Blank faces a dilemma with current Falcons
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Wonder what Arthur Blank thinks of his football team?

Does the Atlanta Falcons owner see a team still 5 yards away from the Super Bowl, assuming all hands are healthy?

Or does he see a team that needs to be blown up and rebuilt?

Does he see the best leadership group the Falcons have ever assembled as having already achieved their greatest success? Does he see the team beginning an arduous decline?

Or is he simply as puzzled as the rest of us? Just what’s going on under that perfectly coiffed hair as he combs the sideline during another unexpected performance?

Perhaps this team is neither the juggernaut that almost reached the Super Bowl two years ago nor the pitiful assemblage that performed so hideously last year.

Perhaps it’s both.

And that thought must really have Mr. Blank confounded.

Just like the rest of us.

How could the team that beat the Saints to open the season not even show up a week later against the Bengals?

How could the team that annihilated the Bucs fail to compete against the Vikings?

How could both teams show up against the Giants on Sunday?

Elementary explanations exist to explain the Falcons blowing a 20-10 lead and losing, 30-20. Perhaps the Giants, coming off a Thursday night romp, had an extra half-week to get out of sync before the Falcons rolled into the Meadowlands.

Maybe the Giants spent too much time reviewing film of the Vikings offense gliding through the Falcons defense as if it were comprised of 11 Gumbys. Then toss in the news that the Falcons have lost most of an offensive line that was already less than imposing. Now you have a Giants team that probably thought all it had to do was show up, suit up and roll up the score.

“Two different halves, as far as I was concerned,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin declared in his post-game remarks. “The first half, I did not like at all, and we didn’t think we played well. We didn’t think we made anything happen. We made some blunders.

“The second half was different. We played hard. We made some things happen. The fourth quarter was ours. It was very good.”

And here’s what Falcon head coach Mike Smith had to say from behind his very own podium: “Today’s game we didn’t do a very good job sustaining the momentum that we had through the first half of the ball game. … We couldn’t get anything going offensively there in the second half, nor could we get the stops that we needed.”

Just like they couldn’t sustain the momentum from the Saints game into the Bengals game, or the momentum from the Bucs game into the Vikings game.

But how do you explain this? The Falcons extended their lead to 20-10 with 5:37 left in the third quarter, when Antone Smith took a flat pass and sped 74 yards down the sideline. The play should have been an absolute crusher.

Instead, the Falcon defense tanked. Malliciah Goodman started the Giants’ drive by leaping offside on third and five. On the very next play, Robert Alford committed the dual sins of holding and pass interference. On a single play! And this was while covering Odell Beckham Jr., who was playing in his very first NFL game.

Those 31 gift yards moved the Giants to the Falcons 45-yard line. Five plays later, they were on the 3. From there, rookie running back Andre Williams scored, caroming safety Kemal Ishmael into the end zone.

The Falcons offense then failed to gain a yard in three tries.

The Falcons defense then surrendered 64 yards in 11 plays, the go-ahead score coming on a 15-yard pass to Beckham, who made a nifty catch despite Alford holding him again.

That quickly, it was over.

The Falcons would then go three and out, punting.

The Falcons would then allow a Giants field goal.

The Falcons would then go for it on fourth down, with Matt Ryan getting sacked.

The Falcons would then allow a Giants field goal.

How can a team score on a 74-yard catch and run, and then go 18 minutes without registering a single first down?

How can a defense which allowed 10 points over the first 40 minutes allow four straight scoring drives and 20 points over the final 20 minutes?

If you have any answers, call Arthur Blank. He’s dying to know.

Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears on Wednesday.

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