Where This Meets That
The Atlanta Falcons are not as good as they appeared in beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nor is Tampa Bay as bad as they looked in said beating. So what can really be taken from the game?
Under Head Coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have, with sole exception of last season, consistently won regular season games. For the most part, they’ve done it by winning at home and by achieving fast starts by executing sound game plans and playing fundamentally sound ball.
Where they’ve struggled consistently under Smith is in second half play, failing to “finishing off” foes. This has resulted in much last-minute drama across the Smith era. Fortunately, the Falcons have come out victors in most of those games, but the habit of relinquishing half time leads has nevertheless cost them at least one shot at the Super Bowl (lost 28-24 to 49ers in 2013 NFC Champsionship game after leading 17-0).
That is what gives proper focus to the Falcons’ victory over Tampa Bay last week.
It’s been four decades since the Falcons scored as many points as against the Buccaneers. But just as importantly, while they were up 35-0 at halftime against Tampa Bay, they put up 21 more in the third quarter, replicating the same intensity they entered the game with. In other words, they finished the Bucs, denying them any hope to open the second half.
Against the arch-rival Saints two weeks ago, these Falcons also entered the second half uncharacteristically ready to roll. Trailing 20-10 at halftime, the Falcons added 24 second half points before winning the game in overtime.
Game 2 featured the Falcons laying an apparent egg in Cincinnati. Doubters might hurry to call the loss “typical” for the Falcons, but I don’t think it was. I think the Falcons coaches deliberately failed to adequately plan for the game.
The Falcons had three games scheduled in the first 11 days of the season. Two divisional foes and a non-conference opponent. Of the three, the New Orleans and Tampa Bay games carried far greater weight than did Cincinnati. Frankly, the Falcons showing against Cincinnati was so uncharacteristically pathetic for the current regime that this is the only explanation that I can accept.
In other words, the Falcons aren’t as bad as they looked against Cincinnati, and they aren’t as good as they looked against Tampa. So, just how good are they?
We’ll soon find out.
While Atlanta clearly owns the Georgia Dome, they are a .500 team on the road, under Smith. Heading into Minnesota to play the Vikings today, the 2-1 Falcons carry two big victories against divisional rivals and an effectively meaningless loss to a non-conference opponent, their loss coming on the road.
The Falcons will only play one game at home in the next eight weeks, which means we’ll soon find out what we really have in these Falcons. But what these Falcons are taking on the road that previous Falcons teams haven’t owned is a historic win that sets a new precedent for a young and very talented team.
The Tampa game was a taste.
This is what these Falcons are capable of when the defense swarms the way defensive coordinator Mike Nolan envisions. This is what these Falcons can achieve when they play smart, fundamentally sound ball. This is what these Falcons can achieve when they control the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage and unleash their full arsenal.
Perhaps the most important benchmark these Falcons will take from last week, though, will be that this is what it feels like to truly demolish an opponent. I can’t wait to see how they react.