The National Football League (NFL) is celebrating the 50th Superbowl this season. At the same time, the Atlanta Falcons just concluded their 50th season with a disappointing .500 record (8-8). The franchise has one Superbowl appearance (1998) with a total record of 330-432-6. Pre-season expectations with new head coach Dan Quinn was a 9-7 record, maybe 10-6 if the ball bounced right. The Falcons starting the season off 5-0 had the fans expecting a playoff berth. Those aspirations became dismal by virtue of going 1-7 over the next 8 games. The one bright spot in the remaining three games was beating an undefeated Carolina Panthers team 20-13 at the GA Dome. This would be the Panthers only loss of the regular season. Following that great win, was a letdown loss to the rival New Orleans Saints 20-17 at home. In the Falcons grasp was a chance for a winning season but to no avail. Just beat your hated rivals, the Saints, and prove that the Panthers victory wasn’t a fluke. Instead the loss means another equally good and bad year.
Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones was big time this season. He was second all-time in NFL history for catches and receiving yards in the regular season. He finished with 136 catches for 1,871 yards. Marvin Harrison set the record for catches in 2002 with 143 playing for the Indianapolis Colts. Calvin Johnson set the record for receiving yards in 2012 with 1,964 playing for the Detroit Lions. With so much focus on Jones, it meant that the offense would sputter at times. It also meant that opposite wide receiver Roddy White wasn’t involved in the offense. This is the same White that holds the franchise record with 10,863 receiving yards in 10 seasons. This season he had a grand total of 43 catches for 506 yards and just one touchdown. In only four games was White thrown the football to more than five times. That’s hard to explain if you asked me.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was 5th in passing this season among his counterparts with 4,591 yards. In his eight years in the NFL, only last years’ 4,694 yards passing was better than this season. His 16 interceptions this season was second worst in his career (17). Ryan’s interceptions this season were significant because of the situation or timing. Usually they were in the “red zone”, inside the opponents’ 20 yard line. At other times, they were toward the end of the game, causing the Falcons to eventually lose. This was the case in the final home game verse the Saints. If the Falcons ever want to make another Superbowl appearance, they have to bring in another quarterback. Not necessarily to replace Ryan, but to at least force him to play better.
Healthy competition was seen in the running back position. Rookie Tevin Coleman won the starting job over 2nd year Devonta Freeman. Freeman apparently took it personally as he assumed the starting role in a couple of weeks. This propelled him into having a 1,061 yards rushing for the season. Yes, he was one of only seven running backs to rush for over 1000 yards. He was actually a dual threat, by amassing 578 yards receiving on 73 catches. It was also Freeman’s fumble near the goal line late in the 4th quarter of the final game that had an effect on the game.
The defense for the Falcons was considerably better than last season. When you are ranked 32nd in total defense you can’t help but go up. Bringing in a defensive minded coach, who made two back to back Superbowl appearances helps as well. This season the defense ranked 16th. That is a big improvement, especially with the offense putting them in bad situations during the games. Next season will be the last time the Falcons will play in the GA Dome. Let’s see if they can continue to put together a team that is worthy of going into the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. One thing is for sure, a 50/50 glass half empty or half full season is unacceptable.