In four years together in Atlanta, Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Mike Smith have all enjoyed endless media praise, the eternal love of fantasy football owners everywhere, and a place among the league’s lists of elite quarterbacks, running backs and coaches. What they haven’t done is win a big game.
The Falcons have lost both of their playoff games in their first three years under Smith, despite having better records than their opponents in each of them. In last week’s game against a Houston squad that had a third-string rookie starting his first career game, Atlanta came home without a W.
Rinse and repeat. Same old story. Add tight end and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez into the mix — another guy with zero career postseason wins — and this Atlanta Falcons unit makes for one of the sports world’s real anomalies: a team the media loves to no end, but actually never has won a thing.
On paper, it would appear as though the Falcons shouldn’t have a problem beating the 4-8 Panthers this weekend. A playoff spot on the line, a 1-0 edge on Carolina this season already, and the luxury of being a unit that’s played together far longer — the Falcons should win this game.
But they won’t. The Panthers are a hot team suddenly playing mistake-free football. And unlike the Falcons, Carolina’s got nothing to lose. They’ll come out playing loose, playing sound and playing the same exciting brand of football that earned them victories the past two weeks. Over the first 10 weeks, Carolina’s D was the worst unit in the league. Over the past few, they’ve started to click. Even with starting defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain both knocked out of the game with injuries last week, the Carolina D held LeGarrette Blount to just 19 rushing yards in the 38-19 win. Blount came into the contest fresh off consecutive 100-yard efforts.
Could the Carolina D do the same to Michael Turner? Why not? Turner’s rushed for 44 and 60 yards, respectively, the past two weeks.
The real stat worth taking away from last Sunday’s Panthers win over the Bucs was their penalties. Carolina was only flagged twice for 20 yards, another sign of improvement for one of the league’s youngest teams. This squad is going to make you beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves.
Oh, and Adam, 400 words into this, I should probably mention Cam Newton. That guy’s pretty good. Last week, he became the third player in NFL history to run for three scores, throw for another, and catch a pass in the same game. He’s shattering rookie records left and right, and somehow, he leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns. He does it all. Newton has rushed for 13 touchdowns in 12 games this year, already the most ever by a quarterback in a season. An Atlanta kid, he’ll want to beat the Falcons this weekend, even if the game is being played in Charlotte. Atlanta’s rookie star, Julio Jones, meanwhile, had his worst game of the season last year. On top of dropping what could have been the game-winning Hail Mary pass, he was also lagging to the line in the two minute drill. Again—a great talent and a good kid—but another Falcon who hasn’t done all that much this year.
This Carolina coaching staff has the Panthers playing a great brand of football. With one of the best players in the game under center and a young defense putting it all together in the final month of the season, Carolina’s only going up and up.
I can’t say the same about the Falcons.
Atlanta’s great indoors and early in the season. It’s in the games that actually matter where they seem to struggle.
The rest of the media will continue to shower Ryan, Turner, and Smith with praise. It’s just what they do.
But until they win a big game, I can’t get aboard that crowded Falcons bandwagon.
Sunday’s meeting, outdoors in Charlotte, is certainly a big game. I don’t see Atlanta coming out with a W.