Now this is what rebuilding looks like.
There wasn’t supposed to be anything good to say about the Atlanta Falcons Sunday.
Nothing, nada, zilch. For three quarters, the Falcons looked like the NFL’s stinky armpit, a hapless, poorly coached band of dodo birds getting sucked into a jet plane engine. You were just waiting to see where the feathers fell and if one of those NFL Draft websites had the 2023 virtual mocks ready to fire up.
The Falcons looked horrible. Then, they nearly won on the road against the Super Bowl champs. The 2022 Falcons absolutely make no damn sense, but they might be onto something.
It’s hard to make many excuses for being that outgunned and outclassed by the Los Angeles Rams for three quarters. For a while there, the Falcons looked like, well, one of the league’s worst teams, and the Rams one of the league’s best. That was what many of us expected when the year started, right? It was a balancing of an ecosystem, a healing of nature. The Rams were supposed to beat the stuffing out of the Falcons. They’re the better team with brand-new rings. The Falcons were supposed to lose this game…badly.
But that’s not what happened at the end. As badly as it sucks to lose in general, the fact that you’re feeling any sort of active emotion right now about the Falcons means a whole lot. All of your pain and frustration from watching the team falter an absolutely epic comeback attempt should’ve been malaise and apathy for a team trudging in for an ass whooping.
Last week, we all begged the Falcons to just play a damn good fourth quarter. In very Atlanta fashion, they did just that, just too little, too late. Yes, they’re 0-2, but they’re also, as hard as it is to believe after these two games, on the right track.
Getting up to speed
It’s been an exhausting way for the team to start 0-2, taking the collective emotions of the Falcons faithful and throwing them on a roller coaster designed by a mischievous eight-year-old playing a video game. Think one of those games where you can design 500 loop-the-loops while the vehicle is going 150mph. It’s only survivable for crash test dummies.
For three quarters, you absolutely felt like a dummy for spending your precious Sunday afternoon trying to watch the Falcons take down Goliath with a marmalade sandwich. After blowing a lead in week one and at one point going down 28-3 in the second half, it seemed like the 2022 Falcons were begging you not to watch them, to do anything else with your day. They looked like a bad team that couldn’t score a touchdown against a defense full of rickety folding chairs. It was bleak.
Then they fired back with the kind of comeback you only see in the movies. It came up short, and that’s going to encourage the spirit of “same old Falcons” to continue to linger. Y’know, it’s hard to blame anyone for feeling it. The Falcons have been men of constant sorrow for 50-plus years, and they’ve never given their fans much of a reason to expect anything but doom, gloom and boom-boom. Another loss isn’t going to inspire optimism.
It won’t answer why 2021 first-round draft pick Kyle Pitts has been primarily used as a decoy this season, or why the up-and-down play from quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to keep us from getting a glimpse at rookie Desmond Ridder. It won’t answer for why the defensive line seemed nonexistent after four sacks last week, or why star cornerback A.J. Terrell hasn’t played like himself thus far this season. It won’t help us understand all of Arthur Smith’s coaching decisions, or why the team looked so flimsy for three quarters. It won’t help us reckon with the fact that, in all likelihood, the Falcons are going to miss another playoffs.
But it’s a start
Okay, though, nearly coming back after a terrible day and beating the Super Bowl champs in their house? It’s a start. It’s an important step up the long ladder of rebuilding. It’s a sign that there might be something starting to click for a team that is so young, so unproven, so malleable for the future. For some reason, Sunday’s loss came down to a Hail Mary attempt. It was supposed to come down to the Rams putting in their backup quarterback.
The Falcons have come a play away from winning both of their losses this season. They never should’ve been in a position to lose last week. They never should’ve been in a position to win this week. Growing pains always find a way to make it ironic and cruel, if only to force you to accept what is and find the little glimmers of hope for tomorrow.
Take as deep a breath as you possibly can and prepare this to be the most frustrating bridge season of your lifetime. As deflating as it is to accept, the Falcons aren’t playing for 2022 right now. They will not go to the playoffs barring something truly shocking, and they sure as hell aren’t going to be playing in the Super Bowl next year. Hell, we don’t even know if they’ll win more than a few games. The way the schedule is shaping up portends to more rough waters ahead.
But, rough waters are what this team needs. They need to learn how to swim. Even when the storm bellows at its fiercest, the Falcons have to stay above water. After shamefully falling off the boat last week, the team found a way not to drown in stranger tides.
It’s been a long-ass half decade to be a Falcons fan. Sunday’s game is the first time in literal years that it actually feels like the franchise is headed in the right direction. Yes, it came in a loss, but you’re supposed to lose at first. You’re supposed to get it kicked out of you until you’re on your last leg. It’s the only way to ever be in a position to get back up.
The Falcons nearly got back up Sunday after three quarters, but they fell short. Good. Let it hurt now; let them take the bumps and bruises. Let this godforsaken franchise finally crumble after the last failed regime. The only way you come back to life is if you die.
Gird your loins, folks. The Falcons look like they’re actually rebuilding in a positive direction. Oh, it’s going to hurt. Oh, are there more losses to come. But oh, this might just be what progress looks like.