People from outside of the city, or the Falcons fan base, think they know how tough it must be to cheer for the Falcons or Atlanta sports teams in general, but you don’t really understand the anguish — the lost hours of sleep thinking about what could have been — until you’ve lived through years of it.
As a 90s baby, my career as a Falcons fan began with a Super Bowl loss to the Broncos. However, Michael Vick was able to ease some of that pain a few years later… only for his prime to be stolen from us because of his own selfish decisions. A season of despair followed, but Falcons fans were quickly rewarded with Matt Ryan, who has been everything Vick was supposed to be… and then some. Still, that hasn’t stopped the torture.
While the Ryan era has been the most successful of any in Falcons franchise history by a country mile, it has undoubtedly left fans with the most “what if?” moments. There was 2012, when the Falcons entered the locker room of the NFC Championship up 24-7 against a 49ers team that wasn’t known for their offensive firepower — the first of many opportunities the Falcons weren’t able to finish off.
Of course, we all remember what happened four years later, when the Falcons had a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter of the Super Bowl and a 28-9 lead going into the fourth. I’m sorry I even had to bring that up… but Atlanta lost in heartbreaking fashion the very next season as well, falling yards short of a second consecutive NFC Championship appearance, losing to the Eagles in the Divisional round, who made a critical goal-line stand. That Philadelphia team, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl. However, as heartbreaking as all of those moments have been, the last three seasons have been equally as frustrating, as Falcons fans have watched the twilight years of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones wasted by abysmal starts and even worse coaching.
Last night’s game was far from perfect. Some might call it ugly, and the weather had a lot to do with that. But after Blidi Wreh-Wilson‘s interception to seal the victory, I couldn’t help but think what could have been.
Former Falcon, Tony Gonzalez, said it perfectly after the game, the Falcons are the best 2-6 football team he’s ever seen, and I think anyone who has watched every game this season can agree. There is absolutely no reason this team shouldn’t be 5-3, and had they benefited from a little better injury luck to start this season, they could be in even better shape.
The Falcons flat-out blew the games against the Cowboys and Bears. With a competent coaching staff, those teams never get the ball with a chance to win the game. Then they had the game won last Sunday against the Lions. All they had to do was take a knee and kick a field goal. Once again, with a competent coaching staff, Detroit never even gets the chance to come down the field and win the game.
Then you look at Atlanta’s losses. They lost a Week 1 matchup to a very talented Seattle team in which the Falcons could do absolutely nothing right. They lost to another really good team on the road in Green Bay with Julio Jones battling a hamstring injury and half of their defense on the shelf. And they lost a competitive game to a sneaky good Panthers team without Julio Jones and several other key contributors.
The Falcons are a good football team, and they should be right in the thick of things, battling for a playoff spot and competing for the NFC South crown. Instead, we’re looking at mock drafts in October and contemplating trading Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. I’m not sure what the right move is this offseason; that will be up to the new regime, but this season has proven — with a competent coaching staff — the Falcons can still make some noise with the group they currently have. Unfortunately, this horror story has been on repeat for three consecutive years.