There were a handful of media members who predicted Atlanta to reach the Super Bowl this season, none more prominent than Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. But if the Falcons don’t believe they’re ready to take the next step then why should anyone else? Their brutal performance in Chicago last weekend followed an 0-4 preseason, which followed a 48-21 loss to the Packers in last year’s playoffs. Super Bowl? How about this team bothers winning a game of importance first?
Things don’t get any easier for the Falcons this Sunday night when Michael Vick and the Eagles come to town. ESPN has had a field day with the “Whose house is it?” topic, but the Falcons should be more concerned with trying to avoid an 0-2 than trying to figure out whether Vick or Matt Ryan’s name should be on the door-knocker. Atlanta has lost four straight to Philadelphia and eight of its last nine to the Eagles, including two playoff games. To suggest Andy Reid has had the Falcons’ number over the years would be an understatement.
But Atlanta can change all that this weekend. The sloppiness that they exhibited in last Sunday’s loss to the Bears was rather uncharacteristic of the Mike Smith-led Falcons over the last three years. Thus, I expect Atlanta to play with more focus and pride this weekend.
But focus and pride are just two ingredients that this team is missing right now. They could also use a dash of attitude, swagger and aggressiveness. Their quarterback is seemingly ready to join the elite but he hesitates to throw downfield. Their offensive coordinator was viewed as a head-coaching candidate late last season but his conservative play-calling is befuddling with the amount of weapons the Falcons posses on offense. Their head coach was once a defensive coordinator in Jacksonville but thus far, he and his current defensive coordinator can’t figure out the coverage woes that the secondary and linebacker corps is having. (Save for corner Brent Grimes, who has emerged as one of the team’s top playmakers.)
In other words, this team is a small mess right now — not a Super Bowl contender. But it’s not like the Falcons don’t have talent. On the contrary, this team is stacked. They have a slew of playmakers on offense, a ton of potential on defense, and thanks to the recent additions of James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden, plenty of depth as well.
With that in mind, the Falcons can’t allow this game to be about Vick and his heroic homecoming. After all, if they’re going to play second fiddle to him in their own stadium, then they might as well lay down for the rest of the NFC powers as well. This game needs to be about making a statement. This needs to be about beating an opponent that has had their number and stomping out the cloud of doubt that is starting to form around them.
A loss to the Eagles this Sunday isn’t going to eliminate the Falcons from the playoffs. But it wouldn’t kill them to have a sense of urgency right now either.